The row over Kuthiyottam, a ritual which is a part of the Pongala festival at the famous Attukal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram, triggered by DGP (Prisons) R Sreelekha’s blog post, has taken a new turn, with writer Lekshmy Rajeev also speaking out against it.
Lekshmy, who has authored the book, Attukal Amma: The Goddess of Millions published in 2016, on Friday said that she returned from the temple without offering pongala to the deity. This after she learnt that some of the boys, who perform the ritual, had been hired for the purpose.
The temple pongala, an annual event, where lakhs of women take part, was held on Friday.
Lekshmy, who is a devotee of the temple goddess, has been offering pongala for the past 35 years. The reason Lekshmy did not offer pongala this year, she says, is on account of what she came to know about Kuthiyottam.
Taking to Facebook on Friday, the writer said, "We got space to offer pongala. We were sitting at a home. The male head of the family told me that his son had performed Kuthiyottam. He even took a class on the necessity of Kuthiyottam. Then he seemed busy with other things. Then I asked his son who was sitting there, didn’t it hurt you? The boy said, "Aunty it was not me who did it. My father had hired another boy to perform it for me. Then I called someone and asked if boys are hired for Kuthiyottam in Attukal, he said ‘yes’, to perform for the sons of rich people," the post reads.
While many hit out at her post, Lekshmy tells TNM that it was the boy’s truth that made her change her mind about offering pongala. “I was told by a boy on Friday that his father hired someone else to perform the ritual in his name. I was all ready to offer pongala as I have been doing for the past 35 years. I was at the house and I kept everything ready to offer pongala,” she says.
Lekshmy told TNM that she did not want to reveal the name of the family. She says, “I don’t want to disclose details about the family, as I don’t want to drag them into trouble. The boy’s father gave me a long lecture on why Kuthiyottam is so sacred. After he left, his son… the boy told me ‘Aunty things are not as my father said, in my case it was not me who did it, but some other boy hired by my father,”.
Lekshmy goes on to say, “I am not sure if it’s the temple authorities or the families who arrange boys for the Kuthiyottam and whether they offer money for the children. I called up a friend of mine who is associated with the temple in some way. He was not surprise when I asked the question ‘Do the temple authorities and families hire boys to perform Kuthiyottam?’ Instead he asked, ‘Didn’t you know that it is common? It’s a common thing. I don’t how much the temple people or the families pay for the boys, may not be that big amount. They bring boys from Tamil Nadu so that they need to pay less.’”
Saying she was in shock when she learnt what was happening, she chose to leave the place without offering pongala. “Attukal goddess is the supreme power I trust upon. But at that moment I felt that I should leave, I didn’t even take my things. I had a huge mental tension. Even now my I am going through that, but I couldn’t help but speak against it. My open message was also to declare solidarity with Sreelekha madam. She is a senior officer. More than that she is a woman, if it was a man I wouldn’t have supported this. Sreelekha also has been offering pongala for 47 years,” she says.
Kuthiyottam is a ritual in which an iron hook is pierced into young boys. The boys are made to stay at the temple for some days to prepare them for the ritual. In her blog post published on Tuesday, DGP of Prisons R Sreelekha termed Kuthiyottam as "cruelty", and said that the ritual is a criminal activity, where the children are not even capable of realising that a crime is being committed on them.
Lekshmy took more than five years to complete Attukal Amma: The Goddess of Millions, which is one of the most comprehensive books about the temple. When asked if she had suspected anything about Kuthiyottam during the research of her book, she says, “Something had struck my mind at that time as well. But how would we assume such strange things would be there. I won’t offer pongala anymore until the temple authorities reforms Kuthiyottam. They should give due respect to the boys taking part in it, they should be allowed to dress well rather than giving the one layered mundu, which is too transparent that reveals the entire body of the boys. It’s a shame for boys of this age no? Also piercing should be ended”.
Lekshmy continues, “There are many other unpleasing things as well about the temple. But I don’t want to talk about it now. I don’t want to go through the same painful experience which I had passed through once by recollecting them now. It is a comprehensive book, but the temple authorities tried to suppress it sale as well as its content.”