7 – Tamil Nadu in the grip of Jihad – Thamizhchelvan


Journalist “One of the murder suspects, Abdullah, is a recent convert. Another suspect was only 18 years old when he committed the barbaric act. This is a classic example of the poison of terrorism being planted in the minds of youth and children.” — Thamizhchelvan

Would those who commit murder for wearing religious marks spare those who raise their voices for the cause of temples? Posing this question, the documentary presents the gruesome murder of four brothers who attempted to protect the temple in their home town.

Tenkasi, the second largest town in Tirunelveli district, is a ‘municipality’, located close to Courtallam. The town got its name Tenkasi, meaning ‘Kashi of the South’, as it has a Kasi Viswanath Temple. The town was founded by Dyan kings and the temple was built by Parakrama Pandya. Hindus comprise 62% of the population; Muslims are 35% and Christians 3%.

Kumarapandian hailed from a traditional Hindu family. He had five brothers. He was also a member of Hindu Munnani.

Kumarapandian of TenkasiWhen local Muslims wanted to construct a mosque on Viswanathar Temple Street, the government, anticipating trouble and communal problems, refused permission. Ignoring this, however, the Muslims attempted to construct the mosque. Kumarapandian opposed this strongly. Thereafter, he was murdered on 17 December 2006.

Opposing construction of the mosque seems to be a reason for his murder, but there are other reasons also. On the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Muslims organized a protest demonstration. Although the police had earlier denied permission for the Kumarapandian's wifestatewide protest demonstrations on 6 December, they later yielded and gave sanction to fundamentalist organisations. Kumarapandian opposed this too.

He also attempted to start an ambulance service for the poor, which was not liked by the fundamentalists, as they feared competition to such a service being undertaken by them. “While they hacked him, the jihadis uttered these words openly…. You are creating obstacles in the path of mosque construction and you are buying ambulance to compete with us; saying these very words they attacked him with scythes,” Kumarapandian’s brother Ravi Pandian stated.

Another brother, Sakthi Pandian, points out that those behind the gory murder of Kumarapandian have not been identified so far: “Cases have been registered against three persons, namely, Haneefa, Abdullah and Sayed Sulaiman. However, till date, those behind the murders have not been brought to light”.

What is pathetic is the fact that the murder case has not come for trial in court. Advocate Socrates says, “The case has not come even for the argument stage. Since those involved in the murder of Kumarapandian are also involved in the Bengaluru bomb blast case and are absconding, this case has so Kashi Vishwanath Shiva Temple of Tenkasifar not come to the court for arguments”.

One of the suspects, Abdullah, is a recent convert. Another suspect was only 18 years old when he committed the barbaric act. This is a classic example of the poison of terrorism being planted in the minds of youth and children. Advocate Socrates says, “One of the criminals, who was an accused in this murder, is Murugesan alias Abdullah; he had converted to Islam recently and had committed this murder”.

In the meantime, the police sent the 18-year-old boy to a juvenile home under the Child Welfare Board and the other two were taken in judicial custody. Abdullah and Haneefa petitioned the High Court against polygraph test, brain mapping test and narco analysis test, arguing that such tests are violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it would amount to testimonial compulsion. But the High Court ordered in favour of the police and dismissed the petition of the accused. Yet, since then, the case has not moved even an inch.

Kumarapandian's motherMeanwhile, tragedy again struck the family of Kumarapandian. His elder brother Sekar and younger brothers, Suresh and Senthil, who continued the agitation against construction of the mosque from where Kumarapandian left it, were also brutally murdered in the busy thoroughfares of Tenkasi. Showing the forlorn mother of the Pandian brothers, the documentary asks, “What is the panacea for the pain and sufferings of this mother, who lost her four sons?”

Sekar’s daughter was studying well and wanted to become a chartered accountant. The documentary asks, “What is the future of this girl who dreams to be a chartered accountant?”

Feeling the absence of her father and his motivation, the girl says with firm resolve, “I like to study for CA and I have told about this to my father too. My father used to encourage me a lot, but now there is none to Sekar Pandian's Son & Daughterdo so. However, I shall strive hard”. Her mother, Sekar’s wife, says, “I somehow borrow money and educate my children”.

When Kumarapandian was murdered, his wife was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Having lost her four sons and seeing her daughters-in-law and grandchildren suffering, Kumarapandian’s mother says, “We were happy and lived in peace. All these were brought to an abrupt end by them. What can we do? I just draw solace looking at the faces of those surviving”.

Four brothers have sacrificed their precious lives for a public cause. The terrorists who have murdered them have not been punished so far; the case has not come up for trial.

Meanwhile, the fundamentalists persist in their attempt to construct the mosque. Construction materials can reportedly be seen at the site and work is allegedly going on. No tangible action has been taken so far by the authorities.

(To be continued…)

» Thamizhchelvan is an independent senior journalist in Chennai.

Sekar, and younger brothers Suresh and Senthil

Kumarapandian's brothers Suresh and Senthil

The visual documentation of the above text can be seen in the video below from 8.20 mts to 13.25 mts.

Hindu Temples: Demand for ritual change misplaced – Unnikrishna Panicker

Hindu Temple

Unnikrishna Panicker“The demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a ‘timely change’ in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance.” – Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker

Most of the Hindu practices have changed with time. We have corrected many wrong practices of the past century. Those, who were not allowed to enter temples once, enter and worship now. Bloody and gory rituals once widely practised have ceased in the last century. It must be this history that inspires a few to demand more changes, which is not a bad idea in itself. Some current practices indeed go against tradition and rituals. For example, using elephants for processions is not what the rituals demand.

But the demand for change in some practices, like the ban on women’s entry in Sabarimala, is politically motivated. Can practices rooted in Sanatana Dharma be altered? At a time when a few demand a “timely change” in rituals and the very philosophy of Hinduism, this question is of prime importance. The temple culture practised in Kerala today is not very old. Historians say they are not older than 10th century CE. In other words, Sanatana Dharma and a proper Hindu form of temple worship started gaining popularity in Kerala after Judaism and Christianity reached here. This, however, does not mean that the rituals themselves originated in that period. The scriptures that Kerala temples follow when it comes to rituals Kodungallur Bhagavathy Deviand rules originated in Kerala and quote some of the ancient Hindu texts. They have taken into consideration regional beliefs and practices and tried to accommodate them while prescribing rituals. The rituals are not as inflexible as they are made out to be.

It was the great Kalidasa who wrote that all that is old need not be good, and all that is new need not be bad. Only a moodah (fool) will follow what others say without thinking about it. Unfortunately, when it comes to rituals, we follow what others say without putting any thought into it. In the case of Hindu rituals, what makes a practice customary is not its age but whether it is in line with the method of worship and rituals mentioned in authoritative texts.

Many customs in Kerala temples have no scriptural authority. For example, there is no textual basis for the ban on women’s entry into Sabarimala. Though texts like Tantrasamuchaya discuss what makes a temple impure in detail, the fact is there is no clear rule that bans women’s entry. But it will not be wise to conclude that such practices should be stopped because there is no textual rule. Another example is the use of elephants in temples. There is no textual rule that supports this cruel practice. One of the most authoritative texts on elephants, Matangaleela, says elephants won’t be comfortable if they are taken away from their natural habitat. Yet, we keep using elephants.

Not all rituals have a textual basis. In fact, some rituals go against the text too. To make rituals and customs similar across the temples would be to go against the very essence of Hinduism, as such an attempt would undermine the multicultural practices that exist in the Hindu compendium. Some historians argue that the Shiva and Vishnu temples of Kerala were once abodes of Devi. Legendary stories about the origin of most Devi temples in Kerala have many similarities.

Something common for most of these temples existed, even before Sanatana Dharma and Hindu practices became common in Kerala. Something that is as old as the language connects these temples. Even though temple culture did not exist in those times, there would have been a similarity in religious practices and beliefs. Most rituals and customs can be directly or indirectly linked to this ancient belief system that existed here, before Shaiva/Vaishnava/Devi belief systems and a structured kshethraachaara became prevalent in South India. It is not possible to find a basis to these practices in texts and scriptures, or to bring uniformity in existing practices.

If the practices that exist today cannot be made uniform, and if scriptural authority is not the criteria to decide whether a practice is ritualistic or not, on what basis should we try to redesign them? We need to redesign the practices. This, however, does not mean we can be judgmental. Most of the rituals, even Kerala Temple Elephantsthose that are seemingly outdated, started at a different time, under a different value system. We cannot judge them using today’s value system.

A research on Kerala temples, published seven decades ago, writes about the “indecent practices” of animal sacrifice and bawdy language. Both these practices do exist today. The difference is that we have become more mature and know the historical reasons behind these practices. There was a time when elephants were ritually killed, as a sacrifice, in Kerala. We have stopped such practices. If stopping such practices is not seen as a compromise on rituals, we can surely stop using elephants in temples altogether; that will not be a compromise on rituals either.

The case of ban on women’s entry in certain temples is different. We saw that the Hindu temple culture accommodated regional beliefs while structuring temple worship. The practice of ban on women’s entry, I believe, is a remnant of those regional beliefs. So, the argument that a ban on women’s entry goes against the broadness and openness of Hinduism is misplaced. We need to think about the criteria by which the rituals are redesigned. It is difficult to answer what these criteria should be. But answering a few related questions would help us get there.

Who needs a change in rituals? Whose demand is it? If it is the demand of practising Hindus and priests, there is a further question. Why do we need a change? It should not be politically motivated. One of the fundamental characteristics of Hinduism is its openness. We should not downgrade that by bringing rituals, traditions and practices into a common framework. – The New Indian Express, 19 May 2016

» Unnikrishna Panicker of Parappanangadi in Kerala is said to be Jayalalithaa’s most trusted astrologer.

Pilgrims at Sabarimala

Vasant Navaratri – Raji P. Shrivastava

Devi Saptashrungi Nivasini of Vani-Nanduri, Maharashtra

Devi Saptashrungi Nivasini of Vani-Nanduri, Maharashtra. This is the Goddess who gave the Devi Mahatmya to Markandeya Rishi at Saptashrungi Hill. She is also known as Brahmasvarupini and Tripurasundari. Many lakhs of devotees will climb the four kms up the hill this Vasant Navarati to visit the Maha Devi and camp below the temple for the nine days of the festival. – IS

Raji P. ShrivastavaAn interesting legend has it that the main Durga festival used to be the Chaitra or Vasant (spring-time) Navratri that is being observed from April [8] to April [16] this year. But when Lord Rama worshipped Durga during the Ashwin Navratri and sought her blessings prior to the war with Ravana, he lent celebrity value, as it were, to the Sharad/Ashwin Navratri which is celebrated around October each year, relegating the spring-time Navratri to second place in popular estimation.

However, seekers regard the latter as being of equal if not more spiritual significance. It is yet another celebration of the magnificence of Devi Durga, the added importance being that it culminates in Ram Navami.

This is a time to meditate and contemplate on the greatness of creation and the omnipotence of the Creator. In the Rig Veda, Devi declares that she is both the source and the force behind all the powers that exist in creation. She is the Absolute and is beyond the universe itself. All other deities are but offshoots of her supreme power (Devi Suktam, a hymn in the Rig Veda, 10:125).

“Aham janaaya samadam krunomyaham dyaava prithivee aavivesha,” proclaims the Mother Goddess. “It is I who protect those who seek refuge in me. I vanquish their enemies. I exist in the sky and in the earth as the all-knowing absolute” (Stanza 6, Devi Suktam).

Markandeya Hill In the famous epic Durga Saptashati, Devi is described as Indriyaanaam Adhishthaatri, or one who presides over the sense organs and, in fact, lives within all living beings as “Vyaapti Devi”, or the All-Pervasive Goddess.

Rishi Markandeya declares that the prestige and glory of the Mother Goddess is unparalleled in all the three worlds. Offering salutations to her, he addresses her by 11 auspicious names: Jayanti, Mangala, Kali, Bhadrakali, Kapalini, Durga, Kshama, Shivaa, Dhatri, Svaha and Svadha.

To the victorious slayer of demons like Mahishasura, Shumbha and Nishumbha, the assemblage of rishis prays with folded hands:

“Karotu saa na shubhahetuh ishwari shubhaani bhadraanyabhihantu chaapadah.”

“May the auspicious Goddess forever ensure our well-being and destroy our troubles” ( Durga Saptashati, 5:81).

Saptashrungi Devi TempleAn invocation in the Atharva Veda beseeches the Mother Goddess who grants boons generously and protects fiercely: Each Navratri night has a presiding deity — Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidaatri. Through prayer, fasting, congregational and personal worship, devotees turn to Devi like a child clings to its mother. Vasant Navratri is yet another opportunity for devotees to connect with the Mother and lead an accomplished life. – The Asian Age, 10 April 2013

» Raji P. Shrivastava is an IAS officer and spiritual columnist. She says her source of inspiration and reassurance are Hinduism’s ancient epics and hymns, the verses and lyrics of which are great teachers. 

Saptashrungi Hill, Nasik District, Maharashtra

See also

Ram temple will become a reality: Subramanian Swamy – Debobrat Ghose

Subramanian Swamy

Ram Lalla VirajmanSenior BJP leader and former Union minister Subramanian Swamy is confident of a positive verdict from the Supreme Court on the Ram Janmabhoomi case and is hopeful that the construction of Ram Mandir would begin in Ayodhya by year-end.

In a conversation with Firstpost after his address at Deendayal Research Institute at Jhandewalan on Saturday evening, the maverick politician and one of the most vocal proponents of Hindu nationalism, Swamy shared how he plans to go about the issue and why it is important for the country. Excerpts:

• How do you see the Ram Mandir becoming a reality?

• We’ll wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict. I’m confident that the apex court will give a favourable judgment. And if it happens, by the end of the year, construction of a Ram Temple will begin with mutual consent. I’ve filed a writ petition seeking day-to-day hearing of petitions in the Supreme Court. Our case is very strong and even the Allahabad High Court had supported out stand based on the evidence presented by us. The historical, archaeological and epigraphy-based evidences have shown that there existed a temple beneath the Babri mosque.

According to Hindu scripture and the present law, a praan-pratisthit vigraha (deity) is a living entity and a deity (Ram Lala) can hold the property, so all the property vests with the presiding deity and Ram is the owner. Nobody can have adverse possession over it. The Muslim scriptures and law lay down that no wakf can be created on another’s property. The Sunni Waqf Board was in adverse possession of this property. The emperor Babur owned no land on this soil.

• Do you think the Muslim leaders will agree to it?

• The Muslim leaders have said that they would accept the Supreme Court’s verdict. I don’t want to do it forcibly. I had discussions with AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, Syed Shahabuddin and other Muslim leaders. They also want day-to-day hearing. Earlier, I had taken up the issue for negotiation with Shahabuddin who was heading the other side. But the government fell, and so I could not complete the process.

During Narsimha Rao’s government in 1994, the Supreme Court had asked the government to take a stand on Ram Janmabhoomi issue. The government gave an affidavit in the court, which stated that if a pre-existing temple was found beneath the mosque, the Hindus would keep this land for temple construction. And, across Saryu river Muslims would build a mosque. No mosque will be allowed to be built in Ram Janmabhoomi.

• Is it practically possible to shift/construct mosque across the Saryu river?

• Even in Islamic countries like in Saudi Arabia, an important heritage mosque was demolished to give way for the construction of a project. An alternative plot was given and it was built at some other site. According to Islam, a mosque is a facilitating centre for offering namaz, where people gather and read. It’s a kind of prayer hall, unlike the way a temple is. If Muslims agree to it, Hindus will join in the construction of the mosque.

• Considering the present turmoil in the country, don’t you think construction of Ram Mandir and shifting of mosque would escalate it?

• As I’ve mentioned, all Muslim leaders have said that they would accept Supreme Court’s verdict on this issue. As far as extremist elements are concerned, they can be dealt with.

• Is the issue only restricted to the Ram Mandir, or does it extend beyond it?

• During the 800 years of Muslim rule, some 40,000-odd temples were demolished in the country. We’ve asked for three—Sri Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Krishna Temple in Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi. If Muslims agree to give us these three temples, they can keep the rest 39,997 mosques.

As per news reports, the arrival of stones to Ayodhya from other states has triggered panic among the locals. Is there any tension brewing there?

No, there’s no tension and it (arrival of stones) has been taking place for quite some time. People know well that without the Supreme Court’s ruling, construction won’t begin.

• Finally, do you think people are still interested in the construction of Ram Mandir?

• There is a public demand for building the Ram Temple. This is not the only project that I’ve been pursuing. Earlier I’ve taken up several projects, including religious ones. On the issue of Ram Temple, people are very much concerned. They came and told me to pursue it in the manner I did on Ram Sethu, which was a big success. The Ram temple will become a reality. – Firstpost, 21 February 2016

» Debobrat Ghose is a correspondent for Firstpost.

Hindu Temples: What Happened To Them, Vol 1

Hindu Temples: What Happened To Them: The Islamic Evidence

Congress attempts to takeover Kamakhya Temple – Jayant Chowdhury

Kamakhya Temple, Nilachal Hills, Assam

Journalist“This is a shameless attempt by the Tarun Gogoi government to run the temple through its chosen agents. The government has no business to run a temple or any place of worship, be it a mosque, church, gurdwara or synagogue. The Kamakhya Temple is being run perfectly well and the Tarun Gogoi government was trying to subvert last year’s Supreme Court verdict restoring the task of running the temple to the Dolois, as has been the age-old practice. We will strongly oppose any attempt by this government to resuscitate the bill,” said BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma. – Jayant Chowdhury

Tarun GogoiAn attempt by the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in Assam to take over the management of the ancient Kamakhya temple has been nixed, albeit temporarily.

The state government had introduced a bill (the Assam Sri Sri Maa Kamakhya Devalaya Management Bill, 2015) in the state assembly on Monday that would have led to the creation of a board, headed by a serving or retired IAS officer and comprising members nominated by the government, representatives from the temple management, and the district administration as well as the state revenue and finance departments, to look after the management and development of the temple.

After Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) members objected to the bill, the government withdrew it temporarily.

But to fully understand the sinister motive behind the Congress government’s attempt to take over the Kamakhya Temple, it is important to delve a bit into its history. The management and administration of the Kamakhya Temple, one of the most powerful Shakti peeths and an important religious site for Hindus, has been under two ‘Dolois’ who are elected by the ‘Bardeuris’ or priests of the principal Kamakhya Temple, since the time of the Ahom kings.

These Bardeuris are descendants of the famous Kanyakubja Brahmins of Kannauj and were brought over to run the Kamakhya temple by Maharaja Dharmapala of the Pal dynasty in mid-11th century. There are four clans of Bardeuris and each adult male of the four clans (there are around 450 of them) can stand for election to the post of the two Dolois .

The person getting the highest number of votes becomes the ‘Dangor Doloi’ and the one getting the second-highest votes become the ‘Xoru Doloi’ (‘Dangor’ means ‘elder’ in Assamese, and ‘Xoru’ is ‘younger’). The two Dolois have five-year tenures.

In 1992, Jnananda Prasad Sarma and Paran Chandra Sarma were elected as the ‘Dangor’ and ‘Xoru’ Dolois respectively. But when their terms were about to end in 1997, they constituted the Kamakhya Debutter Board to run the temple. Over time, this Board came to be packed with priests and pandas loyal to the Congress, which has been in power for most of the time in Assam since Independence.

The Kamakhya Bardeuri Samaj filed a case against the Debutter Board at the Gauhati High Court in 1998 and the High Court, in November 2011, ruled that the Board had no locus standi and the affairs of the temple should be handed over to the Bardeuris. But the Board challenged this verdict in the Supreme Court which, on July 7, 2015 upheld the High Court verdict. This was a big blow to the Congress government in Assam, which could no longer remote-control the affairs of the temple through the Debutter Board that was packed with its loyalists and lackeys.

Kamakhya DeviBut the state government did not honour a vital part of the SC order. “The Supreme Court had asked the district authorities to seize the premises, accounts and properties of the Kamakhya Devalaya from the Debutter Board and hand them over to the Bardeuri Samaj. But even six months after that order, we haven’t got the accounts of the temple and most of the properties. So we filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court last month,” said Bhaskar Sarma, the secretary of the Kamakhya Bardeuri Samaj.

The bill brought by the Tarun Gogoi government is, thus, a sinister attempt to subvert the Supreme Court order and take over the management of the temple. On getting to know of the state government’s plans to introduce the bill, members of the Bardeuri Samaj launched an indefinite hunger strike from January 30.

The state’s move attracted criticism and widespread condemnation from intellectuals and cultural personas of the state as well as the powerful All Assam Students’ Union and the opposition BJP and the AGP. When the bill was tabled, Opposition members questioned the motive behind the bill, especially since the Kamahya Temple was being run perfectly well by the two Dolois and the Bardeuri Samaj. They also said the age-old traditions of the historic shrine should not be interfered with, and pointed out that the Bardeuri Samaj had not been consulted. Facing flak within and outside the Assembly, the government kept the bill in abeyance. However, it has not dropped the bill and chances are that it would try again to introduce and pass the bill.

The Opposition, while questioning the Congress government’s motives, has also pointed out that governments have no business managing the affairs of religious places. “This is a shameless attempt by the Tarun Gogoi government to run the temple through its chosen agents. The government has no business to run a temple or any place of worship, be it a mosque, church, gurdwara or synagogue. The Kamakhya Temple is being run perfectly well and the Tarun Gogoi government was trying to subvert last year’s Supreme Court verdict restoring the task of running the temple to the Dolois, as has been the age-old practice. We will strongly oppose any attempt by this government to resuscitate the bill,” said BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma.

AGP leaders also spoke in the same vein and wondered why the Tarun Gogoi government is targeting the Kamakhya Temple. “In that case, the government should take over the management of all mosques and churches in the state. Can Tarun Gogoi dare do that?” wondered a senior AGP leader.

In Assam, a wide cross-section of the citizenry are dismayed by the Congress government’s attempts to interfere in the management of a Hindu place of worship and are asking if Tarun Gogoi can even think of taking over the management of any mosque or church in the state. – Swarajya, 4 February 2016

» Jayant Chowdhury is a commentator on politics and society in Bengal and eastern, including north-eastern, India.

Sonia Gandhi & Tarun Gogoi

TTD’s hundi income to cross Rs 1,000 crore in 2016-17 – G. P. Shukla

Venkateshwara Temple Tirumala

Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams“For the first time in the history of the TTD, the income derived from the temple hundi by way of offerings is put at Rs. 1,010 crore, surpassing the one thousand crore mark.” – G. P. Shukla

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) on Saturday has approved its annual budget for the year 2016-17 with an estimated revenue of Rs. 2,678.07 crores.

For the first time in the history of the TTD, the income derived from the temple hundi by way of offerings is put at Rs. 1,010 crore, surpassing the one thousand crore mark.

The second major source of income is interest on investments with the estimates being pegged at Rs. 778.93 crores.

The TTD also expects an income of Rs. 209 crores by way of the sale of Rs. 300 special entry darshan tickets and a whopping Rs. 175 crores by way of sale of prasadams, Rs. 150 crores by sale of human hair followed by Rs. 114.5 crores by way of sale of choultry receipts and Rs. 55 crores through the sale of arjithas seva tickets.

Other receipts include Rs. 37.39 crores by way of loans and advances to the employees, EMD, security deposits etc., in addition to Rs. 15 crores from the sale of gold dollars, besides a staggering income of Rs. 133.25 crores by way of lease, rents from hotels and shops, kalyanakatta, engineering, toll gate and other capital receipts.

Tirumala Tirupati HundiThe payments side shows a bulk outgo of Rs. 757.06 towards corpus and other investments as against Rs. 629.83 crore in the last year. The next major outflow is Rs. 500 crore towards salaries and wages followed by Rs. 320 crore towards the procurement of materials.

Other major expenses include grants and commissions (Rs. 165 crore), fixed assets, engineering works (Rs. 160 crore), out sourcing expenses (Rs.199.25 crore), pension trust and gratuity payments (Rs. 120 crore), pension fund contributions (Rs. 75 crore), electrical charges (Rs. 55 crore), repairs and maintenance (Rs.80.20 crore), loans sand advances to employees, EMD, security deposits (Rs. 41.50 crore), other benefits like reimbursement of fees, books, Brahmotsavam bahumanam (Rs. 23 crore), besides Rs. 129.96 crore towards other capital and miscellaneous expenses. – The Hindu, 30 January 2016

Tirumala with Sri Venkateshwara Temple

Sabarimala: The debate between modernity and age-old practices – George Augustine

George Augustine“The two recent issues, Sabarimala and Jallikattu, … calls for a background check, because we need to exercise discrimination when we approach a matter of faith, whereas reason is enough to resolve all other matters. Especially so, because Hindu reforms invariably seem to attract Constitutional activists from every nook and corner to demand equal rights for all and sundry, including those who have nothing to do with the event or tradition, purely motivated by political considerations. … We should exercise caution and restraint while dealing with faith, at least for now.” – George Augustine

Shah Bano BegumWhen religious reforms become the responsibility of the legislature and the judiciary in India it always ends up maintaining the status quo, without any redressal of the aggrieved party, whoever may that party be. Constitutional rights rarely carry force in India, particularly when they come to face religious injunctions and customs. The Shah Bano case and the subsequent enactment of a new law by the Rajiv Gandhi government had clearly demonstrated nearly three decades ago that the Constitutional rights of Muslim women to enjoy equality in marriage are ultimately subservient to Muslim personal law, no matter what the judiciary thinks. The same applies to the Christian inheritance law which discriminates against Christian women despite the Mary Roy case. In this regard, their Indian compatriots, the Hindu women are better off in terms of personal law.

Supreme Court of IndiaLegality of reform

However, all too often, Hindu religious customs and traditions are often raked up to point out all sorts of injustices done to women as well as animals. Let us say, the general Indian media is more concerned and preoccupied with Hindu religious and social practices than with Muslim or Christian practices. Muslim women are generally not allowed into mosques and Christian women can never aspire to become Catholic priests. But these things rarely come to court or are discussed. Thus, there is a long journey ahead for all of us in India to arrive at full justice, whether we are Hindus or Muslims or Christians.

India has come a long way from independence and our women are slowly getting footholds in the social and political landscape and they are getting assertive to demand equal opportunities and consideration in the religious sphere as well. It is a just demand and it is the obligation of all people in charge to do whatever there is to do to realise their aspirations as soon as possible. There is nothing in the way, but the political will and determination on the part of the current government to level the ground between men and women regardless of their religions, for which the Uniform Civil Code is a prerequisite. Under the current political dispensation there is no indication of any positive light, but we can still go on hoping towards a just and fair India sooner than later.

Constitution of IndiaFaith versus democracy

The two recent issues, Sabarimala and Jallikattu,  taken up by our Supreme Court calls for a background check, because we need to exercise discrimination when we approach a matter of faith, whereas reason is enough to resolve all other matters. Especially so, because Hindu reforms invariably seem to attract Constitutional activists from every nook and corner to demand equal rights for all and sundry, including those who have nothing to do with the event or tradition, purely motivated by political considerations. It is a good trend that we have so many people cheerleading our good Constitution whatever may be their motive, but we should exercise caution and restraint while dealing with faith, at least for now.

Faith is an untouchable in our country. No one can question it, no matter what kind of faith. However, in the past, many Hindu ‘traditions’ like sati, child marriage, devadasi systems have been put to sleep through legislation. Some of them caused harmful side effects and adverse consequences for many involved, but at least some of them were carried out in good faith and the communities have benefitted too to a certain extent. So, by precedent, Hindu traditions are open, dynamic and flexible to change unlike the Abrahamic traditions of Islam and Christianity, which are more ideologies than religions and have remained rigid and ossified in their fundamentals since their inception in the stone-age period of civilisation.

Swami AyyappanSabarimala

Sabarimala is one of the oldest shrines in Kerala with a unique tradition. There are many such singular temples in Kerala (Chakkulathu Kavu and Attukal Bhagavathi Temple) and each of them keeps its uniqueness by adhering to the peculiar customs and traditions followed for at least more than a millennium. Sabarimala temple is one of the five Sastha temples in Kerala, each of the five housing the deity in a certain stage of human life: Kulaththupuzha Temple housing an infant Sastha, Aryankavu housing an adolescent, and at Achankovil as the householder (grihasthashrami) with his wives Poorna and Pushkala and at Erumeli as Dharma Sastha.

Sastha is consecrated at Sabarimala as “naishtika brahmachari” (persistent ascetic) in a state of samadhi, and is believed to have been established by the legendary Parasurama. To agnostics, this might appear to be obsolete and irrelevant, but remember, this is the realm of belief and faith. A murthi inside the sreekovil in a particular temple is consecrated according to Tantric principles, which is believed to endow certain powers to the murthi. This particular power is distinct in each consecration according to the Tantric principle used and remains with the murthi, provided that certain conditions are met by the devotees and those responsible for the temple. One of those conditions at Sabarimala is the absence of fertile women in the sannidhanam, whose presence can (in simple terms) affect the tantric energy of the murthi, making it powerless.

From time immemorial, women of child-bearing age never ventured into the thick Sabari forest to disturb the meditation of Sastha due to the prevailing belief and as a mark of respect for what Sastha was purportedly doing. It was not an easy journey then, and not very easy now even with two well-lit concrete paths. However devotees were accompanied by girls before they attained puberty and elderly women in the family on their annual pilgrimage to the shrine. Following the same tradition, all pilgrims had to undergo ascetic renunciation for 41 days before they ventured up the mountain, so that they were on an energy level conducive to Lord Sastha. This is the belief that became the basis for the control of entry of fertile women by the temple administration body, Travancore Devaswom in 1969 and later upheld by the Kerala High Court in 1991. The entry control by the administration became stringent after a dance scene was shot in the sannidhanam for a Tamil movie (Nambinar Keduvathillai) in 1986, when several actresses of fertile age were present. As a consequence, the actresses, director K. Sankar and the temple officials who granted permission were taken to court and penalised.

By the entry of fertile women into the sannidhaanam, the consecrated murthi loses its validity, according to Tantrics and believers who have been following the tradition. This kind of esoteric information is absent in the public sphere for obvious reasons, and one cannot really blame the shrill, irate women who appear on telly calling for everybody’s blood, sometimes asking foolishly for evidence of Ayyappa’s dislike for ‘menstruating’ women. People concerned (temple administration body) should pacify these women and educate them in matters of faith, if that is really what they want. If a fertile woman is a believer, she certainly ought to believe in the consecration philosophy and abide by it and make it a point to go there after menopause. If she is not a believer, why go there in the first place? There are many hilly resorts for tourists in Kerala.

Another aspect many young and ignorant women bring up is the ban on women in temples during their menstruation period. Actually there is no official ban, but only an etiquette that is as old as temple worship. Nobody is there to check whether anybody is menstruating. If it is found out later by evidence, some ritual has to be performed to recreate the pure energy. None of the temple-going women I know would ever dream of visiting a temple during their menstruation period, because they know that it is not the appropriate thing to do for reasons other than sexism. But ignorance continues to make the most noise.

ThookamNon-tantric ritual arts and sport that come under ban

Other than the issues of modernity and age-old temples, there are folk rituals that have been affected by bans. By folk rituals, I mean non-Brahmanical ritualistic arts and sport, particularly those that have some sort of violence and pain involved, and that have been banished by modern sensibilities for better or for worse, but mostly for the worst.

An instance is a ritual called ‘Elavoor thookam performed at the Elavoor Puthenkavu Bhagavathy Temple, about 40 kilometres north of Cochin, which came under ban for the first time in 1987, revived on and off and later banned again in 2004. The ritual involves the suspension of a devotee on a 32-foot cantilever arm mounted on a carriage that circumambulates the temple thrice. The suspension is implemented by two iron hooks pierced through the back skin of the devotee and is performed after several days of renunciation by the protagonist and pre-treatment of the skin with specially prepared oil for 21 days. You may see it here.

The concerned devotees who have undertaken the thookam proclaim there is no pain involved and reportedly there are persons who have done this multiple times and still living and evidently without any ill effect. However the opponents of the thookam who wanted the ban and secured it say there have been accidents in the past, but none mention any accidental death. In the run up to the second ban in 2004, when the then temple advisory committee wanted to revive the ritual, the Tantrics responsible for the temple were consulted and they proclaimed the ritual was not tantric, hence not scriptural and not indispensable for the functions of the temple. Many Hindu organisations opposed the ritual and prominent among the personalities who led the movement for the ban were Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha of Narayanashrama Tapovanam in Kerala and Kummanam Rajasekharan, the present President of the BJP in Kerala.

After the ban by the district collector, the pro-thookam agitators were disappointed but equally adamant in reviving their ritual, which they say is several centuries old. One of the most important reasons the opposing Hindu group cited was that the ritual was a “vestige of human sacrifice” and that the present ritual was “barbaric”. To be honest, the ritual is a version of the “full body suspension” currently practised by “body artists” in Europe and the USA. I personally know a German artist who told me the suspension is entirely painless, and the element of risk is carried by the person who pierces the hook, which makes all the difference. Fatalities can be entirely ruled out due to the medical assistance at hand. There are more dangerous sporting events like motor racing or the extreme sports, where mistakes are too expensive.

BullsThe strongest argument I’ve heard in favour of the jallikattu is the variety of native cattle breeds nurtured and conserved by this one single annual event. No doubt it was also a major sporting event in ancient India and also significant in terms of social anthropology, and it is not anything to be scorned or insulted, but respected. The worst feature of jallikattu is the toll of deaths (reportedly 200 in the last two decades) and injuries sustained by people as well as by the animals. We can forget the death toll of humans, because they decide for themselves unlike the poor bulls, which are fed and nurtured by their rich owners but treated cruelly to make them agitated and ferocious for the festival. Jallikattu is likely to vanish just like Elavoor thookam unless a congenial solution is found among the organisers. In a combative atmosphere, where Hindus are divided, politics will creep in and vested interests will make sure that priceless cultural assets are destroyed.

The best way out of such precarious situations is the reformation of the sport or ritual, putting in place new rules that address the safety of the animals first. People who protest against other people, who expose themselves to risk in whatever name, should mind their own business. Because, they presume to be superior and know more about what other people want. This kind of condescension has been made into an art form by present-day pseudo-liberals and academics that have had their brains washed and ironed by obsolete ideologies and given free access to TV talk time. A lot more progress would be achieved if these debates were made meaningful by integrating humane values and by excluding politically biased people who see the world only in terms of ideology, bereft of common sense and culture. – MyIndMakers, 22 January 2016

» George Augustine has a master’s degree in English language and literature and is an independent writing and editing professional who works in Kerala and Germany. He has written numerous articles on faith and religion on internet forums and blogs. 

Bleeding Campaign

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