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September 15, 2000
Purification rite at Guruvayur temple stokes controversy
D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram
A purification rite performed at the famed Sri Krishna temple in Guruvayur following the marriage of senior Congress leader Vayalar Ravi's son has kicked up communal passions in Kerala.
Some Hindu communities are up in arms against the temple authorities for practicing what they call untouchability. They believe that the temple thantri (chief priest) ordered the purification rite considering Ravi's Ezhava background. Ravi, MP, is a former president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee.
Thantri P S Divakaran Namboodiripad ordered the ceremony after Ravi's son Unni and daughter-in-law Nisha prayed in the temple following their wedding at a mandapam nearby, on September 9. A sum of Rs 1,500 for the event was collected from P T Mohanakrishnan, a Congress leader who attended the marriage, and it was conducted in the name of one of the bride's relatives.
An angry Ravi said the rite was conducted without his knowledge and demanded stern action against the thantri for discrimination on the basis of caste.
In a letter to Guruvayur Devaswom Board chairman Venugopala Kurup, Ravi said he was unable to understand why the rite was performed after his son and son-in-law entered the temple following the marriage. 'Is it that he is an untouchable because he is an Ezhava?,' the Congress leader wanted to know. Ravi asserted his son was a Hindu and had the right to enter any temple he likes.
He pointed out that his son had entered the temple several times in the past and none had thought of any purification then. He said the marriage was conducted as per Ezhava tradition and he had submitted the necessary documents in this regard to the temple authorities.
Mythreya, an Ezhava priest-turned human rights activist, demanded stern action against the thantri. He told rediff.com that the incident showed that the Guruvayur temple was practicing untouchability despite receiving grants from the state government.
Mythreya said the temple had many divisions, where the lower castes are denied entry even now. Only Brahmins are allowed at such venues, he claimed. Mythreya, a disciple of Swami Nityachaitanya Yati, alleged that a temple coterie do not allow member of so-called backward communities like Ezhavas to become priests at Gurayavur.
He said it was a mystery how well-trained members of the backward communities have failed to become the thantri at Guruvayur despite the selection being done through a draw of lots. "An impartial inquiry into the selection would reveal the foul play being committed by the coterie," Mythreya alleged.
Mythreya claimed the temple authorities still considered Ezhavas and other backward communities as untouchables and added that purification ceremonies were conducted regularly after individuals from these communities entered the temple. "Nobody has bothered to question the practice. I consider the courage shown by the Congress leader to question the practice as a good sign. The Guruvayur temple cannot be allowed to remain an island when most temples in the state have abdicated untouchability following strong social and religious movements," Mythreya said.
The temple had witnessed a major controversy in the early eighties when Swami Ananthathreertha, the last disciple of Sree Narayana Guru, was beaten up for entering the dining hall meant for Brahmins.
The incident involving Ravi's son has come as an embarrassment for the Guruvayur Devaswom Board, which is controlled by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front.
Devaswom chairman Kurup admitted he personally disapproved of the thantri's decision, but expressed helplessness, as the priest is the supreme authority in temporal matters.
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