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Bid to revive `Thookam' sparks off protests

By Our Special Correspondent

KOCHI, MARCH 31. The move from some quarters to revive the `Thookam' at Elavur has sparked off protests and the first to go from the blocks is the Kerala Yukthivadi Sanghom ( Rationalists' association).

Sources close to Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, who was instrumental in 1987 to putting an end to `Thookam', said that there cannot be any justification to revive `barbarous acts' in the name of `acclaimed devotional ritual'. They ask how a cruel act such as piercing and hanging (warranting instant police action anywhere else in the world) be allowed under the guise of traditional practice in the sanctifying precincts of a temple.

As part of the ritual, the back of "a hired person" is pierced with two sharp metal hooks and the bleeding victim is pulled to a height of 32 feet in a scaffold. This is watched by a crowd even as the scaffold perambulates thrice around the temple.

Those opposed to Thookam say that a large number of money changes hands and this is what prompts the votaries of this practice to revive the same.

In 1987, the president of Hind Navotthana Pratishtan , Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, along with other sanyasins protested against this practice and after a prolonged campaign in the media, the organisers decided to call it a day. The Swami had pleaded that the `Thookam' violated all scriptural, sober, religious and devotional standards, and was criminal in nature. Besides it desecrated the sanctity of the temple precincts and was reprehensible to any civilised society, they said.

The Swami adopted a novel method to stop the practice of `Thookam'. He resorted to `Shayanaa Vrata', by lying with the devotees in front of the scaffold, making it difficult for the scaffold-carriers to move around. He also took out a propaganda yatra from Narayanashramam in Thrissur to Elavur, near Angamaly. However, he and his followers were stopped by the district administration and they could not reach the temple premises. Bowing to public pressure, the district administration banned the practice then.

The committee of devotees who were in favour of the tradition, however, decided to replace `Thookam' with the ritual of covering the Devi's idol with flowers and this had been in vogue all these years. This year, according to some reports, the Thookam is planned on April 23.

The legend attributed for `Thookam' is that in the days of yore, the King, to arrest some widespread misfortune in the kingdom, opted to offer `Thookam' for the Goddess. But criminals awarded with capital punishment alone were chosen for this. The man was left on the scaffold and the doors of the temple were shut for seven days. The belief was to let the person shed his body in the Goddess' proximity. They also hoped that the event would give him sweeping repentance, offering scope to transform the whole episode of punishment to one of excruciating austerity. It is also claimed that the substitute for `Thookam' had been widely accepted and the booking for `Poomodal' is full till 2017. So, those opposed to `Thookam' wonder about the necessity to revive this practice.

There is also protest by the rationalists that the spokespersons of the RSS, VHP and other Hindutva organisations have refused to comment on the moves to revive `Thookam'. The Oorayma Devaswom board executive council of the Elavur Puthankavu Sreekantheswaram Bhagavathi temple stated that they had neither any knowledge of the move to revive `Thookam' nor had they authorised anyone from the board in this matter.

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