DGP demands end to ‘rigorous’ custom for boys at Kerala shrine
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala director general of police R Sreelekha on Tuesday called for an end to the age-old practice of boys aged between 5 and 12 performing rigorous rituals called ‘kuthiyottam’ during the annual Pongala festivities at the Attukal Devi temple in the state capital.
Often called women’s Sabarimala, Pongala has found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the largest gathering of women” based on the 2.5 million turnout in 2009. Kuthiyottam is a ritual performed by young boys after observing a seven-day ‘vritham’, or penance.
The DGP in charge of prisons wrote in her blog that the ritual involving children should be stopped as the practice includes boys being “made to wear just a loincloth, submerge in cold water thrice daily, eat measly morsels squatting on the floor, and sleep on the bare temple ground”.
They are not allowed to meet their parents during the time and on the final day each of them wear yellow cloths, garlands, jewellery and make-up, including lipstick, and made to stand in a queue for their “last unexpected torture”, she said.
“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!” she wrote.
Sreelekha compared the boys with goats to be sacrificed at Guwahati’s Kamaakhya temple. “All the boys in wet loincloths bore the same look of the sacrificial goats of Kamakhya,” she said. The comments from the state’s first woman IPS officer came ahead of this year’s Pongala festivities, which begin in the temple on March 2.
The temple authorities rejected the charges and said no one is being forced by the shrine to participate in the ritual.
“We are not forcing anybody and it is only a ritual. It is unbecoming of a DGP-rank officer to come out with a misleading statement, especially at a time the annual festival is on,” V Chandrasekhara Pillai, chairman of the Attukal Bhagawathy Temple Trust, told PTI.
He said there is a Kerala high court directive that none should interfere in the temple’s rituals and customs.
Attukal Devi temple