Massive upsurge in Kerala to protect traditions

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                         Countdown begins for the fall of the last Marxist bastion

M.Rajasekhara Panicker

The Supreme Court verdict on September 28, 2018 allowing women of all ages to enter Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala has stirred a hornets’ nest.

Sabarimala is the one and the only hill shrine where more than five crores of devotees converge for a two-month pilgrim season. Deity of the temple Lord Ayyappa is considered `’Naishtika Brahmachari’’ (perennial celibate). Ageold customs and observances here demand restrictions for women between 10 and 50 years to facilitate fulfillment of brahmacharya vritha. This tradition has nothing to do with gender discrimination. Hundreds of other Ayyappa temples in Kerala are open to women of all ages. Devotees wear rudrakha garlands, take 41-day penance, carry `irumudikkettu’ (bag with double pouches where a coconut filled with ghee for Ayyappa abhisheka in one and rice and other offerings in the other). Ayyappa devotees are treated as Ayyappa themselves. Each salutes other not by his name, but `Swami’, meaning the `Lord’. Those who observe this penance gets training in brahmacharya and realize God is within. Atop the 18 steps that leads to the temple and in front of the entrance it is written, `Thattvamasi’ (“tat tvam asi” – “you are that” – “you are the God”).

With the apex court verdict, Hindus feel their fundamental right to observe a particular practice in their own temple is compromised. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government has taken the verdict as a ruse to further their political agenda. This centre, where pilgrims more than double the population of Kerala converge, was always an eyesore for Marxists and semetic religious groups for obvious reasons. This centre always stood as a fortress against the Marxist materialistic ideology and the nefarious designs of massive proselytisation. In 1957, anti-socials set fire to the temple. A commission was set up to probe the fire. The first ever Communist ministry came to power capitalising the anger and the anguish of Hindus over this incident, promising to publish the report and punisth the culprits. But, once they came to power, they did not take any action for fear of backlash from influential groups.

Under the pretext of the apex court verdict and at the behest of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, CPM politburo member and former state secretary, police forcefully escorted activist women masqueraded as devotees, much to the chagrin of devotees when the sanctum sanctorum of the temple opened for five-day poojas on October 17. Devotees were shocked to see ativists who campaigned for the Kiss of Love, Mangalasutra breaking demonstrations pretending to be devotees winding their way to their holy shrine in police dress and escort!

But thousands of devotees stood as one wall chanting Saranam Ayyappa and blocked them. They were forced to retreat. Devotees maintained utmost restraint even after provocation from women atheists and activists supported by the government machinery, including the police. Peaceful protesters were brutally lathicharged by the police and hundreds of vehicles destroyed. More than 3500 deotees who chanted “Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’’ were held, including women, and more than 500 cases charged. Most of them were taken into custody, handcuffed like murderers and dacoits at the dead of night, reminding the infamous midnight knock during the Emergency. Decayed body of an Ayyappa devotee Sivadas, 60, missing since the police brutality at Nilackal, was found in the Sabari forest. He has become the first martyr of the present struggle against the authoritarian regime, forcefully implementing the court order. The Chief Minister presides over the suppression of a peaceful mass movement like Hitler or Stalin.He stoops to the level of a local CPM cadre and forget he is the state’s Chief Minister.

Pinarayi Vijayan’s selective interest in implementing Sabarimala verdict in haste exposes him and his party’s highly partisan approach. There are scores of cases where the government is sitting over court orders without taking any action.

Since the Government had lost its face in the first phase, the arrogant Chief Minister is determined to win the second phase. As we file this report, it is learnt that 12 CPM-backed women have sought police protection to climb Sabarimala. Now Pinarayi is determined to bring these women atop Sabarimala on Novemeber 5 at any cost when the sanctum sanctorum opens again for a one-day “Chithira Attavisesham,’’ the birth anniversary celebration of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the head of Travancore royal family. The party is mobilising its cadres from party villages to parade them as devotees, policemen on duty and temporary staff of Devaswom to facilitate entry of women to temple. Devotees are equally determined that this will happen only over their dead bodies. Hindu leadership had met at Kottayam where 120 Hindu orgaznisations took part chalked out various programmes to thwart the evil designs of the CPM-led government to destroy the sanctity of the temple and its ageold customs.

The state is witnessing protest rallies, public meetings and chants of Ayyappa Saranamantra all over Kerala. Lakhs of devotees, especially women, voluntarily took to streets, chanting Ayyappa Saranam.
Chief Minister accuses the peaceful agitators as anti-socials and retrogrades who sabotage all progressive steps brought out by communist movement. But history reveals that most of the social changes like temple entry, right to walk on streets, against untouchability and many more were spearheaded by saints and reformers like Narayana Guru, Chattampi Swami and Ayyankali much much before the advent of the communist movement.

BJP national president Amit Shah on October 27 categorically stated that the party will stand by devotees. “Today in Kerala, a struggle is going on between religious beliefs and state government’s cruelty. More than 2,000 activists and workers from BJP, RSS and other organisations have been arrested. BJP is standing like a rock with devotees,” Shah said. The efforts by the Kerala government to suppress the agitation of the devotees of Lord Ayyappa amounts to “playing with fire,” he said. He was in Kannur to inaugurate the district headquarters of the party.

Shah accused the Left Government of trying to `destroy’ Sabarimala temple and the “Hindu traditions”. He said the BJP will not allow the CPI(M) government to “gamble with Hindu faith”. “There is no restriction for women to offer prayers in any other Ayyappa temple. The uniqueness of the Sabarimala shrine has to be protected,” Shah said. He said the state government is “conspiring” against Hindu temples, adding that it has created an “emergency-like situation in Kerala”. He said the court’s order on Sabarimala temple should be implemented by “respecting the sentiments of devotees”.

RSS Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagavath in his Vijayadasami talk said that the Supreme Court should’ve considered the feelings of the devotees before pronouncing the judgment.

Now, the Marxists have a design in this. First, they want to show that they are the torchbearers of gender equality. Second, Pinarayi wants to prove he is a crusader against the Sangh Parivar who wholeheartedly supports the devotees’ peaceful agitation. And, last but not the least, he is bend upon galvanizing support from all anti-Sangh Parivar forces to his fold for safeguarding the last citadel of the Left.

The demand for entry of women of all ages came not from any devotee, but from Young Lawyers Association. When the case came up in the court, neither the State Government having clearcut political interest, nor the State controlled Travancore Devswom Board that administer the temples effectively presented the case before the apex court, ditching crores of devotees. Unfortunately, in this case, interests of the plaintiff and the accused converged and the third parties had no role. And finally, when the judgment came, both refuse to file revision petition since the verdict suits their nefarious designs to destroy a unifying pilgrim centre. Their famous quote is “when one place of worship is destroyed, that much superstition is lost’’.

Reports say, around 40 review petitions are before the apex court against its ruling. Unless the Supreme Court pronounces a positive judgment on review petitions on November 13, it would be a Herculean task to implement the apex court ruling when lakhs of pilgrims converge during two-month long pilgrim season beginning on November 16.

“The CPM government is trying to destroy the temple, which is a centre of Hindu reformation. There is a Communist conspiracy against Sabarimala,” BJP state president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai said. BJP wants the state government to pass an ordinance to continue the traditions.

State NDA took out Sabarimala Samrakshana Yatra to force the state government and the Devaswom Board to file review petitions in the Supreme Court. Yatra commenced from the birthplace of Ayyappa at Pandalam to Thiruvananthapuram where a massive congregation of devotees took place.

NDA held peaceful upavas against the massive arrests and the draconian steps of the state government. “Communist Party wants to turn Sabarimala into a battle ground on the pretext of ladies entry into Sabarimala. This will not work. BJP will hold passive resistance. Taking ladies pretending to be devotees to Sabarimala under Government patronage is to provoke devotees,’’ Sreedharan Pillai who spearheaded the Yatra said. “Majority community should stay united to carry forward this struggle,’’ BDJS state president Thushar Vellappalli said.

“Devaswom Board, supposed to stand by devotees, are challenging Pandalam Royal family, Sabarimala Tantri and waging war against devotees at the behest of the CPM and the LDF Government. BJP stand behind devotees,’’ BJP state general secretary M.T.Ramesh said.

“When police removed a huge concrete cross erected by encroachers at Pappathichola in Munnar a few moths ago, Pinarayi was furious. ‘Orders from government should be implemented without hurting the sentiments of believers,’ Pinarayi then said. Why he has double standards when it comes to Sabarimala,’’ Ramesh asked.

Pinarayi has not learnt lessons from history. On two earlier occasions, politicians had to bow before the might of devotees. First it was in Thali Temple at Malappuram, where the then Communist Chief Minister E.M.S. Namboodirippad did not allow the renovation of a temple vandalized by Tippu, the erstwhile Mysore ruler. Through relentless struggle led by freedom fighter K.Kelappan Hindus could succeed in building a magnificent temple at Thali. During K.Karunakaran’s regime, some Christian groups planted cross at Nilakkal in Sabarimala garden comprising of 18 hills. There was an unprecedented struggle led by the present Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan and they were forced to remove the cross from the Hindu pilgrim area.

The Sabarimala issue has exposed the double standards of the Opposition Unite Democratic Front led by the Congress. Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala suggested that the Devaswom Board, which manages the temple, file a review petition against the verdict. “The order created grave concern among the faithful and the government should not hastily implement the order,’’ former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said. But Congress president Rahul Gandhi differed. He batted for the entry of women of all ages to Sabarimala. Congress wants the benefit of both the worlds, but devotees feel the party had ditched them in the middle.
Devaswom Board president is A.Padmakumar, a CPM nominee refuses to file review petitions under threat from his boss Pinarayi Vijayan.
Pandalam Royal family member R.R. Varma, said, “Sabarimala was the family temple of Pandalam royal family. We handed it over to the government. The court has not fully analysed the situation in Sabarimala. The verdict has insulted the faithful.’’

Actor Rajinikanth a staunch devotee of Ayyappa said there should be no “interference” in temple traditions being followed for a long time. “When you talk about a temple, every temple has its time honoured rituals, besides traditions being followed for a long time. My humble opinion is that no one should interfere in that,” he said. Noting that the top court verdict should be “respected”, the actor indicated that caution should be exercised when it came to matters of religion and related rituals.

This is the last among a series of denigrations against every Hindu religious beliefs by the CPM and its brigade. Hindu gods and goddeses, wearing of sandal and kumkum paste on forehead, temple worship, family bonds, Indian culture all were targets of their redicule. Only those who speak and write for anarchy and anti-Indian stand received patronage and protection. And the government cleverly hid the fact that lakhs of women devotees come every season in Sabarimala and there is no gender discrimination. Now, the Marxists want a unique place of worship where devotees flock due to that uniqueness to be degraded to an ordinary place of worship. Marxists realise that until this faith flourishes, their material ideology has no chance for survival. Hence they target this centre in vain.

Congress had its first jolt when KPCC executive committee member and former Devaswom Board president G.Raman Nair who inaugurated NDA’s Sabarimala Protection March at Pandalam and later removed from the party joined BJPalong with other four veterans, including former ISRO chairman G.Madhavan Nair in the presence of Amit Shah.

Temple issue will be Pinarayi Vijayan’s Waterloo. If he goes ahead with his plans, traditional Hindu voters who so far stood with the CPM will forsake the party. Pinarayi’s calculations to compensate this with polarizing SDPI, Popular Front and Christian votes in favour of the party are a day dream. Thousands of CPM cadres are defying party diktats and join the temple movement.

Unless Kerala Chief Minister behaves like a statesman, all the cultural values the state earned through centuries of hard work will be swept away in no time. Once it happens, it will be very difficult to rebuild this great tradition.

(The writer is Editor of Kerala BJP Journal ‘Chithi’)