Adi Sankara Bhagavatpada composed Shri Subrahmanya Bhujanga at Tiruchendur.
The beautiful composition on Skanda consists of 33 verses. The tradition states that Adi Sankara, suffering pain, came here and had a divine vision of Adisesha, the primordial cosmic serpent, performing a puja to Skanda.
Immersed in divine ecstasy, Sankara spontaneously sang these beautiful verses. The Pujanga metre has the beauty of a serpentine movement to it.
The twenty-seventh verse of this stotra makes an enigmatic statement:
Deities bless devotees
pious and pure
they value too.
But know not, I know not
a Deity True
Blessing the downtrodden
Outcastes with Love
Oh Guha my Deva
that is You!
The local tradition recounts a special episode to specifically reinforce this verse of the hymn by Sankaracharya.
Velan is another name for Skanda in the Tamil land. There lived in Tiruchendur a boy from the Scheduled Community named Velan.
One day, as he was walking along Thamirabarani river, he heard a voice calling for help. He saw an old Brahmin caught in the waters. "Come and rescue me!", the old man yelled at the boy.
The boy said he was an "untouchable" and that touching a Brahmin even to rescue him would be a sin. To the surprise of the boy, the old Brahmin said, "Your name is Velan, the name of Skanda. You are no untouchable. Come and rescue me."
The boy obeyed and rescued the old man, who then appeared before the boy as Skanda and asked him to come to the temple at Tiruchendur and worship him.
The boy obeyed and went to the temple. But the local upper-caste people and priests got angry and told the boy to get out. Then, right from the sanctum came a majestic divine voice commanding them to allow the boy inside.
To this day, the place where Murugan was rescued by the "untouchable" boy is the preferred sanctified place for initiating the Kavadi carriage to Tiruchendur temple.
This traditional account with the verse of Sankara's hymn is an example of how Dharma works.
The imagery is stunning — the lord as the old Brahmin taken in by a deadly flow of water and an "untouchable" boy rescuing the Brahman that is the creative matrix of all the universes.
Usually, the lord saves his devotees. But as the current of malignant social practices in the name of 'tradition' carry away the primordial divine, he asks to be rescued.
Not that he cannot. It is the divine leela. But he asks. And he asks not to the so-called upper caste, but to a person who has been socially excluded.
It is the socially excluded whose coming into the system alone can rescue the primordial divine that is enshrined in the being of our civilisation.
And Tiruchendur is no ordinary place.
This is where Skanda battled with Soora Padman. Born to sage Kashyapa and Maya, the asura Soora Padman is the personification of ego. Individual as well as collective ego is the greatest impediment to realising the truth as well as a society based on justice and harmony.
Skanda does not kill Soora. He transforms the ego into peacock, his mount, and rooster, as his flag. The ego gets sublimated into servants of the divine — to carry him and to proclaim his victory.
Today, Soora Samhara happens at Tiruchendur. Surrounded by his devotees — most of them walk miles, for days at once, from villages and towns near and far — Skanda battles Soora. Finally, he slays the asura who transforms into the two birds.
The societal clan-communal ego is the root cause of social discrimination, social exclusion, and the criminal violence that untouchability carries in its heart.
It is twice-cursed. It destroys the one who carries it and also its victim.
Though the Bhagavad Gita is a moksha sastra and not a social manual, in the section on deva-asura characteristics, Sri Krishna points out that those who possess ego, egoistic power, egoistic vanity, lust, and malice end up harming the divine atman within the bodies of others and ultimately themselves.
It is quite astonishing that Sri Krishna uses the term 'bodies' specifically as the focal point of this self-destructive hatred (mām ātma-para-deheṣu, 16:18). An aggressive, and hence asuric, ego is the primary cause of such hatred.
Here, Krishna is quite the social psychologist for the future Bharata society.
Untouchability still exists. Just on 29 October 2022, we hear the news that Hindus belonging to the Holar community successfully entered a Hindu temple — thanks to the efforts of the Samajika Samarasta Manch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
That the Sangh is helping achieve this feat should be appreciated, but it also shows that we are still struggling at a fundamental level — the right of a section of us to enter our own temples.
Is this an achievement or a wake-up call to effect social transformation on a war footing?
I believe it is the latter.
This is a war of Dharma and Satya on adharmic vested interests, which have enthroned themselves in our society.
The fight is not against any human being, but against the egoistic aggression that resides as an asura in our hearts.
When a Hindu is excluded, we are all excluded. And we, like devas oppressed by asuras, ask the divine warrior god, the deva senapati Skanda, to preside over the battle and transform the aggressive destructive egoistic energy and transform it into the energy of nation building.
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
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