Is the Makarajyothi man-made, the Kerala High Court asked on Thursday, about the phenomenon long associated with the climactic moment of the annual Makaravilakku pilgrim season at the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. The Hindu on Friday posed the question before a number of prominent persons closely associated with, or seek to represent the interests of, the revered and ancient forest-shrine. The answer: it is indeed man-made.
The president of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that administers the temple, a senior member of the Pandalam Palace that is traditionally associated with the Ayyappa temple, and the chief priest (Tantri) at the Ayyappa Temple, have clarified their stand on the ‘Makarajyothi darshan' seen at Ponnambalamedu, a remote hilltop situated some 8 km (as the crow flies) from the Sabarimala Sannidhanam, on Makaravilakku day every year.
TDB president M. Rajagopalan Nair said the light sighted at Ponnambalamedu was man-made, but added that the Board itself had no role in creating it. According to him, it is believed that in the olden days, forest-dwellers in and around Ponnambalamedu used to celebrate the Makaravilakku festival at the hilltop. The lighting of a lamp at Ponnambalamedu on Makaravilakku day has become an annual affair even after the forest-dwellers vacating the place in later years, he added. However, Mr. Nair restrained his comments, saying that the TDB would be submitting its report on the issue before the Kerala High Court soon, as required by it on Thursday.
The Pandalam Palace Managing Committee president, P. Ramavarma Raja (whose Letter to the Editor sent in on January 20 is published in the letters column elsewhere in this issue), and the senior Tantri of the temple, Kandararu Maheswararu, also clarified that the light sighted at Ponnambalamedu was man-made.
According to the Tantri, the bright star ‘Makara' that appears on the horizon above the holy hillock of the Sabarimala Sannidhanam on ‘Makaravilakku' day is the ‘Makarajyothi,' and not the light lit at Ponnambalamedu as has been “publicised by certain quarters.”
Both Mr. Raja and the Tantri were of the opinion that the lighting of the lamp at Ponnamabalamedu was a continuation of a practice followed earlier by the tribal families who lived near the hill-top. However, the PPMC president was of the view that the term Makaravilakku has no association at all either with the celestial star or the lamp lighted at Ponnamabalamedu. “The Pandalam Palace does not give any importance to the Makarajyothi, which was the creation of certain vested interests with a hidden agenda to downplay the most important event of deeparadhana offered to the deity decorated with the sacred Thiruvabharanam [sacred ornaments] brought from the Pandalam Palace, on Makaravilakku day,” Mr. Raja added.
According to him, vilakku is an old Malayalam usage for a temple festival, and Makaravilakku is referred to the temple festival at Sabarimala on the day of Makara-sankramom.
Ayyappa Seva Sanghom national vice-president D. Vijayakumar said it was a fact that the lamp lighted at Ponnamabalmedu is “man-made and a matter of faith.” If the TDB is lighting the lamp atop Ponnambalamedu, the TDB and the government that had constituted the temple administrative body are bound to ensure the safety of the multitude that throng the sacred grove of Lord Ayyappa for ‘jyothi' worship, Mr Vijayakumar said. According to him, interference by the judiciary and the government in a matter relating to religious faith was not a healthy trend.
Kummanam Rajashekharan, Hindu Aikayvedi general secretary, said Makarajyothi, whether it is man-made or not, has found adivine religious niche in the minds of every Ayyappa devotee. “Makarajyothi, and Ponnambalamedu which is considered as the original base of Sabarimala Temple, are realities and part of a strong religious belief. It was the TDB that had constructed a cement platform at Ponnambalamedu, where the ancient Ayyappa shrine of the forest-dwellers stood, a few years ago on the basis of the prescriptions at an astrological consultation (devaprasnom) held at Sabarimala, earlier,'' he added. Mr. Rajashekharan said that the TDB, with the knowledge of the Kerala High Court, had constructed the platform to conduct ceremonial offerings there on the Makaravilakku day, immediately after the deeparadhana at the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple. He alleged that certain quarters were trying to divert public attention from the Pulmedu stampede tragedy by creating a controversy over Makarajyothi.
Nair Service Society secretary G. Sukumaran Nair said that the lighting of the Makarajyothi at Ponnambalamedu is believed to have been part of a religious ceremony of the forest-dwellers in the olden days. The tribal people in the area were forced to resettle on the forest fringes later. Ponnambalamedu is the original base (Moolasthanom) of the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple and hence performing deeparadhana there should not be made a controversy,” he said.
Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan alleged that certain vested interests were trying to make Makarajyothi a centre of controversy with a hidden agenda to divert attention from the failure of the Government and the TDB in ensuring the safety of pilgrims at Pulmedu. “Devotees have little interest to know who is lighting the Makarajyothi at Ponnambalamedu. Their minimum requirement is adequate basic facilities at Sabarimala and Pulmedu for smooth pilgrimage,” he said.