In Kerala's Chettikulangara Devi Temple, devotees set on defying ban on ritual involving piercing of boys with metal hooks

The Chettikulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha district of Kerala is all set to conduct the primitive ritual called 'chooral muriyal' in which midribs of young boys are pierced with gold or silver strings or bamboo strands, despite a ban on the ritual in 2016

TK Devasia March 05, 2019 19:13:33 IST
In Kerala's Chettikulangara Devi Temple, devotees set on defying ban on ritual involving piercing of boys with metal hooks
  • Chooral muriyal is a primitive ritual in which midribs of pre-pubescent boys are pierced with gold or silver strings or bamboo strands

  • Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights state commission had banned the ritual in November 2016 saying that the ritual inflicted immense physical and mental pain on children

  • The ritual is held every year as part of the kuthiyottam ritual starting on Shivratri in the Chettikulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha district of Kerala

  • Paying no heed to the court order, the temple authorities had conducted the ritual in all its old glory last year with 24 boys participating in the ceremony

  • Most of the children come from underprivileged families and are bought by wealthy devotees to perform the ritual on their behalf

The popular Chettikulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha district of Kerala is all set to conduct a primitive ritual in which midribs of pre-pubescent boys are pierced with gold or silver strings or bamboo strands, defying a ban imposed by Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KeSCPCR).

The state commission had banned the ritual known as ‘chooral muriyal’ in November 2016, saying that the ritual inflicted immense physical and mental pain on children. The high court had upheld the ban in February 2018.

In Keralas Chettikulangara Devi Temple devotees set on defying ban on ritual involving piercing of boys with metal hooks

File image of children taking part in Kuthiyottam which involves the ritual of piercing their midriff with metal wires. Image courtesy: BS Prasannan

Paying no heed to the court order, the temple authorities had conducted the ritual in all its old glory in 2018 with 24 boys participating in the ceremony. This year, devotees have lined up 26 boys, according to a report in Deccan Chronicle. Most of the boys hailing from underprivileged families have been bought by wealthy devotees, paying huge sums of money to their parents, the report added.

The ritual is part of kuthiyottam, a unique offering that devotees make to Goddess Bhadrakali for blessings during the 10-day Kumba Bharani festival that began in the temple on Shivaratri on 4 March. The boys were brought to the temple by their parents and handed over to their sponsors in the evening with the blessings of the priests.

They were later taken away by the sponsors to their houses, where they will remain till the day of Bharani, undergoing various pujas and learning the basic kuthiyottam dance steps and songs in fasting mode.

On the day of Bharani on 11 March, the boys will be bathed and dressed like kings with paper crowns and bangles and metal wires in their waist and then taken in a procession to the temple. At the end of the ceremony, the strings are taken out and the same is offered to the Goddess as a symbol of children being sacrificed to the deity.

Believed to be two-and-a-half-century-old, the ritual of kuthiyottam is said to have started by a king who offered human sacrifice to appease Bhadrakali, the principal deity at the Chettikulangara temple, for the well-being of his subjects. However, the practice was toned down over time and skin piercing was adopted in place of blood sacrifice as a symbolic representation of human sacrifice.

Originally, the devotees had offered their own children for the ritual. The temple authorities diluted this provision and included blood relation when they failed to get adequate children to undergo the painful ritual. When this too failed, the temple authorities started allowing kids bought by the devotees.

The devotees are not willing to offer their own children for kuthiyottam as they have to go through rigorous rituals for seven days. The children are made to bath in the temple pond and wear white dhoti and garlands before being taken to the residence.

They are kept in isolation at the residence till the final day of the festival. During the stay, the children are made to perform many rigorous tasks such as taking a dip in cold water and abstaining from meat, etc. They are given only measly portions to eat and made to sleep on the bare floor. During this period, their flanks are squeezed every day so that the needles could pierce the skin easily.

On the final day, the children are taken out in a procession to the temple. The procession from the residence takes several hours to reach the temple. With metal wires pierced in their waist, the children will have to dance holding their hands upwards till they reach the temple. The people accompanying them in the procession will pour coconut water fanning with palms towards the fissures.

The state child rights commission had banned the ritual in December 2016 after it witnessed the painful ordeal faced by the children during the previous year. The commission noted that the ritual involving pain and torture being inflicted to the children was a violation of the children’s rights.

"It’s found that the rituals that make pain to the children’s mind or the body can’t be allowed to happen particularly as India becomes a signatory country of rights of child agreement passed by the UN General Council (sic)," the commission’s order had said.

Though the ban order has the provision to prosecute the temple authorities and parents under the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, the commission has not taken any such action against the violation so far. Advocate AK Rajasree, on whose petition the ban was imposed, cited an appeal pending against the ban in the high court as a possible reason for the inaction.

The temple authorities, who had given an undertaking in the high court, that they will not perform the ritual following the dismissal of their petition for quashing the ban, on the other hand, are pleading helplessness, saying that the ritual was being organised outside the temple.

"We had asked the devotees to abide by the court order, but they continue to perform the ritual in their houses. They come to the temple only to remove the strings in the waist of the children. We cannot do anything happening outside our control,” said a member of the Sri Devi Vilasam Hindu Matha Convention, which organises the festival every year.

An online petition, floated by NGO Protsahan, on Change.org, had sought the intervention of Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi against the conduct of the ceremony, but it too has maintained silence on the petition.

Jaswinder Singh, the head of communications at Protsahan, described it as a blatant case of child trafficking and abuse. "This is happening at a point when India aspires to be a world power and its children are abused in the name of religion. Something like this cannot go unchecked," the petition said.

Human rights activists said that the temple authorities were unwilling to end the primitive practice as it brings them big money. Advocate Rajasree said that the government authorities were also not ready to intervene in the issue as the patrons of the temple hold huge political clout not only in the state but also at the Centre.

Jaswinder said that it was shocking that such a gross human rights violation is happening in a state with the highest literacy and social advancements that too despite the court orders. She said that the barbaric practice was being held in collusion with the political class and the temple authorities.

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