When you are desperately seeking divine intervention, you begin to put your faith in anything you can gain solace from. And in Thiruvananthapuram, the object of faith for scores of patients and their families visiting the Sree Avittom Tirunal (SAT) Hospital is the familiar grey stone statue of a mother breastfeeding her baby, created by artist Aryanad Rajendran.
Installed on the road near the entrance of the SAT hospital, this work of art has transformed into a deity with people offering candles, agarbattis, payasam (kheer)and milk. Some other throw coins and prayers for their beloveds undergoing treatment in the hospital.
For Geetha, who is from Kadakkal, it is irrelevant that the statue does not represent any known religious figure. â€śYou see faith is all that matters. Even if we worship a stone, it will get supernatural power within days. Faith can transform a stone to deity. After I prayed to the mother, we see her as amma-mother. There is a big improvement in my daughterâ€™s health condition since I prayed to amma. Why would this many people pray here if it was mere superstition?â€ť
Inaugurated in 1952, the SAT hospital treats women, mothers and children under 12 years of age.
The hospital is teeming with patients on a daily basis, with people flocking there from nearby districts.
Anitha and Santhosh, a couple from Oachira in Kollam, has been praying to the statue for their five-year-old son who has been undergoing treatment at the hospital for the past one year.
â€śThis time we came for the post-surgery checkup. Today we got the scan report and have to consult the doctor with the scan report. Every time we prayed before the mother, our prayers were heard,â€ť Santhosh said.
Word of mouth has been very effective in gaining added followers.
Radha, a native of Nallila in Kollam, just followed what the others did. â€śI saw others praying here, I just followed it,â€ť she says.
While the believers carry on with their ritual, curious bystanders are often left bewildered.
Some stand around to take photos and videos of the unusual practice.
While the believers continued to put their faith on the statue, there are others like Solomon, a native of Kovalam, who see only a statue.
â€śI donâ€™t understand what these people are driven by. How can they worship a statue?â€ť Solomon asks. Solomon with his wife came to the Regional Cancer Centre which is situated in the compound next to SAT.
Young Vineeth, however couldnâ€™t mask his anger when he said, â€śWhat is the point in calling Kerala a hundred percent literate state if people are superstitious like this. The statue was installed years ago and it is in the past two-three years that some have sensed a divine power in it.â€ť
Interestingly a legislation titled Kerala Exploitation by Superstition (Prevention) Act proposed in 2014 warranting stern punishments for superstitions is still in the draft form.
CPI leader and former minister Binoy Viswam too is exasperated by the faith bestowed on the sculpture by people.
â€śThat piece of art by Aryanad Rajendran is no doubt a beautiful piece, one depicts the love of mother and child in all its emotional fervor. For the last so many years people used to look at it with a feeling of adoration. But certain interested quarters are now trying to convert into to a place of religious worship,â€ť Viswam said.
â€śI personally am not a believer in any religion, but I am eager to state that I respect all believers of every faith. My request to the believers is that they should come out to question this kind of gimmicks being played in the name of gods and religion,â€ť Viswam added.
The artist, Aryanad Rajendran, however had no such aspirations when he had created the sculpture in 1990 while working in the Anatomy department of the Medical College as modeller. â€śI had created the sculpture when Jayapala Panicker was the principal. It was made on my request. It cost Rs 25,000 of which I had to pay Rs 9,000 from my pocket. I made it as a piece of art work that would sooth the heart of patients. I had never thought that it will turn out like this,â€ť the artist told The News Minute.
Aryanad says the practice began six years ago and the medical college authorities had even tried preventing it. But they couldnâ€™t hold off for long.
â€śNow I have heard that such a practice is taking place before the statue. Ordinary people might be panicked when their dear ones are in the hospital. They believe that their prayers are heard,â€ť he said.
All pictures by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair