Marxist minister caught in Kerala temple row
11/3/2006 Source, The Peninsula Qatar
By John Mary
The purification ceremony undertaken at a temple in central Kerala after the visit by a non-Hindu Minister has kicked off a controversy, with two temple officials resigning and different versions being trotted out on the ceremony. The Kochi Temple Board which administers the Harikanyaka Devi temple at Ariyannur in the temple town of Guruvayur maintains no ceremony had been conducted to cleanse the temple following the visit by Education Minister M A Baby, who is also in charge of cultural affairs.
He is a central committee member member of the ruling Communist Party of India(Marxist).
Baby, who had gone to Thrissur to fete Kovilan who has been selected for Kerala’s foremost Ezhuthachan literary award, visited the temple after he was invited by the temple officials. Baby took off his shirt in keeping with the custom and went round the temple, surveying its rich architecture. Baby, a confirmed atheist, was all praise for the craftsmanship and promised Rs2.5m in State grants for the upkeep of the temple.
But what followed the minister’s visit had lent itself to differing interpretations, with a section of devotees expressing anguish over the purification, which is normally carried out in expiation for defiling the temple sanctity. The officials denied that the cleansing was in connection with Baby’s visit. But the timing of the purification and divergent explanations lend the impression that the ceremony had much to do with Baby’s visit.
Temple officials had said the clean-up was carried out because of the periodic repair going on at the temple. Besides, the priests had spotted a rat snake within the precincts, which called for a clean-up.
Devotees point out that the elaborate purification, undertaken by five priests, could not be termed as routine. Temple president P Balakrishnan Nair and secretary C Narayana Poduval tendered their resignation at the temple board office in Kochi on Wednesday, hoping to end the controversy at a time when Kerala celebrates the golden jubilee of its formation.
Baby has ignored the controversy though it involves a serious question. By convention, non-Hindus are barred entry at temples in Kerala. Until 1936, temples had been out of bounds for low-caste Hindus, branded as untouchables. But the Kerala ruler issued the temple entry proclamation in 1936, throwing the doors open to all Hindus. If Baby has not been a minister, he would not have been invited to the temple. But because he is the minister, entrusted with discharge his official responsibilities as the political head of the Cultural Affairs Department, he entered the temple.
Is it all right for a non-Hindu, though he be a minister, to breach conventions and enter a temple?
Prof Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri, who had done a stint as a temple priest, says: “Vedic ethics do not bar anyone, with a pure mind, from worshipping at a temple”.