Nattars ensure that Kandadevi festival is not held citing one reason or other

Kandadevi in Devakottai taluk in Sivaganga district and the Swarnamoortheeswarar Temple car festival have been in the centre of controversy over a period of almost a decade-and-a-half. Dalits have asserted themselves fighting for their right to participate in the temple festival and draw the ropes of the car.

A visit to the village shows how the questions of tradition and customary practices take precedence over questions of constitutionally guaranteed legal rights. Dalits in Sivaganga, for over a decade, are fighting for their right in vain to draw the temple car along with the Nattars, who belong to the caste-Hindu Kallar community.

In recent years, the Nattars have ensured that the car festival was not held citing one reason or other, though after getting their first respect and participating in other rituals.

After continued struggles by Dalit movements and parties such as Puthiya Tamilagam, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and Left movements and legal interventions, the administration picked up a handful of Dalits and made them participate for namesake in 2005 and 2006.

This year too the district administration failed in its attempt to conduct the festival scheduled for July 2.

The reason the authorities cited this time was that the temple was under renovation and the car was not in shape to be drawn. However, leaders of various movements in the village stated that the car festival was cancelled owing to differences among heads of the four nadus — Unjanai Nadu, Thennilai Nadu, Semponmari Nadu, and Iravuseri Nadu.

Secretary of United Communist Party P.R. Chandran, an influential leader among the Kallars, told The Hindu on Saturday that the temple ‘kumbabhishekam’ was successfully organised on February 5, in which State ministers participated. The local villagers staged a demonstration demanding that the car festival should be conducted. “But there is some politics behind to stop the event,” he said.

Though admitting that caste conflict could be a reason, he said that not everyone is opposing Dalit participation. “Dalits were still not being allowed to worship in the local temple and also not allowed to participate in the temple car festival at a village called Eluvankottai coming under Thennilai Nadu since 1926. “The Ambalams of the nadu want that rigid caste structure extended in Kandadevi too. It is they who are creating trouble as they do not wish to treat the Dalits as equals and hence are instigating members of other nadus also.”

Kandadevi panchayat president Murugan also concurred with Mr. Chandran. He said that Rs.55 lakh was spent for renovation of the temple.

“When we were all keen to conduct the festival it was stopped, citing differences among heads of nadus.”

The traditional practice over the years has been that 10 days ahead of the car festival, the caste Hindu men from nearby villages would come to Kandadevi and do voluntary service (thondu oozhiyam) at the temple. However, interestingly, Dalits, who do form a substantial part of population of these villages, were never allowed to be part of this tradition.

Dalit Assertion

Members of various Dalit castes and other social activists who worked for the Dalit right to participate in temple festival have floated an organisation, ‘Kandadevi Ther Vada Urimai Committee,’ on June 10.

Committee president C. Kalaniappan of Devakottai said that instead of taking action against the heads of the Nadus, the State was keen to suppress the constitution-guaranteed rights of Dalits to participate in temple festival. Each time the rights of Dalits to be part of the temple festival became a casualty, as the officials cited law and order problem, he said.

A. Simpson of Odukkapattor Viduthalai Munnani (Liberation Front of the Oppressed) said, “Let there be no mere tokenism on the part of the State to have a few handful number of Dalits participate and stage-manage a ritual. They also demanded that temple renovation and maintenance should be taken care of by the government and not any private party as it would legitimise their denial of right to Dalits.”

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