Kochi: Wednesday night, when the ritual Makaravilakku lamp is lit at the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, hundreds of people from the Mala Araya tribe who have been shut out of that ritual will light their own lamps as a mark of protest.
The lighting of the lamp on the Ponnambalamedu mountain surrounding the Sabarimala temple is the culmination of the two-month-long Ayyappa pilgrimage season.
Until the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) took over the Sabarimala temple, it used to be the traditional right of the Mala Araya tribe to light the Makaravilakku.
So as a mark of protest at being kept out of the ritual, lamps will be lit tonight in the houses, temples and institutions -- Knowledge City, Idukki and Sree Sabareesa College – of the Mala Araya.
When the TDB took over the temple administration from the Panthalam royal family more than 60 years ago, tribal communities who used to perform some of the rituals were displaced, Mala Araya leaders complain.
For the past several years, the Makaravilakku has been lit by government officials instead. They are from the Kerala State Electricity Board and the state’s Forest Department. The lighting is done by burning camphor taken up to the mountaintop in a vessel.
For years the Mala Araya have been agitating to reclaim their role in the traditional practices of Sabarimala.
As a mark of protest this year, P K Sajeev, general secretary of Aikya Mala Araya Mahasabha, said a symbolic lighting of the Makaravilakku will be performed at the Moozhikkal Sree Sankaranarayana temple at Injippara Mala, one of the 18 holy mountains surrounding Sabarimala. The lamp will be kept burning until the tribe gets back its role in the Makaravilakku.
P.K Sajeev claimed in a Facebook post that the Mala Arayas’ attempts to reclaim their traditional rights have gained support from other tribes.
Back in 2012, thousands of tribespersons took out a procession from Erumeli to Ponnambalamedu to assert their claim to light the Makaravilakku but were blocked by the police.
The Mala Araya used to perform several other rituals of the Ayyappa temple such as the thenabhishekam (pouring honey on the Ayyappa idol) until the Panthalam royal family brought in Brahmin priests.
Thousands of devotees are up the hill slopes to watch the Makaravilakku at the shrine Wednesday night. They will join several thousands more who are already camping there.
Unlike last year, the pilgrim season has been peaceful this time. The temple’s officials have stood firm against the entry of women into the hill shrine. Though women pilgrims including Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai and Bindu Ammini, who entered the Ayyappa temple last year, applied for police protection to do so again this year, they were denied. Bindu Ammini was attacked at the office of the district police chief of Kochi for attempting a Sabarimala darshan.
The government’s stand is that those women desirous of entering the shrine should get an order from the apex court and no personal police protection will be given to any woman....