“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Monday, January 31, 2011

Falling in love with Parvati

Yesterday we had been to Kottayam to attend a marriage. P had left a couple of days earlier; she wanted to reconnoiter some research project she wanted to do at Panjal. We met at the wedding and returned together. In the comfort of AC Chair Car, we dozed; outside it blazed – summer is coming up fast. Waking up, I look at P, sitting cross-legged on the reclining seat, head bent as if deeply pondering over the mysteries of life, except that the crookedly perched spectacles gave away the truth.

50 plus, both of us are getting to be real middle-aged. Several of our older generations have been passing away. Death, that of the old, is of course painful, but it comes with a rider – ‘thank God, he/she didn’t suffer much’ or , ‘he/she had suffered a lot, thank God, its over now’. Soon – or who knows when, our turns too will come, life will go on without us - perhaps we would stare balefully from a photograph on the wall or a death anniversary photo in the newspaper.

I look at P and unknowing to myself, I smile at her. Ours was a cross between ‘arranged’ and ‘love’ marriages – we had met, associating with the same NGO working on nature conservation, became great friends, found that we cherished each other’s company, discovered that we had so many common interests and perspectives – and one day, feverish and sipping a hot lemon tea, I proposed to her when she had come to visit the sick me. Parents agreed to our wish and we had a simple wedding. 30 plus, we were no kids – I had taken a few beatings in love life, she too might have – we were never curious about such things of our past. P had premature grey hair, I had started balding. Both cared nought about pretensions. P in those days walked around wearing cotton churidars except when she had to teach at the College where by convention she had to wear a sari. I always wore a corduroy jeans (my managers used to raised their eyebrows but never dared to point it out) and thick Khaddar Kurtas. She hardly wore any jewellery; I stopped wearing my wedding ring within a month of marriage.

Over the years, we had our share of fights – once we even teetered on a break, but sense of survival prevailed. Or it could be that we were mature enough to let the storm pass for the sake of our son. Tides rose and went. It was mutual affection and respect more than romantic love that sustained our relationship; we instinctively knew we kind of compensated for one another. Along with the common characteristics we shared, we were extremely opposite in many matters. Against her gregarious nature, I was a loner. Against her fiercely possessive intimacy with relatives, I had none; P was God-fearing, I didn’t know much about God. P is practical to the core, aggressive and dominating; I am a hopeless romantic , a dreamer and gives in too fast.

But the boat didn’t go down; it rocked once in a while, but we never lost the oars. We fly into terrible arguments ( K always says that he was inspired to study human psychology because of us) but after a few hours of sulking, we patch up.

I look at Parvati; her legs are a bit short to stretch and reach the foot rest beneath the seat in front of her. Sitting cross-legged and dozing and nodding, she looks like as if she is chanting and meditating at a religious gathering. A spurt of a snore escapes her mouth. I move my left hand to touch hers; a gentleman sitting on the other side of the aisle gets ups and tells me – ‘Sir, excuse me, but your wife’s Pallu (Sari’s end) is trailing on the floor. People are stamping on it as they pass’. P wakes up with a start, grabs her Pallu and goes back to sleep. She turns to her right, holds my arm and lets out another snort in her sleep. I do not move my arm away. Outside the sun is setting over the Ashtamudi lake as we pass over the scene of Perumon train tragedy.

************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 31.01.2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thus spake the stone

Do not despair, my dear,

Deaf, I am not.

Do not wring your hands,

Hold them I would, if only I could!

Your lamp is bright, its light

Shines even in this dingy space

Where I am destined to be confined


Do not be disillusioned, devotee,

Your offerings I accept; thank you!

Carved from stone, yes, I am

But believe me, I have a heart that bleeds.

I yearn to comfort, to hold you in my arms.

Do not ever think I do not exist;

I do, in you, in all life you see.

I am the silent bearer of your woes,

Of your sins, of all the sorrow

I am the mute spectator,

The detached observer,

The impotent, the sterile in you.

I am the one who laughs, who cries

With you, within you

Why to seek me in this stone,

In this picture, in this church

While I reside within you,

While I reside over there

In every blade of grass!

How insightful of you, men,

To chose stone for me!

I did not create you in my image,

But you did, in yours, me

Down to the last details -

Soulless, sightless and

A heart made of stone.

Imprisoned in this solitary cell,

I cannot move, I cannot talk

Dank, dark, thick slime and oil

Dampens this cell and my soul.

Open these doors, break these shackles

Let me out into the open skies

Out, into the bright sun, the breeze

To the green pastures where cows graze.

Open, open, thy windows and doors

Open thy house to one and all!

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 25.01.2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Carpet of Happiness

My recent posts on the incident at Sabarimalai were a deviation from my mainstream posts. Like my son said,- ‘ Your posts give a good feeling, Acha, either a pleasant sense of well being or a little sorrow tinged reflection, but altogether a kind of antiseptic thing’. But then, Sabarimalai took me off on a tangent, to the return of the old self of till a decade ago, the ‘angry young man’ Balan. Many have gone through the several posts on Sabarimalai, hurling brickbats and bouquets at me. Veiled threats even from ‘friends’.

I cannot lie. I cannot say that I am not apprehensive of the unseen, the unknown. I cannot say I face the future bravely. On the contrary, as I age, as I see misfortunes tumble down on me and those I know, as I scour the obituary columns and pause before a familiar name or face, I am ever more conscious of the fickleness of life; not fear, but a kind of weariness weighs down my heart. There is a helplessness that cannot be mitigated by faith and accept whatever fate has in store for me.

Once in a while, I go to certain temples; not Sabarimalai or Guruvayoor or such shrines where the crowds throng. In Trivandrum, the temple I go to once in a while is the Kanthaloor Mahadevar temple at Valiachalai. The temple compound is quite large. Here and there are huge trees with high and wide canopy. At dusk, you will not find a crowd craning their necks for a ‘darshan’, but only a handful. I walk around in the semi-darkness and then sit beneath a tree, absolutely at peace. I would not call it a ‘spiritual’ experience, for the reason that I do not know what it is to be spiritual. But I feel good. And calm. There is a sense of relief, a lightness of being. Even as a child, I could not comprehend the devotees beseeching and demanding things from the deity; one of the few Sanskrit phrases I knew and said to the Gods is – ‘Lokah Samastaa Sukhino Bhavanthu’ – May all the world prosper.

While I was in Kottayam a few years ago, I became interested in temple murals. I traveled to many temples in Kerala, marveling at the murals and carvings. I read a lot about it, I wrote about it – I believe that indirectly due to my article in a mainstream magazine, the murals of the Manganam temple near Kottayam is now under the protection of Archeological Survey of India. In the temples of Kerala, in the hands of the artisans who created it, I sense the submission, the surrender, and the humility of the man who recognizes his place in the scheme of things; insignificant, but undeniable place, as he appears and disappears in the brief surge through the tides of life.

In my travels, solitary mostly, in the Himalayas, the Western Ghats and elsewhere where nature’s splendours are revealed in all its magnificence, I have felt the loss of my ego, the awareness of oneself as separate from the rest and have blended into the surroundings, aware at the same time the oneness with it all; a sense of elation, of indescribable bliss – standing before Kailas peak, I remember my fellow traveler, Dr Ramachandra shouting – ‘I want to die now!’. At Tunganath, pouring ice cold water over the idol, repeating the mantras murmured by the Pandit, and caressing the carved stone, I have cried – not with happiness or sorrow, but with the thought of having touched something that has been touched by thousands before me and will be, by thousands after me and that sense of connectedness was overwhelming and I cried at the revelation of myself as a humble link in humanity. In the high altitudes of Ladakh, as searing cold winds hit me and beholding the vastness of earth in its great panorama, I have lost the duality in me.

In the songs of Kabir, in the flute of Hariprasad Chaurasiya, in the Chenda of Mattannoor Sankarankutty, at the feet of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, in the beats of Ustad Alla Rakha, in the voice of Prahlad Tipanya or Shubha Mudgal or Hemant da – Why, I could string them all together and weave you a carpet of happiness!

These are my visions of God. Why should I need any more Gods? I have not sinned against my conscience; if by chance, I did, I ask forgiveness from myself. I do not have to thank a particular entity for the pleasures in life; I thank them, each and everything, a dog, a bird, a tree, a rock, a child. I do not ask for courage, because I know if I cannot draw it from myself, I will not get it from anywhere.

Sometime ago, rummaging through an old trunk, I come across an old diary of my father- circa 1968. In the first page he has written this quote, a piece of verse in Malayalam:

‘Mana-samadhanam-enikku nalka

dinam prathi preethi-purassarom Nee.

Dhanam nassichalum enik-athennum

Kanattha mithram-ee -kkadujeevithathil.

Give me peace of mind, O lord, every day, if it pleases you, it ( Mana – samadhanam) will sustain me through this tough life, even if I lose all my wealth.

Future is not dark or fearful to me. Pain, there is bound to be, but also great joy. There is a mental readiness to face life with equanimity. At this moment, there is a great sense of freedom as I divest myself of the shrouds of Gods that create rifts among men; religions that segregate people; of regions that divide people; of faiths that darken my soul; of beliefs that impair my vision. I am not arrogant, therefore I need not bow further, except to the elements, to nature, for giving so much without asking. I do not need the crutches of Godmen or Godwomen; I do not need the backing of philosophers. I walk with them by their side; I look them right in the eye, because I can see.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 24.01.2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011



Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who is your God?


In the wake of my posts on the incident at Sabarimalai, two friends came to see me yesterday evening. They were concerned that I was contemplating on filing a petition to stop the lighting of Makara Vilakku by the Kerala government.

Pilgrims in hundreds of thousands visit Sabarimala every year during the 3 months season. The culmination of the pilgrimage is on the Makaravilakku day, January 14th , the day of winter solstice. On that day, to mark the occasion, kilograms of Camphor is lit at the hilltop called Ponnambala Medu, which is visible from the temple of Sabarimalai and other vantage points.

The Makara vilakku was always lit by humans; it was never a divine, miraculous glow from the skies above. In its vague history, the local tribals used to light it; then the Pandalam royal family used to organize it. After annexation of the temple by the Dewasom, till early ‘80s, it was an ordinary event witnessed by hundreds of devotees. As the Ponnambala Medu was situated near the sensitive hydroelectric projects of the area, the lighting and other arrangements were made by the Electricity Board with the assistance of the departments of Forests, Police and Devaswom (Temple affairs) of the government.

In 1982 or thereabouts, the Rationalists’ Movement in Kerala objected to the lighting of Makaravilakku on the grounds that it promoted superstition and that the devotees, especially from the neighbouring states were duped into believing that this is a divine light. The Rationalists managed to get up the hill and as a mockery, lit several piles of camphor and let off crackers. They were arrested, beaten up and then let off. But since then the entire affair has been conducted in strict security and secrecy.

Into the eighties, the pilgrim flow to Sabarimala grew into huge proportions; so did the flow of money. Billions of rupees – where has it gone is anybody’s guess. The government, the Devaswom, the contractors, the business interests – it is imperative that more pilgrims come. Commerce rules Sabarimala, as it does other centres of worship, be it of the Hindus, Christians, Muslims or of any other religion.

In 1999, 52 pilgrims died in a stampede as they were returning from witnessing the Makaravilakku. As usual, there was a lot of hue and cry, enquiry commissions etc, all of which finally ended in the decision that MORE facilities should be provided for the pilgrims to watch the Vilakku. After the recent accident, the government has immediately sanctioned Rs.120 crores. More facilities meant more buildings, more roads, more permanent structures – in fact, more money for all those concerned. Fine. Nobody can say no to that. As the supreme beings who lord over the world, we should do what is best for us. Except for one thing.

That the Sabarimala shrine is situated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, one of the most sensitive habitats of the exceedingly threatened species. Not only that, the area is the source and catchment area of one of the major rivers of Kerala, the Periyar. It is the most important water source not only for Kerala but Tamil Nadu also. Just check it out in the internet.

The question before me is clear. As a human being, what should be my priority? To protect and speak for nature as represented here by the Periyar Tiger Reserve – nature which gave me life, gives me air, water and all the elements on which I and all life on earth sustain – or to appease the silent, invisible entities whose cause is upheld by money, political power, ignorance and avarice which has hurled and continue to hurl millions of fellow humans into darkness? To protect life or to destroy it? Who should be my God, Nature or Mammon? You may scour your religious texts, my reader, and tell me if you find anywhere in them the answer to my question.


The friends began. ‘Nowhere is it said that the Makaravilakku is divine. What can be done if some ignorant people believe it is?’ He could be right. ‘I asked my wife, my mother and the neighbourhood boy – they all said they know it is lit by people. So, whom are you questioning? Whom are you complaining against?’ I replied that maybe most Malayalees knew it was a fraud, but it is money from other states, those poor souls, those teeming millions of Tamilians and Telugus. Suddenly one of the friends broke out. ‘Why are you always talking about US? There are equal numbers of such frauds in other religions, what about the ‘Charismatic’ group, the divine life crusades where the ‘wheel-chair ridden woman’ would jump up and walk with a Hallelujah? Balan, you find fault with ‘us’ only.’


I realize that there is no point in talking to him. He says – the best solution to ensure that such tragedies do not occur is to leave the temple open 365 days, so that rush will be less.

If so, why there are fewer crowds on the first week of every month when they keep the temple open? If so why the unimaginably huge crowd, compared to other days of the season, on Makara vilakku alone? Why do they gather there 1 week earlier, just to gaze at a light that some Mallu buggers light? The event is special for them, because these poor devotees believe it to be ultimate moksha to witness the miracle of Makara Jyoti. I tell my friend – ‘Keeping the temple open for 365 days would mean the death knell for the forests. Permanent constructions, resorts and other paraphernalia would come up everywhere. The whole Reserve would be surrendered to commerce. Already the Pamba River is heavily polluted, so is the soil, the disturbance. By restricting the pilgrims to a season, one can at least hope for a continuity, give a chance for recouping for the forests and wildlife.’ ‘I do not care about the forests’, he tartly replies.

I decide not to argue with him. In spite of his qualifications, his position in the society, his good manners, looks and culture, my friend is a sneaky, rabid, religious fanatic at heart. I am not disappointed or sad; I am past such feelings about most fellow humans. I just prefer to observe them and gaze at the dark emptiness of their souls.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 20.01.2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let Us Make Merry!

I am laughing like the fat man. What else can I do, when youngsters scream FAITH! right in my face?

If you are in the mood to laugh and take off that grim mask of fear, watch this:


Like to laugh a little more ? Watch this video of a Godman of millions! No offense, ye faithful followers of Babaji! Watch closely, not his mouth, but his hands,especially the right hand, from which he miraculously brings up a Shiv Linga.


After watching the video, do scrub your mouth with antiseptic and go pray in front of the statue or idol or painting or sticker or listen to HIS pronouncements.

Have a good day. The 110 dead at Sabarimalai would have by now been buried. Before you wander away, THINK. REFLECT. ACT.

Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 19.01.2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So that no more ‘Jyothi’-s will be lit...

Links and pieces of facts from the internet – for those who still believe that the 104 dead in Sabarimalai are ‘martyrs for a better tomorrow!’ Yes, that’s what I hope too; that their martyrdom will serve for the final curtains to fall on the divine light of Makara Vilakku.

  • THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The State Government, which organises the 'divine light fraud' Makarajyothi every year, is solely responsible for the death of more than hundred pilgrims near Sabarimala, Indian Rationalists Association president Sanal Edamaruku said in a release here on Saturday.

Rationalists had already exposed this 'miracle' several years ago. They had found that the 'holy light' was created by the employees of the State Government by burning camphor in big vessels. The camphor is burnt on the high-altitude Ponnambalamedu hill, he said. Rationalist volunteers had photographed the scene. Under the leadership of Sanal Edamaruku, more than 10,000 people marched to Ponnambalamedu in 1990 demanding the State Government to admit in public that the 'holy light' was its handiwork.

The then Chief Minister E K Nayanar had agreed in public that the Government was organising the 'holy light' through the State-controlled Devaswom Board.

However, to everyone's surprise, the practice was continued without any break by every consecutive governments. If anyone is responsible for the Sabarimala mishap, it will be the State Government.


Ø In http://www.srai.org/tragedy-at-sabarimala-the-miracle-of-makara-jyothi/




  • it has happened yet again. Over 100 persons were killed and as many seriously injured in an easily avoidable tragedy at the ‘holy’ Sabarimala hills in Kerala, on the night of January 14, 2011. As per newspaper reports, the tragedy occurred when the pilgrims were returning after witnessing the Makra Jyothi, the ‘miraculous’ appearance of Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of the Sabarimala temple. A report in the Mathrubhumi

daily (15 January, 2011) says most of the dead were from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.

Exactly 12 years ago, on the night of 14 January, 1999, about 53 persons were killed in a similar stampede as the pilgrims were returning after witnessing the ‘divine celestial light’. The government then instituted an inquiry commission and nobody knows what precise actions were taken by the state authorities to avoid similar tragedies in the future. The government has yet again instituted a commission to look into the latest incident and as usual the report will be conveniently buried as the government fills it coffers with the blood-money of poor and illiterate pilgrims by shamelessly promoting this nonsense of religious tourism, setting up an official magic show every year (See the Appendix-I below for details of the government-sponsored magic called Makara Jyothi).

Whoever be the inquiry commission members, one thing is for sure - no one will touch the real issues involved. They will undoubtedly suggest various proposals to help the pilgrims to conveniently witness the ‘divine light’. Most of the proposals will be impractical because, unlike the Tirupati temple (which attracts the highest number of pilgrims in India, the second being Sabarimala), the Sabarimala temple is situated in the middle of a forest. And if at all the government builds roads and other infrastructures for the convenience of the millions of pilgrims visiting the shrine every year, it will irretrievably ruin the ecologically sensitive Sabarimala forest; it will be an environmental disaster.

What is the way out of this mess?

As of now, I am told, the road to the Sabarimala temple is strewn with plastic bottles and other non-biodegradable waste dumped by the devotees. During the Makra Vilakku season, the ‘holy’ river Pampa turns into a stream of human excreta – because in the absence of adequate number of toilets, the millions of pilgrims defecate right along their holy river. They bathe in the very same river, unmindful of the health hazards involved. Nobody keeps count of the people who fall ill (or even die) as a result of the unhygienic hill surroundings. I am told that the well-to-do among the pilgrims do not spend much time in the hills – after visiting the temple they rush back to the nearby town and spend the nights in better hotels.

Given that nobody can stop pilgrims visiting the hill temple, the only solution is limiting the number of people visiting the shrine every season, each year. In consultation with competent professionals (and not the religious heads), the government should impose an upper limit on the number of pilgrims visiting the temple.

When the government-sponsored fraud of Makara Jyothi was exposed by the activists of Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham in 1981, and as a result of the relentless campaign mounted by them for more than two decades, the temple authorities stepped forward and came out with the truth. On the 28th of May 2008, the Sabarimala head-priest, Kanatararu Maheswararu Thantri, said in a press-statement that there was nothing miraculous about the Makra Jyothi and that it is a man-made fire (See Appendix-III).

G Sudhakaran, the then Devaswom Minister, speaking to NDTV


Ø Post-stampede, divinity of Sabarimala light questioned

2011-01-18 13:49:26

Thiruvananthapuram: With 102 lives lost in a stampede on the day the revered Makar Jyothi appears three times on the horizon soon after dusk above the famed Sabarimala temple, questions are now again being raised about the divinity of the light.

On Makar Sankranti, which is considered the most auspicious day in the two-month long festival season of the Sabarimala temple, more than a million devotees stay put in and around the temple waiting anxiously for the celestial light to appear.

Kerala court directs government to probe Sabarimala stampede

Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham (KYS), a rationalist organisation, has been leading a campaign for the past three decades against the 'cheating' by the state government and the Devasom Board, that looks after the temple affairs, and accusing them of making an artificial light appear on the horizon.

D. Sukumaran, an office bearer of the KYS, is leading a march to the Devasom Board office Tuesday, demanding to put an end to this.

"Since 1980, on numerous occasions we have come out with pictures of this artificial light being lit by employees of the Devasom and the Kerala State Electricity Board who are accompanied by the police," said 58-year-old Sukumaran, a retired Kerala State Transport Corporation official.

In 1982, a day before the divine celestial light appeared, KYS created an artificial light to prove their point, he said.

Sabarimala stampede: Another tragedy reduced to a probe?

"This was even reported by All India Radio, but was promptly denied by the Devasom," Sukumaran said.

He added that in 1983 the KYS activists were badly beaten up by the police when they were at Ponnambalmedu, the area where the light is created with the help of burning camphor.

Believers consider the citing of the celestial light as an auspicious event and over the last few years there has been a huge influx of pilgrims from the southern states to witness the sight.

The Kerala Shastra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), a pro-Communist Party of India-Marxist social science movement, Tuesday asked the state government to come clean on the celestial light.

"It is high time that the state government came out in the open to say if this celestial light is a man-made event because lakhs of devotees from neighbouring states are taken for a ride," KSSP president K. Balakrishnan said.

Kerala to seek judicial probe into Sabarimala tragedy

"We have decided to get in touch with similar organisations in these neighbouring states to run an awareness campaign on this event because it is high time that this stops," he added.

Kantaru Maheswararu, the supreme priest of the Sabarimala temple, created a controversy on the event in 2008.

He clarified in a letter that Makar Jyothi is a star that appears in the sky above the temple around dusk time on the first day of the month of Makaram, while Makar Villaku means a light which is lit as soon as the star appears in the sky.

His grandson Rahul Eashwar had remarked that the light is artificially created on top of a hill (Ponnambalamedu) away from the Sabarimala temple but he does not know who does that.

With the Kerala High Court demanding a detailed report on the stampede from the state government by Thursday, all eyes are on whether the court will ask the government to come clean on the celestial light.

The Sabarimala temple, located on a hill in the Western Ghat ranges at an altitude of 914 metres above the sea level and four km uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district in central Kerala, is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrim centres in south India. The number of pilgrims visiting the shrine has been steadily going up every year.

Last week, a stampede occurred on Makar Sankranti day at Pulumedu, a forested area about 30 km from the temple, when pilgrims were returning after watching the celestial light.






Ø Human, All Too Human

In a stunning revelation, the Sabarimala temple authorities admit that the miraculous fire is a work of human hands



Holy shock People congregate to witness the fire
Photos: SK Mohan

FOR DECADES, devotees have thronged in their lakhs to Sabarimala, South India’s foremost place of pilgrimage, to bear witness to an annual miracle. Each year, on the last day of the mid-January Makaravilakku festival, the mysterious fire that gives the festival its name flashes thrice in the forests of the Ponnambalamedu hill, across from the ancient Ayyappa temple. Religious scholars, temple authorities and devotees have unanimously ascribed a divine source to the phenomenon, much to the annoyance of rationalists who have repeatedly attempted to expose its real cause. Successive governments, regardless of political persuasion, have put their weight behind foiling such efforts, however, and have ensured that police and forest department barricades around the area kept the secret protected.

But the rationalists, it seems, have finally carried the day as none other than Sabarimala’s high priest, Tantri Kantararu Maheswararu, has divested the Makaravilakku of divinity, stating in no uncertain terms that it is the work of human hands. Backing him are CK Guptan, president of the Travancore Devaswom Board, which administers the temple, and former board president G. Raman Nair. Confirmation has also been issued by Kerala’s Temple Affairs minister, G. Sudhakaran.

“It is very significant,” exults Dhanuvachapuram Sukumaran, a leading atheist who has led several fact-finding teams to Ponnambalamedu. “This is the first time the government has come clean on what the rationalists have said all along — that the Makaravilakku is no miracle but a fire made by burning camphor.

The catalyst for the temple’s unexpected statement came two weeks ago when CPM fellow traveller and Kerala Tourism Development Board chairman Cherian Philip urged the Left Front government to “disclose all truths” related to the Makaravilakku and dissociate itself from promoting religious falsehoods.

His demand was made in the context of the government’s launching a massive drive, across all religions, against so-called godmen and faith healers. Philip’s rejoinder: “It will be difficult to view the government’s move against godmen as sincere if it continues to support superstitions such as Makaravilakku.”

Philip’s provocative remarks caused apprehensions of a possible Hindutva backlash, but, to the astonishment of all, the Sabarimala clergy have practically endorsed his views. Talking to TEHELKA, Maheswararu’s grandson Rahul Easwar, the public face of the Tantri family, denied the temple authorities had ever claimed divine status for the Makaravilakku. “‘It was a misunderstanding in the minds of misinformed people,” he said, adding that the Makaravilakku is often confused with the Makarajyothi, a star seen on the horizon at the conclusion of the festival and believed to be the celestial manifestation of Lord Ayyappa. “The Makaravilakku is only a symbolic lighting of a lamp on the Ponnambalamedu, where there was a temple once,” he says. Avers P. Ravi Varma of the Pandalam royal family, considered custodians of Sabarimala, “The celestial theory appears to have originated about half a century ago. To us, the temple declaration brings nothing new. During my childhood, I have heard elders in my family giving instructions to ensure that the light is lit and flashed three times.”

Easwar claims he is not sure who lights the lamp today, but those who have campaigned against attributing divinity to Makaravilakku say this could not be so. While Sabarimala myth has it that the Ponnambalamedu lamp was first lit by Lord Parasuram, it became a tradition continued by local tribespeople for centuries. At some point after Independence, forest and power department employees, who work in the hills, took the ritual over. “The Ponnambalamedu hill is in the control of the state forest department,” states prominent atheist, MP Sadasivan. “The area also has some Kerala electricity board officials present because of its proximity to a few hydel power projects. The officials assemble at Ponnambalamedu on the last day of the festival, perform a ritual and light the camphor-fire as soon as they get a message from the temple at around 6.30pm. This is happening at the behest of the temple body and the government.” Neither the state tourism minister nor the temple authorities are countering this allegation.

Calling Maheswararu’s declaration “a very welcome development in the battle against superstition,” U. Kalanathan, president of the


A woman is carried to the temple

Kerala Yukhtivadi Sanghom, an atheists’ association, also speaks of the dubious role the State has played over the Makaravilakku in the past. “We have tried for years to expose the fraud, but whoever tried to approach the area ran the risk of being arrested, or even of being killed. The authorities have done everything to perpetuate the belief that the appearance of the flame is indeed a miracle. Now, what we have always been certain of has become public knowledge.”

That Kalanathan is not exaggerating is evident from previous governmental efforts to silence questions around the Makaravilakku. In 1973, 24 people from Kollam in South Kerala managed to scale the Ponnambalamedu hill and burst firecrackers. They were later arrested for “disrupting the sanctity” of the place. Since they had not actually committed any crime, as per the Indian Penal Code, they were later released. In 1980, a group of rationalists from Thrissur also visited Ponnambalamedu and reported that the stories around it were fake. A year later, however, another such team was severely beaten up and driven back by the police, on the orders of the then CPM-led government. The clinching testimony, however, comes from Raman Nair, who headed the Devaswom board during the previous Congress government, and who claimed “it was the police and officials of the Travancore Devaswom Board who would jointly light the fire at Ponnambalamedu on the orders of the state government”

It is estimated that about 30 million devotees attend the Makaravilakku festival every year, flocking to the Periyar Tiger Reserve to turn the forest abode of the hermit god into a sea of worshipping humanity. Lasting 41 days, the festival culminates in a frenzy of joy when the Makarajyothi appears — in 1999, this resulted in a stampede in which 53 pilgrims were killed.

THE SABARIMALA temple has been at the thick of quite a few controversies for several years now. One of the most famous was over the ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering the temple, to preserve its sanctity for Ayyappa, a bachelor. Last year, however, Kannada actress Jayamala made headlines claiming she had visited the sanctum sanctorum and offered prayers when she was in her 20s. Another storm was created after one of the senior- most priests was caught at the house of a high profile, Kochi-based sex worker; he has subsequently been barred from performing rites. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission has also had to intervene to ask the Travancore Devaswom Board to allow male employees at the temple to wear underwear while counting the temple donations. Earlier, staff entering the counting chamber had to strip themselves of all clothing, except their dhotis, after the authorities found that money was being smuggled out, concealed in their undergarments.

However, for a temple as anciently revered as Sabarimala, such issues leave no mark on its worshippers. While the latest controversy has undoubtedly come as a shock to millions, rationalists and devotees alike may delight that a pointless fraud has been put to rest. •



Ø Can anybody find a solution for this divine miracle?.....?

Makarajyoti is a celestial star which is worshipped by the pilgrims. The main worshipping rituals are performed at the day of Makara Sankaranthi (every 14 January) day. It draws the second largest number of pilgrims in the world after Thirumalai Thirupathi. The devotees believe that witnessing the light brings them good luck and divine blessings.

The Makara Jyothi marks the climax of the Makaravilakku season of Sabarimala pilgrimage lasting 41 days.
The huge crowd who witness the favorable event has been on the rise every year. In 2008, it is believed that one million devotees witnessed Makarajyoti light. Compare with previous year, the revenue collection during the Makaravilakku period is also higher. In 2008, the total donations was Rs 72.52 crore against previous year’s Rs. 72.35 crore. During December 2008, 85-year-old V S Achuthanandan, a member of the CPM politburo, the party’s highest decision-making body, became the first communist chief minister to visit the temple.
The Media and individuals who are skeptical of the Makarajyothi have disputed it. According to them the light is an artificial fire clandestinely lit by the officials of Sabarimala temple, the Travancore Devaswom Board and Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) in connivance with some of the forest and police officials. It is created by burning a large quantity of camphor cubes kept in a silver platter. Several correspondents have visited the hill station where the camphor-fire is lit is claimed to be in the control of the forest department of the Government of Kerala.
But it is really a wonder that "Maraka Jyoti" which is not the light on top of hill, but a star on sky. People always see an eagle flying over Sabarimala during Makara Vilakku time.
It should be noted, however, that lighting large sacred fires for long-distance viewing is a ceremonial feature of a number of South India Temples, and has been performed by devotees for centuries. For example, the sacred mountain temple of Arunachalam, dedicated to Shiva, includes a similar ritual in which a fire is lit by ceremonial officials on the sacred mountain, and is then worshipped by viewers from far distances.
In the case of Arunachalam, it had always been quite explicit that humans were lighting the fire for ritual purposes. There has never been any pretense towards anything else in either the temple's literature or history. The flame at Arunachalam is lit in honor of goddess Ankalaparameshwari, and the pujaris who do this are members of the Cempatavar community. Thus, there has never been any controversy regarding the origin of the light there, in contrast to makarajyoti.

Truth Behind
Rahul Easwar,grandson of traditional supreme priest of the Sabarimala temple, Tantri Kantaru Maheswararu mentioned to The Hindu that, the Makaravilakku was a fire lit by human hand on the hill neighboring Sabarimala while the Makarajyothi was a star that appeared in the evening sky on the day marking the culmination of the annual festival.
“It is the star that is worshipped as a celestial light. The Makaravilakku is merely a ritual involving the lighting of a fire as a symbolic act,” he said.
"There is a practice of litting fire on the top of mountains known as Beacon Mountains which work similar like light house for ships, Beacon Mountains guide the trekkers. Also some believe as a ritual practised as celestial signature of mankind to alien world" Anthropologist Biju F Kallukkaran.

Writ Petition
In 2008, rationalists filed a writ petition in court requesting it to direct the Government to grant permission to the petitioners and a selected team to visit Ponnambalamedu hill area during the Makarajoythi day on January 14, and to provide adequate police protection to the team during the visit. Kerala High Court sought the government’s response to a writ petition by a group of rationalists seeking permission to visit Ponnambalamedu where the light is seen.


To those readers who have reached this line: Let us not forget the dead; the onus is upon us never to submit to superstitions and irrational beliefs. We owe it to ourselves, our children and to the world. Let us be humans.

Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 18-01-2011