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Kerala temple tamasha leaves two jobless, many angry and a few laughing

In literate Kerala, the temple tamasha continues.

On one side you have Thiruvalla Sri Vallabha temple thantri (head priest) Akkeeramon Kalidasa Bhattatripad, bristling with the fire of tradition; on the other, it is melshanti (high priest) and Malayalam poet Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri belligerently holding aloft the torch of modern beliefs.

To recap, the controversy is all about 'crossing the seas' (against Hindu scripts, according to the thantri). Which the good Namboodiri did, literally, when he went to London to lecture on the Vedas. Since his return, he has been banned from the temple -- till he purifies himself by reciting the Gayathri mantra 1,008 times.

Which ritual, Namboodiri simply refuses to do.

Now, fellow poet, firebrand social activist and Kerala Women's Commission chairperson Sugatha Kumari has jumped into the fray. As has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

''It (the thantri's stand) is a display of obscurantism,'' Sugatha Kumari said.

"What," asks the RSS, "would accrue from clinging to such outdated rituals other than leading to deeper schisms within the Hindu society?''

Meanwhile, Travancore Devaswom Board (the governing body of the temple) officials are having a thoroughly unpleasant time. The board, which surprisingly remained loyal to the melshanti (it ordered his reinstatement), has already lost two of its officials to the buckshots of tradition. Last day, an assistant commissioner and another official was shown the door, as they failed to carry out Namboodiri's reinstatement.

Their explanation: The temple advisory committee, which is all the way behind the thantri, asked them not to!

A conciliation effort by Thantri Samajam president Vezhapparambu Parameswarar Namboodiripad, who held separate and joint talks with the thantri and the melshanti ended where it started.

Observers, meanwhile, are finding the whole situation (advisory committee members standing guard to prevent the melshanti from entering temple premises and all) extremely hilarious. They maintain there is no issue involved -- other than that of two egos.

"It is nothing more than an ego clash," they say, "Stiff conservative ego against equally stiff modern ego!"


EARLIER STORY: Kerala priest loses his job 'cos he went to London

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