Kukke Subramanya temple
l by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam
(December 06, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write in response to the joint statement headed ‘Government promotes the gutter of caste’ (published in Sri Lanka Guardian), by the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Vigil India movement.
The statement is about the practice of ‘Made Snana’ at Kukke Subramanya temple, near Mangalore. It is reported that ‘the practice involves devotees rolling over plantain leaves; reportedly after dominant caste Brahmins have eaten from the leaves. It is believed that the ritual will cure skin diseases, in the past leprosy, mostly of the inferior castes, in particular the Dalits.’
To me, this confirms that the said practice is an expression of belief.
The report states also ‘The temple is under the Muzrai Department of the Government of Karnataka. Dr. Vedavyas Srinivas Acharya, a senior minister of the state cabinet, who is also responsible for higher education, planning, statistics and information technology departments in the state government heads the Muzrai department. Dr. Acharya is a medical doctor turned politician. That a qualified medical doctor heads a government department, which manages religious institutions and the revenue generated from such institutions is also responsible for other important cabinet portfolios, not only allows such inhuman practices in the country but justifies it in the name of religious belief and centuries-old tradition is not just a shame for the country, but illuminates the deep-rooted nature of orthodox prejudices that benefits the dominant castes in the caste system of India..’
The authors of this report are obviously ‘outsiders’ to the local area where the Subramanya temple is situated. We have the parallel of this – a Kali temple at our village Thunaivi – the village of Toddy Tappers (Nalavar) – in Vaddukkoddai District in Northern Sri Lanka, where the first Declaration of Independent Tamil Nation was made in 1976. It is also a high risk area for the Government of Sri Lanka. The practices of Thunaivi are very different to the practices of the folks of Vaddukkoddai town. A citizen of Vaddukkoddai would ‘use’ the services of a person from Thunaivi – but would not be ‘seen’ to belong to the same group. One therefore needs to be careful not to ‘convert’ the villagers driven by belief – into urban practitioners who seem to be more civilized. The latter may be weaker in their belief due to excessive benefits and therefore, a combination could result in the former losing their natural powers due to belief.
The way we are all born free – each community/caste is also ‘free’ when it functions through and within its common belief. This is also true of a nation and therefore the claim of ‘sovereign rights’. It would be wrong to interfere with that group. Hence the call for separation by Tamils of Sri Lanka, when they feared that the Sinhalese were interfering with their cultures, through the Government, to damage that Common Belief that naturally helped them draw from each other.
One may get involved but not interfere. When we feel we are a part of that group, we get involved. When we are active as an outsider, we are interfering unless we consciously use common laws and measures expressly accepted by both groups, through their leaders.
The above mentioned practice by India’s Dalits around Kukke Subramanya temple, is described as being ‘inhumane’ by the authors of the above report. It is common practice for Hindus to use cow-dung to wax the floor of their mud huts. Children play on those floors. In traditional Hindu groups cow dung was burnt and the ash from such burning was applied on the forehead. The significance of this in religious terms was to burn ignorance and use the remains which was wisdom. Scientifically there must be some special quality in cow dung which must have fitted the core message of the above practices.
Belief strengthens the mind. When we believe, we don’t need to understand. Those with low level mental activity and high level physical activity – tend to believe by skipping intellectual discrimination. They use the Bhakthi-Marga (Path of Devotional Worship) to connect to the Divine. Sewer water is treated and used for drinking purposes by scientists in the West. Their knowledge of science informs them that the water, once purified is safe for drinking purposes. In their minds therefore, the ‘risk’ of impurity is negated by knowledge of what the purification process does to the water. Its parallel in Pariah (toilet cleaner) caste in Sri Lanka’s North and Dalits in India – is that through their work of cleaning impurities they live in that physical impurity. They are part of that impurity and hence it does not hurt them. They are like doctors with patients carrying infectious diseases. If they were ‘outsiders’ to the impurity – then they need to use intellectual discrimination and use ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ to balance their minds – like the scientists who drink purified sewer water.
Appreciating this difference is essential in relation to developing a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. The Government of Sri Lanka claims that the LTTE were/are Terrorists. To most Tamils, the LTTE are rebels – sometimes unjust and rough in their ways. Certainly, the folks of Thunaivi do not consider the LTTE to be Terrorists. To many of them – especially the families whose sons and daughters were part of the LTTE – they are heroes. When I – an Australian citizen of Sri Lankan origin – go and live there in Thunaivi – I need to live as part of that village or risk being hurt one way or the other. If I live as an Australian – conscious of our laws especially in Public Administration – I am likely to ‘tell’ the folks what to do – so I could live as an Australian with high status. That would be a the parallel of a Brahmin like Dr. Archarya living with Dalits – to tell/show them how a Brahmin lives. Without strong system of Public Service, this would result in unjust discrimination by the mere presence of the two in one place, without conscious attempts to think that the two are equal until proven otherwise. That is how racial discrimination often happens in Australia. Democracy serves us well, when the elected leader is seen to be part of the minorities in a community. Outsiders tend to ‘reform’. Insiders transform naturally.
When we go to Nallur in Northern Sri Lanka – where there is a well known temple for the same Deity Subramanya (also known as Murugan/Kanthan) – it is a common sight especially early morning time during festival– to see men rolling on the ground circumventing the temple. There is such an aura of devotion in that environment at that time – that one feels like touching the feet of these devotees in reverence. People would have spat on that sand on which these devotees roll. Similarly, Australians use our beaches regularly to relax and enjoy the sun. Not everyone is conscious of keeping the beaches clean and we do from time to time find users spitting and some even urinating when they think no one is looking. The information that the mind does not register, does not give us diseases. Many migrants from Sri Lanka and India – go more often to the doctor here in Australia than they did in Sri Lanka or India – because of ‘fear’ / mind factor. It’s ‘little knowledge’ syndrome. Belief is far better than little knowledge.
In Australian Hindu temples also, we devotees drink the water that has bathed the deity. This water also washes the feet of the priest but we devotees do not think of that due to our belief in the Deity. If this is right for Australia with its high standards of Hygiene – then it is right for Dalits of India to roll on the used banana leaves.
As per the laws of nature, at the physical level – when our clean cells are in the majority – we are immune to that risk of un-cleanliness. Like Terrorism & Criminal-conduct, Cleanliness itself is relative to what the body is comfortable with. One of the Tamil Tiger combatants who was assigned to be trained by me in Administration, did not have power in her right hand – due to injury during combat. But, the young lady trained her left hand to be functional and could do with one active hand all that I could do with two active hands. Hence that lady is not disabled in terms of her own body. To an outsider, she may seem disabled and she herself may feel that she is disabled when she goes into areas where others are more proficient in using their hands than those in her natural environment.
In yesterday’s article ‘Did Tamils ask for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission?’, I have stated ‘ As per my experience based belief – if we travel through that path of one outcome – and realize completion even through the smallest of positions – we feel a part of the whole and influence that whole from within that position. Hence I often say that the Cleaner and the Vice Chancellor of a University are one at that stage. If on the other hand the Vice Chancellor stagnates – at the elementary levels of the position the Vice Chancellor’s influence on the natural forces of the University would be weaker than that of the Cleaner who has realized the goal of her/his position.’
In the case of Dalit devotees of Kukke Subramanya temple, their path to realizing Oneness with the Divine Spirit of that temple would be different to the path of the Brahmin Priests of the temple who are the parallels of the Vice Chancellors of Universities. These toilet cleaners may eat in the toilet area whilst the Vice Chancellor is likely to eat in the clean smelling office area. It is highly unlikely that the Vice Chancellor would eat near the toilet area. In Indian culture a wife who ate off the plate used by her husband was considered to be a devoted wife. These were ways to remain humble so one could be naturally blessed by the ‘higher’/ senior person. Such blessing happens even if the higher/senior person does not consciously bless, but the junior person is humble and takes the lower position. In principle, it’s not different to a soldier saluting to the commander in the armed forces.
Positions help us work out the costs and benefits of our work. When costs are equal to benefits – there is a form reflecting completion due to both sides being present. That is the real structure of our work and therefore the real form of the position. Where the other side does not return the value/ benefits of our work, the position naturally gets downgraded and the excess of our costs is an opportunity to step into the higher position. Whether we are able to physically occupy that position or not – we still naturally influence that position and through that position, the institution. This holds true in all structures provided the worker believes. Belief starts developing when we work genuinely beyond the level of benefits received by us. This is also known as ownership.
In the case of the Kukke Subramanya temple, if the priests and higher caste devotees including medical doctors – had invested in knowledge of healing – beyond the benefits of their work through their apparent positions, they would carry healing powers. The cleaners who also had invested beyond their position responsibilities – would also carry hygiene powers. The two would merge naturally in the common ownership pool of the temple. This common ownership pool is the essential value of Governance. Hence we pay taxes.
If Dr. Acharya were to introduce in this area around Kukke Subramanya Temple, the system suitable for educated people, it would seriously block the path of belief and therefore self-healing powers of these folks. It is for this reason that Politics through majority vote of the faithful needs to be separated from merit based administration and the judiciary.
It is in essence for this reason that I work as part of the villagers in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka – so we could heal each other naturally and in the privacy/sovereignty of our common belief – often through Hindu forms of God.