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The Rediff Special/ George Iype in Kochi
Temple in upheaval over Sri Lankan First Lady's faith
January 17, 2006
Less than three weeks after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse prayed at the Sri Krishna Temple at Guruvayoor, Kerala, the temple authorities have posed a question to the state government: Is the president's wife, Shiranthi Rajapakse, a Christian?
Mahinda and Shiranthi Rajapakse's visit to the famed temple has kicked up a row in Guruvayoor and Colombo.
Last week Sri Lankan newspaper Sunday Leader published a report following rediff.com's special report on how the Guruvayoor temple allows Buddhists and Jains to worship but bans entry to people from other faiths.
Sri Lankan newspapers, which followed up the story, probed the Sri Lankan first lady's religious antecedents. The reports said Shiranthi, a Catholic by birth, converted to Buddhism. The reports also mentioned her religious contacts with Christian leaders in Sri Lanka, including Oswald Gomis, the archbishop of Colombo.
Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa, a keen Sri Lanka watcher, says Shiranthi was born Christian. "She converted to Buddhism before she got married to Mahinda Rajapakse," he said.
The Sri Lankan newspaper reports have troubled the Guruvayoor temple authorities, who have now asked the Kerala government to confirm if Shiranthi is a Christian or a Buddhist.
"If she is a Christian, she committed a grave religious mistake by entering our temple and praying here," Chennas Raman Namboodiripad, the chief priest at the Guruvayoor temple told rediff.com
He said if the Sri Lankan president's wife is a Christian, "the temple is duty-bound to perform all the poojas from December 30 (the day of the visit) to the present date."
"We will also have to undertake cleansing because if non-Hindus enter the temple, we cleanse the holy precincts with a set of purifying religious rituals," the chief priest pointed out.
Temple administrator K Anil Kumar said the Sri Lankan president and his wife were allowed to worship after the temple authorities confirmed with the state government that the couple were Buddhists.
"We had informed the government that non-Hindus are prohibited entry inside the holy precincts. We do not know why the Sri Lankan government did not reveal the truth if Shiranthi Rajapakse is a Christian," Anil Kumar told rediff.com
He said the temple administration has asked the state government to officially confirm whether she is a Christian or a Buddhist. "If she is a Christian, as news reports now suggest, we will have to cleanse the temple," the administrator added.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Kerala government said President Rajapakse phoned Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to inform him that his wife is a Buddhist. "'Some anti-government lobby in Sri Lanka is behind the allegations'," the spokesperson quoted the Sri Lankan leader as telling the chief minister.
Rajapakse, a Buddhist, prayed for 'peace in my country' and offered a gold crown to the diety.
By worshipping at the temple, Rajapakse said he fulfilled a vow made during the presidential election, which he won on November 17.
The Guruvayoor temple bars people from other religions from entering the shrine.
Some years ago, legendary singer K J Yesudas, who has sung several songs in praise of Lord Krishna, was barred entry into the temple because he is a Christian.
Five years ago, Congress General Secretary Vayalar Ravi's son was married in the Guruvayoor temple. Days later, a purification rite was performed to cleanse the temple premises since Ravi's wife is not a Hindu, but a Christian.
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