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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/K Ravindran, chairman, Guruvayur Dewaswom Board

'Personally, a temple should be open to all who believe'

June 07, 2007

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He awoke one morning and found himself hunted. "I'm ducking the media," Kalathill Ravindran, chairman of the Guruvayur Dewaswom Board, laughs.

The former mayor of Kozhikode had barely taken charge as the head of Kerala's most famous temple a little over two months ago; even before he had found his feet, he found the temple in his charge surrounded by controversy.

"It is a delicate time, a delicate issue," Ravindran said, on the morning of June 4. "It is a time to defuse the tension, not add to it with more statements that will provoke more responses."

That said, the Board chairman responded to questions on the issue arising out of the punyaham (purification) ceremony performed at the Sri Krishna temple in Guruvayur following the May 18 visit of Union Minister for Overseas Indians Vayalar Ravi, his son Ravi Krishna, daughter-in-law Nisha and infant grandson.

The Dewaswom Board has been conspicuously silent on the Vayalar Ravi issue...

It is in nobody's interest to keep piling up statements on statements. Something happened, the wrongs and rights of which need to be examined. We have scheduled a working committee meeting for June 12 and 13, at which time we will go into all the issues involved and then issue a statement.

As head of the temple's governing body, you would however have some views, some opinions...

As a citizen, I have my own views. As head of the temple's governing body, however, I am supposed by the nature of my office to find the consensus view and to represent the view of the entire managing committee and the board.

So as a citizen, what do you think of the controversy surrounding the punyaham ceremony?

There is a legal issue involved here. As per the Guruvayur Dewaswom Act, the final authority when it comes to all rites and rituals pertaining to the temple is the tantri (priest); his word on that is law. And this has been upheld by the Supreme Court itself. It follows then that the board cannot second-guess the tantri...

Ravikrishna has submitted a written complaint to you. Are you then saying that there is nothing you can do with that complaint?

No, not at all -- that is why I said the managing committee in its upcoming meeting will review all aspects of the question. Ravikrishna has submitted his complaint; the tantri Chennas Raman Namboodiripad has already given us a detailed explanation of the events, and why he acted as he did.

We will naturally be consulting with other people, gathering opinions and suggestions. We will then examine all of these, as a body -- what can be done will only be known at that time; I cannot unilaterally say this can be done or this cannot be done.

What are your personal feelings on this issue?

My feelings are not necessarily pegged to this one issue, let me make that clear, Having said that, I think it is important for those of us who run temples, whether we are administrators or tantri, to realise that times are changing, to understand the imperative need to change with the times.

You know how it used to be in the Bilathikulam Shiva Temple. When I was a child, it was mandatory that you first bathed in the temple tank, and then went to the temple wearing those wet clothes, with your chest left uncovered. Around that time, Brahmin women went to the temple with their bosom bared.

Does anyone bathe at the temple tank today before going to the temple? Do you? Do women walk around with breasts bared? Much has changed, and those changes have been mandated by the changing times. We need, as enlightened individuals and as an enlightened society, to recognise the needs of changing times, and to implement change as required.

In the specific case of Guruvayur, what changes do you, personally, believe are due?

Again -- am sorry to keep repeating this, but it is necessary -- must point out that as an individual I have my own opinions, but those opinions are not to be confused with the consensus opinion of the board. I have been avoiding the media as much as I can, because I don't want to say something as an individual, and then find it represented as 'Board President says'...

Having said that, here is how I look at it: Hinduism is based on faith; Guruvayurappan loves those who are devoted to him. He does not ask who your father was and who your mother was; if you have faith in him, if you believe in him, he welcomes you.

Earlier, it was said that if untouchables, as they were called then, entered the temple, all hell would break loose. But following the 1936 Temple Entry Proclamation signed by the then ruler of Travancore Raja Sri Chitra Tirunaal Balarama Varma, 'untouchables' were allowed to enter the temple.

Did Guruvayur, on the day it threw its gates open to all Hindus, lose its sanctity? Did all hell break loose? Clearly not -- the temple has only grown in stature, in popularity, in what we call chaitanyam, aura. And that should tell us that it is not good to be rigid, dogmatic, about dos and don'ts.

So then, assuming for purpose of argument that you were the sole authority, that you could do as you wished, what sort of change would you like to see?

Let us first look at what the situation is today. We say that all Hindus can enter the temple. So who is a Hindu? Do we define him by faith? No, we define a Hindu by birth.

So then, we have a situation where say someone who was born to Hindu parents, and is therefore legally a Hindu, is as a matter of personal belief an atheist. He denies that God exists; he disputes the existence of God; he has contempt for religion. Yet, we allow him to enter the temple if he wants to.

If such a person, who repudiates Guruvayurappan's existence, enters the temple, do we do a punyaham? Do we purify the temple? No.

On the other hand, if someone who is an ardent devotee, who publicly and privately professes faith in a religion or in a deity, wants to enter the temple, we block him on the grounds that he is not a Hindu by birth.

This is the essential dichotomy of the present situation: A Hindu non-believer can enter, a non-Hindu believer should not enter. Should that not be the other way around? Should not the doors be open, the deity accessible, to all who believe in him?

The basic question I ask myself is this: If the deity, if Guruvayurappan, could speak and if you asked him whether someone who loved him could come to his temple, to pray before him, would he say no?

So yes, my personal feeling is, it is time for change; it is time to say a temple should be open to all who believe, irrespective of all other considerations.

One other thing is important to note -- I do not advocate that everyone be allowed in, irrespective; such a measure will turn the temple into a tourist spot, where people come out of curiosity, not belief or faith. And that will destroy the sanctity of the temple; which no believer will want to happen.

So then, as administrative head of one of the most iconic temples in the land, what can you do to bring about such change?

At a personal level, nothing -- change doesn't happen because one person wills it. What we need is to sit with all those who are concerned -- the administrators, the tantris, the government, other interested parties -- for a rational discussion of all issues. Such a discussion will throw up consensus, agreement on the right way to proceed further. It cannot happen overnight, and it will not -- but it is important to start now, so that change, desirable change, happens for the benefit of all.

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