Tamil Nadu runs the risk of earning the sobriquet ‘land of milk and agony’, going by the happenings around the State, particularly near temples since the last week of September. It is difficult to keep track of the number of ‘paal kudam’ (milk pot) marches, which have shown an unseasonal spurt, or even count the number of pots that adorned the head of the women devotees walking to the various temples or even measure the amount of milk that went into filling those pots.
Vignettes of those milk pot marches, however, showed that the participants of the devotional exercise did have a collective wish. For one, in many of the marches, the women were draped in sarees of the same colour and patterns, which went on to prove that the show itself was a designer event. The shining new pots were brand new and the floral decorations atop them and the posters on the vessel’s body were all uniform in any given array of pots that moved in unison.
Of course some of the devotional marches gained extra news coverage when tragedy struck those ostensibly religious outings. At Neykarapatti near Salem an old man died when 3568 milk pots were being carried to the Karaipuranathar temple on October 26. Earlier, on October 24, a mad scramble for collecting the milk pots led to a stampede that killed an old woman and injured many others. That was at Pachaiamman temple in Tiruvannamalai.
Milk pots, however, were not the only weapon employed to seek divine intervention this season, which otherwise is not an auspicious period for religious rituals and large gatherings at temples. At the Vazhividu Murugan temple devotees ate Mansoru, which just means eating rice off a floor in the temple. It has also become a routine for other forms of religious invocations like smashing the pumpkin on the very road that takes world class medical professionals to the hospital.
Even mini-yagnas were held on the same road that saw even Christians saying their prayers loudly by holding aloft Bibles. Of course, the overwhelming spiritual upsurge did not spare a group of Muslims from marking their presence with a prayer on the road, holding photographs close to their hearts. This apart, churches of various denominations and mosques had special prayers during their regular mass, service and namaz.
But the crowds that turned up for some of the special prayers were mindboggling. Like in Chennai’s R K Nagar the devotional crowd was estimated at 20,000. Even at Tiruvannamalai, the tragedy is attributed to the huge crowd of 10,000. It was said that the milk pot carriers keep the pot to themselves after the ritual at the temple and that was why there was a mad scramble for picking a pot.
Then, of course, there was an incident that saw child rights activists seeing red. Pictures of adolescent girls being pierced with sharp spears through the cheeks and some of them walking to the temple with the spears fixed across their agonized faces caused some consternation among the people. It was obvious that the small girls were not keen on going through so much pain and agony for whatever reason.
That alone is not the indicator to the religiosity on display being more induced than spontaneous, more political than spiritual. The uniform sarees of the women carrying the pots pointed more to the fact that the bid to invoke the Gods to answer the collective prayer was a concerted effort of someone or some coterie. Also it raised the doubt if the whole exercise was to seek out to the divine powers or propitiate earthly powers.
Whatever, the rush on the spiritual road, even when adequate and firm steps were taken on the scientific path, is unlikely to help the state or its people get what they want. The trend is also an indicator of the fall in general scientific temper in Tamil Nadu, which once prided on its education, institutions and general rationalistic principles of its leaders.
When, the state has top notch medical facilities and qualified doctors, whipping up such spiritual frenzy does not augur well for the social and political well-being of its people. Yes political, too. For, there is a political party waiting in the wings to mobilize the people using religion as an instrument and whipping up needless religious frenzy for a medical cause could set a wrong precedent.
For, religion has persistently refused to loosen its grip on State’s collective sub-conscience even after the Self-Respect movement successfully ushered in social justice and scientific temper. Sankaracharyas, mutt heads, religious leaders, godmen, soothsayers and astrologers always linger around, seeking to thwart the social reformation and awakening brought about by the Dravidian movement. With the establishment and the judiciary repeatedly showing a clear favouritism towards the organized forces opposed to Dravidian principles, it has been an enduring fight against superstition and blind religious beliefs all along.
Now, the explosion of milk pots and the agonized faces of young girls in the political terrain will only lead to the general public gravitating towards religious rituals and seek divine intervention in issues relating to politics, economy and even science. Of course, the business community of the State, primarily inspired by the practices of richer North Indian traders and industrialists, has always shown a marked affiliation to invoking gods before every new venture and every festival in the calendar. But of late, even the Indian Space Research Organization can be seen unfailingly rushing to seek a final divine approval before firing its rockets by placing a replica of the spacecraft or the satellite they plan to launch in the precincts of the idol at a famous temple.
That scientists and businessmen wallow in religiosity and superstition is no justification for politicians of Tamil Nadu to find spiritual avenues to reach at the destination. Such a trend will only take the State to a blind alley, leaving the younger generation floundering and fumbling for means to reach their goals.
(The author is a freelance journalist)