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).
Ø Post-stampede, divinity of Sabarimala light questioned
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
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.
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.
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