Ayya Vaikundar: Social reformer

News Excerpt:

Recently, the Tamil Nadu Governor remarked about the 19th-century social reformer Ayya Vaikundar, that he was Lord Vishnu, incarnated to prevent the destruction of Sanatan Dharma, which evoked sharp reactions in the state.

About Ayya Vaikundar and his contribution to Indian society:

  • Ayya Vaikundar was born in 1809 in a poor Nadar family in the village of Poovandan Thoppu, near the town of Tamaraikkulam, Kanyakumari.
  • He is revered as a social reformer and the founder of the Ayyavazhi sect, primarily in southern Tamil Nadu. 
  • His teachings focused on equality, fraternity, and the eradication of caste-based discrimination, challenging the established religious and social hierarchies of the time.
  • He organised Samapanthi-bhojana, or community eateries, for people from all backgrounds. 
    • He used to send his disciples to the homes of lower castes to eat with them.
  • When lower castes were not allowed to fetch water from wells used by upper-caste Hindus, Vaikundar initiated the digging of common wells called Muthirikinarus.
  • Vaikundar also encouraged all devotees to wear turbans and dhotis, promoting equality. 
  • He initiated the Thuvayal Panthy programme, teaching vegetarianism and discipline to followers, who spread these teachings across Tamil Nadu.
  • He established Nizhal Thangals as community worship spaces, which had no idol or deity
    • These community worship centres also had community kitchens and even basic schools.
  • He pioneered education for the lower castes and opposed discriminatory taxes. 
  • One of his significant interventions was the introduction of simplified, inclusive marriage customs without a Brahmin priest or Sanskrit mantras.
  • At a time when priests threw vibhuti and sandal paste at devotees from a distance to avoid touching them, a practice that still exists and lower castes were not allowed to enter temples at all.
    • Vaikundar introduced Thottu Namam, in which he inspired priests to apply the sacred paste to devotees' foreheads regardless of their caste. 
    • The paste would be applied as a lamp, indicating the soul and God, representing the form of God inside every life.

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