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Politicising religious reformation

[TamilNet, Sunday, 29 August 2010 08:42 No Comment]

Around 300 goats and countless chickens were sacrificed in a folk ritual on Wednesday at the Kaa’li temple in Munneasvaram, Chilaapam (Chilaw), in the Puththa’lam district of the North Western Province. A group of Buddhist monks marched in protest and when prevented, the angry monks sat on the road and refused to move until the ritual was over. Tension developed in Chilaapam, media reports from Colombo said. The demography of the region is largely made of Sinhalicised Tamils and some surviving pockets of Tamils. A considerable number of Sinhala Buddhists also took part in the folk ritual, Wednesday, and academics wrote on Buddha’s denouncement of animal sacrifice and rituals of Vedic Brahmins. When around 40,000 Tamils were slaughtered in Vanni last year, the Buddhist establishments in the island were either silent or encouraged it.

Early Buddhists and Jains were the forerunners in South Asia in refining religion to denounce animal sacrifice.

In this regard the contribution of Jainism, a forgotten religion today, was much more greater compared to Buddhism.

An early school of non-Brahmanic Saivism, known as Paasupatha Saivism, and later many sects of Brahmanism also followed vegetarianism.

The popularity of Jainism in South India influenced South Indian Brahmins and the religious schools to become staunch vegetarians. But even today, the Brahmins of eastern India are fish-eaters.

Even a sect of Buddhism such as the Vajrayana Buddhism or Tantric Buddhism was not practising vegetarianism. It was a sect that indulged in the Five Ms: food, wine, meat, fish and sex.

A debate on vegetarianism and the duplicity of religious sects, including the Buddhist monks who were craving for the ‘freedom’ of the permissible sects, could be seen in a satiric one-act play, Matttavilaasa Prahasana, written as early as in the 7th century CE by the Pallava king Mahendravarman.

The ideological strength of vegetarianism made it as a force of elitism in all the religions that evolved in South Asia.

Vegetarianism in South Asia gradually became the norm to decide the binary opposition of ‘pure and impure’ and to confirm the caste hierarchy, as pointed out by Louis Dumont in his structural study, Homo Hierarchicus.

However, folk religious practices in South Asia never abandoned animal sacrifices. But they were reformed from time to time.

Until mid 19th century, goats were sacrificed at the wheels of the chariot of the Nalloor Kandasamy temple on the chariot festival day. This information sure would be repulsive to the devotees of today. The Christian missionaries at that time made it a point to ridicule the religion of the people.

It was Arumuga Navalar who made a campaign against the practice at Nalloor, amidst strong opposition from the temple management. Navalar’s movement upheld by followers was later successful in eradicating animal and bird sacrifices in most of the temples where the folk practice was in prevalence. The symbolic practice of breaking coconut became more popular.

But there are people who have different views. They view Navalar’s movement as Saiva-Ve’l’laa’la in character designed for the social domination of other castes.

An Indian academic of South Asian Studies who visited the island some years back, questioned why the school children of the Up-Country Tamils of Indian origin should follow Hinduism textbooks of ‘Saiva-Siddhanta Jaffna Tamils’ that don’t accommodate folk practices. But at the same time some BJP front organisations based in Colombo were engaged in ‘Sanskritising’ folk temples in the Eastern Province.

Some years back when Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu tried to stop animal sacrifices in the folk temples through enactment of law and deployment of police force, it became a political issue of Brahmin domination. It was seen as an infringement into the religious beliefs and rights of many communities. They defied it and the government withdrew the legislation.

The modern social challenges in religion or caste-associated vegetarianism deciding upward and downward social mobilisation has been beautifully brought out in a short story ‘Koapaala-aiyangkaarin Manaivi’ (The Wife of Koapaala Aiyangkaar) written by Tamil literary genius Puthumaippiththan in 1934.

In some form, animal slaughter takes place in the social practice or unwritten rituals of many religions: Whenever a Buddhist monk is invited to the houses of lay devotees, animals and birds are slaughtered to give him a special feast. As whatever that is given as food should be accepted, the monk partakes it. Whenever a church festival takes place in pilgrim locations, animals brought for the purpose of feeding the pilgrims are slaughtered at the site. Among Muslims slaughter takes place especially for the Eid.

Tamil-Saivites in the island are now privately told by Sinhala-Buddhist front organisations that they are engaged in the Buddhicisation of Tamil land in order to prevent Christianisation, as Tamil-Saivites are ‘powerless’ to do so. There is a systematic effort to unleash religious and caste sentiments to diffuse the Eezham Tamil national question in the island.

Religious reformation is a common issue to everyone in humanity and politicising that will be dangerous.

The reformation should come from within and who comes out with the reformation movement is more important.

The genocidal Sinhala-Buddhism cannot accomplish it.

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