Ritual of devotion or oppression? Ban on ‘Pattina Pravesam’ sparks ideological war in TN

Condemning the MK Stalin government’s ban on the carrying of a seer in a palanquin, religious scholars say the ritual is an expression of the devotees’ love for their guru; Dravidian thinkers call it an oppressive practice which symbolises one man’s power over others

Several mutts have decried the state government's ban on the carrying of the seer of Dharmapura Adheenam in a palanquin by devotees.

The Tamil Nadu government’s recent ban on ‘Pattina Pravesam,’ the age-old ritual in which the seer of Dharmapura Adheenam is carried in a procession in a palanquin, has once again kicked off a clash of ideologies.

While the government says the practice of people carrying a man on a palanquin violates basic human right since it affects one’s self-respect and dignity, religious leaders argue that it is a ritual that has been followed for centuries and that the government has no rights to interfere.

The order of the government came a week after heads of various mutts across the state held a meeting with Chief Minister MK Stalin on April 28. The meeting was held ahead of the debate on subsidies for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments on May 4. The meeting ended with a positive note, with the head of the Dharmapura Aadheenam, Masilamani Desiga Gnanasambanda Paramacharya Swamigal, praising the current disposition and calling it a “spiritual government”.

Interestingly, a week before the meeting, Dharmapura Aadheenam had invited Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi to flag off the Aadheenam’s pilgrimage to Telangana to take part in Pushkaram festival, on April 19. At that time, Dravidian outfits like Dravidar Kazhagam and other Tamil nationalist groups had opposed the governor’s participation in the event.


Also read: Row after TN denies permission to age-old tradition of carrying pontiff on palanquin

They questioned the governor’s availability for such religious events when he was ‘dragging feet’ on giving consent to various bills passed by the state government. The outfits had also urged the mutt leader not to invite the governor, but the request went in vain as the seer was not available at that time. When the governor came to participate in the event, the protesters allegedly threw stones at his convoy and showed black flags.

Dravidian outfits allege that the right-wing forces in the state are now giving a religious colour to incident by instigating the mutts to oppose the state’s ban on Pattina Pravesam, to exact revenge for the incident.

“The Dharmapura Aadheenam stopped the practice of carrying the seer on palanquin way back in 1950s. It was only after the 27th seer took charge of the mutt in 2020, that the age-old practice was resumed. We staged a protest against the governor purely on the basis of political terms. There was nothing religious in it. But the right-wing forces, operating behind mutt leaders are instigating them to oppose the state government. They are trying to link the governor’s participation in the mutt’s event to the ban on palanquin carriage,” said Prof T Jayaraman, chief coordinator, Anti-Methane Project Movement and one of the protesters, to The Federal.

Adheenam – sanctuary of wealth and knowledge

The Tamil word ‘Aadheenam’ is an altered usage of the words ‘Adhinam’ or ‘Adhanam’, meaning ‘excess wealth’.

“Once the mutts were rich in their spiritual discourses. They later started accumulating wealth and are now sitting on a treasure,” said Rengaiah Murugan, a researcher on spiritual mutts in Tamil Nadu.

“Many use the terms ‘madam’ (mutt) and ‘aadheenam’ interchangeably. The mutts are part of the aadheenams. While mutts focus on enriching the Tamil language, supporting arts and cultural activities, besides teaching spirituality, the aadheenams have control over the temples, the land management of the temples and take care of the revenues obtained from the temples and its lands. They have a proper system in place. They also run educational institutions and hospitals,” Murugan said.

Of the 18 aadheenams in Tamil Nadu, the oldest one is Thiruvavaduthurai aadheenam in Mayiladuthurai district. “These aadheenams emerged in the 14th century to spread Saivism,” said Chokkalingam, a Saivite scholar.

“It is common knowledge that it was U Ve Swaminatha Iyer, a Tamil scholar who collected many ancient literary works written on palm leaves and got them published in form of books. What many don’t know is that he collected those palm-leaf manuscripts from these aadheenams. It were the aadheenams that preserved those manuscripts for many years. In that way, they played a key role in the development of Tamil language. The government, which often says that it works for the development of Tamil language, must understand this first,” he said.

‘Devotion for guru confused with human rights violation’

It should be noted that the Dharmapuram Aadheenam takes care of the maintenance of 27 temples. While the aadheenams per se don’t come under the direct control of the state Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) department, the temples are controlled by the government. If a temple, whether big or small, has an ‘undiyal’ (a box where devotees make monetary offerings), the temple comes under the control of HR & CE.

“While this is the case, we are learning about claims like that the DMK party functionaries in some places try to get hold of the temple lands and the revenues. It is unfortunate that the DMK government, whose patriarch M Karunanidhi’s father once served in one of the temples maintained by the Dharmapuram Aadheenam as a nadaswaram player and was aware of the customs, has started interfering the administration of mutts. The palanquin-carrying ritual is practised by the devotees out of love. There is no compulsion or caste angle involved in it,” said Chokkalingam.

According to Balu Achari, a religious scholar, the practice of worshipping the ‘guru’ (teacher) as a God, can be found across the country.

“The practice of palanquin carrying is called ‘Pattina Pravesam’. It means, taking the seer on their shoulders and circumambulating the mutt’s perimeter. The devotees yearn to carrying their ‘guru’ on their shoulders, because those teachers have stood by their students in their ups and downs. Viewing this as a violation of human rights is meaningless,” he said.

Devotion or expression of feudal mentality? ask Dravidians

Talking to The Federal, Kali Poongundran, deputy president, Dravidar Kazhagam said the state once had hand-pulled rickshaws, in which the people seated in the rickshaws, were pulled by the driver using his hands.

“In 1973, during the DMK regime, the government abolished the hand-rickshaws saying that it violated basic human rights. It considered everyone is equal and said a man being pulled by another was a shameful practice. The same logic is applicable to this matter. After hearing Periyar’s (a rationalist and the founder of Dravidar Kazhagam) speech against this practice, even Kanchi Sankaracharya gave it up and started to walk,” he said.

Poongundran said even the mutt, Dharmapuram Aadheenam, had stopped the practice of Pattina Pravesam some 60 years back.

“Why have all the aadheenams begun opposing the government’s order? It is because they want to reiterate that they are powerful men. Men carrying other men on their shoulders is nothing but a feudal mentality,” he said.