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Tension at Elavoor following ban on thookkam

By Renu Ramanath

KOCHI, APRIL 22. Tension prevailed today at the Puthenkavu Bhagavathy temple, Elavoor, near Angamaly in Ernakulam district, following the ban on the controversial thookkam ritual by the District Collector.

Leaders of the temple advisory committee and Ramakrishnan Nair, who was to perform the ritual, were arrested by the police early following the ban order. The materials used for performing the ritual, including the 32-foot-high thookka chadu (wooden scaffold), were seized.

The Vadakkekara MLA, M.A. Chandrasekharan, was `held captive' on the temple premises for eight hours by devotees, including women and children, demanding the release of the arrested persons. The MLA was ``released'' in the evening. Mr. Chandrasekharan told reporters he wanted the issue to be settled by the believers themselves.

A hartal was observed in the Parakkadavu panchayat where the temple is located following the ban. A heavy police force, drawn from Ernakulam, Thrissur, Idukki and Alappuzha districts, led by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, V.G. Sasidharan, was deployed at Elavoor.

The ritual, described by a group of devotees as "barbaric" and "inhuman", involves piercing the skin on the back of a devotee with iron hooks and raising him on the wooden scaffold. The devotee on the scaffold is taken around the temple three times. The present committee decided to revive the ritual, which was stopped in1987 following opposition from a group of Hindu organisations such as the Hind Navodhana Prathishthan led by Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, the Hindu Aikya Vedi and the Elavoor Poura Dharma Samiti.

Even as the Hindu organisations mounted their pressure to stop the ritual, the temple advisory committee went ahead with the preparations for the ritual.

The Collector, Gyanesh Kumar, in his order, stated that the ritual was not to be conducted in view of the chances of `danger to human life, health and safety and the distinct possibility of disturbance of public tranquillity.' In a statement issued here, Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha commended the district administration's action of banning the ritual. He stated that such malpractices had no scriptural sanction. The ritual of poo modal (abhisheka with flowers) should be conducted at Elavoor on Friday, as had been the custom .

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