Kerala

Body piercing rituals draw flak

Children take part in the ‘Kuthiyottam’ ritual at the Attukal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

Children take part in the ‘Kuthiyottam’ ritual at the Attukal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram.   | Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

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Despite criticism over violation of child rights, 2 Kerala temples continue practice

The annual festivals at the Attukal Devi Temple in the State capital and the Chettikulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha district have shot into unusual prominence for the ritualistic body piercing ceremonies known as ‘Kuthiyottam’ at Attukal and ‘Chooral Muriyal’ at Chettikulangara.

At Attukal in the State capital, the practice of keeping around 1,000 teenage boys in the temple premises for five days, leading up to the grand finale when thousands of women arrive in the city to offer pongala (made with rice and jaggery) to the female deity, has come in for criticism from the State’s Director General of Prisons R. Sreelekha. She raised the question of how the elders could allow hooks to be pierced into the sides of the boys, even ritualistically, in gross violation of their rights to protection and security.

Calling the practice ‘cruelty to the kids’, she wrote in her blog: “Parents conspire with temple authorities to put their children through rigorous mental and physical abuse for five days...And on the final day, each of them will be decked up with yellow clothes, garlands, jewellery and make-up on face, including lipstick, and made to stand in a queue for their last unexpected torture. An iron hook, tiny though it is, will be pierced into their skin on their flanks. They scream. Blood comes out. A thread will be symbolically knotted through the hooks to symbolise their bond with divinity. Then the hooks are pulled out and ash roughly applied on the wounds! All this for (the) temple deity!”

Government silent

Ms. Sreelekha is Kerala’s first woman IPS officer. Her writing earned the wrath of right wing sympathisers. She has received no support the CPI(M)-led government. On Friday, the ritual took place as in the previous years.

A fortnight ago, on February 22, 2018, religious fervour found its expression in the ritual called ‘Chooral Muriyal’ at the Chettikulangara Devi temple in Alappuzha was thronged by thousands of devotees on the ‘Bharani’ day in the Malayalam calendar. Those who offer Kuthiyottam performances to the deity ‘adopt’ young boys aged between 8 and 14 from other families. These boys are then taken care of by their adopted households for the next 10 days. They are taught the ritual dance of Kuthiyottam with the help of asans (masters). The boys are then “offered” to the goddess.

In the ritual of Chooral Muriyal, either sides of the boys’ midriffs are pierced and gold strings passed through their piercings. One end of the thread is tied around the neck. Later, children with painted faces, an areca nut fixed on the tip of a knife held high over their head, are garlanded and taken in a procession to the temple, their pain drowned by beating of drums and music. At the temple, young boys facing dance facing the sanctum. In the end, gold threads are pulled out and offered to the deity along with drops of blood on it, in a symbolic sacrifice.

The Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KeSCPCR) in 2016 banned the practice, noting that it should be abolished from society, like the practice of sati. Dismissing a petition filed by an organisation, which sought the ban to be overturned, the Kerala High Court last month observed that children should not be subjected to any form of physical or mental suffering in the name of such ceremonies.

However, despite a ban, at least 12 households performed the ritual this year.

23 persons booked

After this year’s festival, the police registered a case against 23 persons for defying the ban and performing the ritual under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and Section 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code. “The parents and sponsors of 23 children have been booked,” District Police Chief S. Surendran told The Hindu.

The ritual is performed as a wish-fulfilling offering to the deity. The ‘masters’ who train the children in Kuthiyottam performances maintain that the boys are offered to the goddess to bring her joy and the ritual cannot be be seen as a sacrifice.

B. Harikrishnan, former president and governing council member of the Sreedevi Vilasam Hindu Matha Convention, Chettikulangara, an organisation of devotees, said it was an old custom and should be allowed to continue, adding, “We are moving Supreme Court against the High Court’s verdict.”

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 12:35:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/body-piercing-rituals-draw-flak/article22920116.ece

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