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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Prem Panicker

'Couldn't Ravikrishna have clarified before entering the temple?'

June 12, 2007

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Somewhere along the way from May 17 when Ravikrishna entered the temple and June 4, when Achuthanandan did his little number, a seemingly simple problem had been elevated to a new caste war, thanks to a mix of cupidity and some inspired spinning.

Vayalar Ravi had fired the first salvo, when he said the purification ceremony was an act of Brahminical arrogance. Son Ravikrishna upped the ante, when he said the first purification ceremony had humiliated him, and the second one, this May, had denied the rights and privileges of the Hindu religion to his newborn son as well.

That argument is disingenuous. Tantri Chennas Raman Namboodiripad clarified, to in his interview and to the Dewaswom Board in his official response to Ravikrishna's complaint, that the May punyaham was not aimed at the infant Rajiv Krishna, but at Ravikrishna's own entry. Thus, the chief priest pointed out, it was a continuation of the year 2000 purification ceremony, on the occasion of his marriage; the argument that successive generations of Vayalar Ravi's family had been discriminated against did not hold.

While the tantri and the minister's family trade charges and parse the incident in the light of their own views and Minister Sudhakaran issues confrontational statements, elsewhere in Guruvayur there are signs of increasing polarization of opinion.

The likes of Rajan, a local Ezhava community leader, Dewaswom Board member and owner of a music outlet in the prime location to the left of the temple entrance, represent the hard line faction.

"They talk of reform, they want the acharams (rituals and observances) changed," Rajan says. "Which acharam? Do they, these atheist ministers, known what the rituals are? To change something, you first have to know it, to understand it � do they? It is easy for them to abuse the tantri, but in that situation, Chennas could not do anything other than what he did � order a purification.

"Ravikrishna knew that there was a problem the last time he entered the temple; wouldn't it have been a simple matter for him to clarify things with the Dewaswom before entering the temple this time?

"But," says the activist, who has been involved with the temple for near on 30 years now, "there is a larger question here. Why is it that always it is Hindu temples, Hindu observances that are under question? For 14 years now, the Supreme Court has been dragging its feet on a petition seeking entry into mosques for women � why doesn't Sudhakaran talk about that? At a time when national and state governments are enforcing reservations for women, why doesn't the Communist government here start a movement to allow women to enter mosques? Why are Hindus always at the receiving end of all this so-called 'reform'?"

The Democratic Youth Federation of India, the student wing of the CPI-M, announced a satyagraha June 18, to force the famed temple to open its doors to all believers. Instantly, the influential Nair Service Society, in the person of its general secretary PK Narayana Panicker, hit back with a threat to resist any such movement.

"If Sudhakaran, or the DYFI, start a move to limit the power of tantric, we will join with other organisations to resist it, and launch a counter-agitation," Panicker told "The minister wants to destroy the Hindu faith, to devalue our famous temples, but we will not permit him to tamper with the feelings of devout Hindus."

Panicker said any attempt by the government to interfere in what is purely a religious matter will force the NSS to move the courts, and take to the streets.

The local chapter of the Bharatiya Janata Party has taken a similar stand. "The agitation by the DYFI, and the statements by Dewaswom Minister G Sudhakaran, are part of the CPM's larger agenda to destroy Hindu religion and its organisations," BJP state president PK Krishnadas told "We will resist all such attempts, by any means necessary."

As with all such controversies, there is a distinct middle path � and ironically, it is Krishnadas himself who defines what that path, and its goal, should be.

"Though we are accused of being stuck in the past, we are actually in favor of reform in temples," the state BJP chief says. "And we don't believe in pointing fingers at other religions, and saying we will reform only when they do � Hinduism should be the leader, not the follower, in reform as in all else, in keeping with the broad-minded nature of our religion.

"Where we disagree is with the minister's argument that reform will be imposed by governmental decree � that, we will oppose. We believe that priests of leading temples, Vedic scholars and Hindu organizations should get together, and discuss the nature of needed reforms and how best to implement them."

That is a position that finds favor with Dewaswom Board chairman Kalathill Ravindran. "There is little point," he says, "in sticking to dogma, and talking of prescribed rituals, and refusing to change.

"Where is any of this prescribed? Is it written down somewhere, is it codified? No � it is handed down from father to son; in other words, rituals are whatever the current chief priest says they are.

"Clearly, that should change. There should be broad consensus on what existing rituals are, what rules apply; these rules and rituals must then be examined in light of changing times, and changes made as required. In any case," argues the temple chief, "how valid is the argument that keeps believers out, and non-believers in?

"The Kerala [Images] chief minister and even Dewaswom Board Minister Sudhakaran are on record as saying they are atheists, non-believers. But for the record, they are Hindus � so if Mr Achudanandan and Mr Sudhakaran enter Guruvayur temple tomorrow, will the priest conduct a punyaham? Of course not.

"On the other hand, here is a Ravikrishna who is clearly a believer and is even described as a Hindu in official records; yet, when he entered the temple, we conduct a purification and create controversy. Clearly, time has come for a rethink � and I believe that such a rethink should be spear-headed by the priests themselves.

"Why should reform be forced from the outside? Isn't it better to come from within?" asks Ravindran, who in course of today's meeting intends to toe a hard line on the Ravikrishna affair, based on his belief that while the priest may have been right, according to existing norms, in acting as he did, he was morally wrong.

Next: 'Why should the government intefere?'

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