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

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


  1. Balan, Tiger reserve? Fuck the tigers. What are they against faith and belief in the Lord? The money that will be generated? Let there be martyrs among the tigers too. Yes there may be stampedes revisiting us , may be a thousand would perish. See all that is in aid of development. Man look at the money that comes into the coffers. Are you suggesting to kill the goose?
    It is centuries old belief man. People are not superstitious, they know the canard of ‘mkara jyothi’, but they believe in God and miracles. (Though to an arse hole like me miracle is being alive this very moment). And how can you suggest anything that will even distantly hurt their fantasies, sentiments, beliefs?
    Opening the temple 365 days? But then will they fake the jyothi on all those days ?
    Opening the temple 365 days will ring the death knell of the forests the periyar tiger reserve, the rivers? So what? We still have money in cash box.
    And being educated, having charming and pleasing dispositions etc ,do not ordain that a person is not a bigot, an obscurantist, myopic and intolerant. Cleopatra was the most charming of the queens , but the most cunning and vile too. Matahari was the most elegant then but was the most feared manipulator. The empress of Louis XV, was the most insensitive, and “ after me deluge” , the quote is attributed to her. Ramarajulu of Satyam , the highly educated – was the guy who eventually patented falsehood and fraud. Look around, appearances, education and the other trappings of culture are deceptive. The Blog world itself throws many examples.
    You can do your part and maintain the hope that change will come about one day. That is all you can do. What I foresee though is the very age that is described in the Hindu scriptures-“ the kali yugam”. The temple may be thrown open through the year. Tiger reserves and other forest land will be cleared and multi star abodes will come up. A few malls, the river will dry up and choke. Water down stream will stop flowing. Vehicles will ply up to the holy steps. Airport with Kingfisher airlines ferrying pilgrims pampered by the mini skirt wearing red heads, the place would be changed. Then one day Mother Nature would decide that she had enough. She lets out what has to be done to regain the past- forest fires, huge landslides, that will dwarf the one at Kailsh – manasrovar route , will wipe out Sabarimla itself.
    Nature will eventually balance the act. We are moving too fast for her liking.

  2. I have been following the recent activities on your blog. I understand you are angry and frustrated.

    We are so trivial in front of this nature. They might lure innocent people so that their cash boxes clunks with cash. But when nature lets out her fury; nothing would remain.

  3. @Insignia: Angry and frustrated? No No No; far from it. I clearly said what I feel like, in the last lines.
    Maybe there is a tinge of regret and shame for having to identify myself as somehow connected to the kind of people I have to. In today's newspapers, I read that the High COurt of Kerala has questioned the nature of the Jyothi. And the Hon'ble Chief Minister, BJP, the Hindu Aikya Vedi etc etc have come out with vehement opposition to any sort of enquiry into the Jyothi. Can't you see how stifling it is to live in such a hypocritical society? All that matters to these people is, like I wrote in the first post, BLOOD MONEY. But B, let me reiterate, I am not angry or frustrated.

  4. Not need to lose our heads over this;literally and figuratively, because the concerned lobbies would do exactly that to us!

  5. This is one powerful post! I am with you totally on this. If you try to go against the faith, the matter will either never reach court at all or will take years to get a verdict! What if the security is looked into, we can save more lives. We cant change the world, Mr. Balachandran. I seriously hope they don't plan 5 star hotels there! But electricity and a few basic amenities on an already existing road can cause no harm to the tiger reserve!

    We all do fear Nature's fury. So I guess, fear is the factor after all!

  6. Bala,

    I get that. As you said its a shame and regret to be living among hypocritical people. I read the news report about HC intervention and how Mr.Achuthanandan doesnt want to question people's faith. I could not help but laugh.

  7. Bindu, Balan

    elections are a few months away and Mr Acthuthanandhan and his party do not want to antagonise the majority beliefs even if it means going against their conscience and the facts of the matter.
    There is no use fretting and being angry,( though sometimes we cannot help not being angry), there are the incorrigible lot who are in the majority. Feel sad for them

  8. I would say you stand by-protecting life :).Honestly will there be any less number of people visiting Sabarimala even if it remains open 365 days??? I doubt it...

  9. good article
    First of all this came to light 2007 but news did not spread.

    They say everyone knew about it.
    then why the Kerala High court has to ask the fact about the Light.
    this clearly say that people believed it and thought that it is miracle.
    Point NO. 2 if you remember Doordarshan news or any news before year it is always mentioned it as divine light.
    The best thing is there should be no light next year.
    If they want light they they should declare it in January 1ST month that Who is going to Lit the light, and earn money.
    If possible give this right to Females of India to lit the light.

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