The Kerala High Court wanted to know on Thursday whether or not the ‘Makarajyothi' is a man-made phenomenon, amid a renewed debate after the stampede that killed 102 pilgrims last week on the authenticity of the hallowed celestial light visible from Sabarimala.

The court's poser to the board managing the Sabarimala hill shrine came even as Kerala's Left Democratic Front government declined to be drawn into the debate. It said it did not intend to probe the Makarajyothi issue as it concerned the faith of millions of people.

The court posed the question to Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) senior counsel T.G. Paraneshwar Nair after the reports filed by Kerala DGP, the Forest department and the TDB on the Pulmedu tragedy came up before it. In the worst-ever disaster to strike the Sabarimala pilgrimage, 102 persons died in the stampede in the forested area of Pulmedu near the hill shrine when they were returning home after witnessing the ‘Makarajyothi.'

The beacon that fleetingly appears at dusk on January 14 marks the climax of the two-month ‘Makaravilakku' season from mid-November at Sabarimala. The light flickers across the skies above Ponnambalamedu, east of Sabarimala shrine, during the ‘Makarasamkramam' pooja ritual.

Mr. Nair told the bench comprising Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice P.S. Gopinathan that ‘Makarajyothi' was a celestial star, considered divine. The board, however, had not given any publicity that it was ‘divine,' he stated.

“People should know what is what,” the court said and asked TDB to clarify this aspect.

In view of the court's poser, the TDB had decided to call a meeting of high priests, religious scholars and authorities on temple customs and rituals to discuss the issue, its spokesman said.

Probe ruled out

Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, meanwhile, ruled out a probe into the authenticity of the ‘Makarajyothi.' Speaking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, he said the government would not inquire if it was a divine or a man-made phenomenon as the issue was essentially a matter of faith for millions. “The government is going to consult neither astrologers nor scientists to ascertain the veracity of the Makarajyothi, which millions believe is divine…,” he said.

‘Jyoti' and ‘Vilakku'

Rationalists have for long alleged that the Jyoti is a fire arranged by the temple authorities and government agencies. Giving some credence to the views of the sceptics, the senior most member among the Sabarimala high priests had said the flash of light appearing above the Ponnambalamedu shrine was a manmade fire. He said it was unfortunate that this had become a topic of controversy.

“A distinction has to be made between the Makaravilakku and Makara Jyothi. The Jyothi is a celestial star. Makarvilakku is lit [by people],' said the head of the Thazamon Thanthri family, Kantararu Maheswararu.

Kerala's Cooperation Minister G. Sudhakaran, who handled the Temple Affairs portfolio in the past, endorsed the Chief Minister's view. “It is a solemn occurrence which does not pose harm to anybody. There has never been a communal division or ill-will over it. I don't think it is necessary to start an argument for and against it,” he said.

Mr. Sudhakaran, who was in charge when controversies such as South Indian actress Jayamala's claim of having visited the hill shrine in violation of customs arose, however, said the information he had was that the Jyothi was lit by tribals as part of their tradition and belief.

Adding a new dimension, Rahul Eswar, a member of the family of high priests of Sabarimala, said the light was man-lit while the actual Makarajyothi was a bright star that ascends the skies on Makarasamkramam, the time when the Sun moves from ‘dhanu rasi' (Sagittarius sign) to ‘Makaram rasi' (Capricorn).

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