Before getting to the Sabarimala imbroglio that the Marxist-led government faces in god’s own country, we need an answer to a sensitive question: Is the “Makaravilakku” phenomenon — the “celestial light” that appears above the skies of Sabarimala on a particular day — man-made or not? Is it true that the Kerala State Electricity Board spends a lot of money and labour to create this “divine” visual which enthrals millions of devotees coming from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu? If this is so, is not that, in very simple terms, a betrayal of the people by the government? Why would any Marxist government continue this act of cheating millions?
Decades ago, Sabarimala was a serene temple. In the misty mornings of December and January, devotees wearing black carried the imaginary double-load of their papa-punya as bundles on their head, trekked to the temple all the way through forests. Self-realisation was the motto. Even the revolutionary Malayalam poet, Vayalar Ramavarma, had sung about the pilgrims’ quest: “We come to your doorstep, Ayyappa/With the heaviness of our good and bad karmas”.
River Pampa had pristine water then. When it was cold (though Kerala can never be as cold as the north), the devotees would dip in the river and continue their journey to the temple. And at the doorstep of the Absolute, they would leave the heaviness of their hearts — the papas and punyas of all their karmas — and would descend with a clean slate. With time, Pampa lost her pristine nature. This was the impact of a kind of Sabarimala tourism. It started attracting a lot of pilgrims from neighbouring states; money started flowing in. The cash-strapped government sat up and took notice. The state, which could never depend on industrial growth, was always looking for other areas of resources. Pilgrimage became tourism.
The yearning for a stone bench, to unload one’s heaviness of existence, is an absolute necessity for man. But it underwent some transformation too. The new way is, indulgence as much as possible, and then look for redemption. Everything is in flux in the style of Heraclitus. Life is short, enjoy it in the Epicurean line. Then there is this fear of the unknown in the subconscious mind as a back drop, which makes one look for redemption.
Why did Sabarimala become such a draw, in the south at least? There is an obvious romantic halo about the whole thing. The non-indulgence you vow for 40 days is a challenge — challenges have their own charm. There is no denying that people have become more religious everywhere, thanks to the decline and fall of Marxist ideology. This is so in Kerala as well, the state which never wore religion on its sleeve. There are socio-political and economic reasons for this. Most of those who migrated to the Gulf, the US and elsewhere in the early period were Muslims and Christians. They were economically weak and did not possess a belief system which restricted them from doing so. The Hindus, in the 1960s, were generally reluctant to migrate for jobs. The impact of this was that moderately educated Christians and Muslims working in foreign countries started earning much more, and their remittances caused a disparity in the society. Just see how many new churches with state-of-the-art architecture have come up in the state in the last few decades. Their affluence and the ostentation led to a solidification of the Hindu mind in the state under the veil of secularism. That the Hindus, too, shed their resistance to going abroad and earning is the later part of the story.
There occurred a solidification of religious feelings, beneath the proclaimed secularism of the state and it was strengthened by the fall of Marxism internationally. An average Malayali prefers to live local, but tends to think in international terms. Precisely because of this there is hope. A common man in Kerala is, by and large, secular in his thoughts. But now comes a grave situation involving the hitherto docile, dormant section of the population — the women. Do Kerala women stand behind their religions?
From the indications we have received till now, they are solidly behind their own religions. Call it a conservative state of mind or being regressive, but they would not like a court to intervene in their faith or related customs. They would not want any man to do “ponkala” at the Attukal temple, where it is an all-women affair. This does not mean that they are intolerant to other religions. But they do not want to desecrate the customs of a men-only-allowed temple. They do not consider this a revolution.
The ones who caught the tiger’s tail, of course, are the state’s Marxists. It is so sweet, this court verdict, that they cannot spit it out; and it is so bitter, this court verdict, they cannot swallow it. And for the BJP, it is the pleasure of an elephant in a garden of sugarcane.