Vivekananda &c.

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 22 16:42:32 UTC 1998

jayabarathi <barathi at> wrote:

>        Dear Sir,
>                In this context also, it would be appropriate
>        if you could throw some light from your perspective,
>        about the "ManIsha Pancakam" and the episode concerning
>        it.
>                Thank you.

Gladly. The story is that Siva appeared before Sankara, as an outcaste
with four dogs, at the bathing ghat. When Sankara asked him to move
away, the outcaste responded with a question about whether he wanted the
body to move away or the omnipresent Atman. This is said to be the
occasion when Sankara composed the manIshA pancakam, which says that
whether he is a brAhmaNa or a cANDAla, the knower of the Atman is to be
regarded as a guru. Siva then reveals himself to Sankara, and the four
dogs are the four Vedas.

One can doubt the attribution of the verses to Sankara, but the
remarkable thing remains that such a story is found in works that
glorify Sankara. And advaita texts repeatedly use a metaphor based on
the reflection of the same sun in the pots of the cANDAlas as in other
places. There is also the Mahabharata story of udanka, that Sankara
refers to in the upadeSasAhasrI. After doing long penance, udanka gains
the grace of vishNu, who promises him anything he asks. udanka asks that
he should never lack water. Once when he is travelling in the desert,
udanka feels very thirsty, and looks for water. A cANDAla appears before
him and offers his urine to drink, but udanka is scandalized and
refuses. When he reproaches vishNu for deserting him, vishNu explains
that the cANDAla was really indra and that the urine was nectar, which
would have made him immortal. The extreme violation of normal notions of
purity is remarkable. Not only is the person who offers water a cANDAla,
but the water itself is his urine. The notion that the gods use the
lowest member of the caste hierarchy to test the members of the highest
is noteworthy.

And if you think about it, the sannyAsin is also an outcaste in one
sense. Sankara explicitly asks, katham varNASramI bhavet?, and denies
that the sannyAsin is bound by the usual brahminical rules of purity and
ritual. The paramahamsa ascetic is also allowed to receive alms from all
castes. And both ascetics and cANDAlas have connections to the cremation
ground. So it goes on ...


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