The political row in Tamil Nadu over the ban on a 500-year-old ritual

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A ban on a 500-year-old ritual in Mayiladuthurai near Tamil Nadu’s Trichy has snowballed into a political controversy. District authorities denied permission for a practice that involved carrying a seer of a mutt in a silver palanquin.

The “Pattina Pravesam” ritual held by the Dharmapuram mutt was stopped by the police on 22 May following a protest call by K Veeramani, president of the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) party, and J Balaji, revenue divisional officer of Mayiladuthura. They believed that the tradition of devotees carrying the mutt in a palanquin should not continue as it dented human dignity and was regressive.

Veeramani called the ritual “a violation of human rights”. Meanwhile, rationalists in Tamil Nadu believed the practice should be abolished, reports The Indian Express.

Pattina Pravesam, which means ‘entering a city,’ is a centuries-old ritual in which devotees carry a deity or a pontiff in a decorated palanquin. According to some, the original idea was to honour the pontiff who arrived in the city, Times Now reports.

The opposition to the ban

The order to stop the ritual has angered the Opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is trying to woo Hindus in Tamil Nadu.

State BJP chief K Annamalai has slammed the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government and has said he would lift the palanquin himself if the authorities did not lift the ban on the ritual. He said that the ban was an affront to the state’s culture and added that serving one’s guru through the institution of Pattina Pravesam was different from ervitude. The DMK “which is built on sheer sycophancy doesn’t understand this difference”.

Senior BJP leader H Raja released a photograph on Tuesday of Veeramani himself sitting on what seemed like an oversized, decorated throne, surrounded by children and youth, a picture clicked during a DK conference three years ago, according to The Indian Express.

Political reasons behind the ban?

The chief of another mutt, the Madurai Adheenam, Shri La Shri Harihara Shri Ghanasammantha Desika Paramacharya Swamigal, has also stepped in, urging Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin to lift the ban. Saying that he was hurt by the order to ban a 500-year-old ritual, he added, “This tradition was not even banned by the British. I studied and grew up there. I will go there directly and we’ll conduct it. It should not be stopped, you should not get involved in tradition. Until now, it has not stopped. Why is the palanquin tradition being banned now?”

Swamigal said that there were “political reasons” behind the ban. "The governor’s visit to the Dharmapuram Aadheena Mutt is the reason for this ban,” he alleged.

The Tamil Nadu government and Governor RN Ravi have had several face-offs recently with the DMK boycotting events at Raj Bhavan. The state has recently taken measures to curtail Ravi’s authority when it comes to the appointment of university vice-chancellors. Two weeks ago, the governor had visited the Dharmapuram mutt and was welcomed with state honours.

Swamigal said that past governments including Stalin’s father and DMK chief M Karunanidhi did not stop the palanquin ritual. “That was the respect commanded by the Dharmapuram adheenam,” he said.

Is it forced labour?

The Mayiladuthurai district authorities have invoked the provisions of Article 23 of the Constitution to prohibit the event. They have also cited staunch opposition to the ritual from certain groups and said the event could lead to a law and order problem, reports NDTV.

“Traffic in human beings and begar [compulsory labour] and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law,” the order stated.

Devotees organised a protest against the ban on Tuesday, saying they were not forced to carrying the palanquin. Meanwhile, several Hindu outfits have approached district authorities asking for the ban to be lifted and the ritual to be conducted peacefully.

The palanquin ritual was last held in December 2019, when the current Dharmapuram mutt chief took over following the death of the earlier seer.

With inputs from agencies

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The political row in Tamil Nadu over the ban on a 500-year-old ritual
The political row in Tamil Nadu over the ban on a 500-year-old ritual
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