Thiruvananthapuram: It was a day of disappointment for several devotees who reached the Shangumugham beach on Wednesday to offer the ‘Karkidaka vavu bali’ ritual, thanks to the scores of fake ‘acharyas’ who lined up on the shores to guide the devotees to perform rituals dedicated to the spirits of their ancestors. While many of the bogus men did not know the basic rituals, several others chanted unheard of and unknown ‘mantras’ and made some quick bucks by taking the devotees for a ride.
Perhaps, Shangumugham is the only location in the State where thousands of devotees are left to the exploitation of fraudsters on the ‘vavu bali’ day. ‘‘It was nothing but looting in the name of rituals and customs,’’ said Santhosh Kumar G, an advertising professional. ‘‘The ‘priest’ chanted some odd mantras and finished everything in a hurry. He didn’t even give the participants enough time to perform the remembrance ritual,’’ he said.
Jeevan Nair, another devotee, said that the he had little option to find genuine ‘acharyas’ on the beach. "Most of them appeared to be fraudsters out to make money by tricking us. It’s sad that the people had to trust them to perform such an important ritual,” he said.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the ‘bali’ rituals at several sacred locations in the southern part of the State, argues that it was not asked by any authority to intervene in the issue. "The TDB has no role in the ‘bali tharpans’ performed on the beach. There may be fraudsters among the priests, but we cannot intervene unless we are asked by any competent authority,’’ said TDB Commissioner N Vasu.
Though the TDB is offering the facility on the premises of the Shangumugham Devi temple, it has few takers as the devotees have to walk around 400 m to the sea to perform the bath after the ritual. The TDB manages the ‘bali tarpan’ on the Varkala shores by deploying around 500 ‘acharyas’ on the day. "At Varkala and Pamba (during the Sabarimala pilgrimage season), we select ‘acharyas’ based on a strict scrutiny review. Those who intend to guide the devotees have to bring a certificate from the panel of ‘thantris’ appointed by the Board. Hence, we keep the fraudsters at bay,’’ Vasu added. "At Thiruvallom and some other temples, we have staff priests to guide the devotees,’’ the Commissioner said.
However, the TDB’s stand on the issue is not welcomed by all. ‘‘The TDB should take the lead in matters concerning the religious affairs of the Hindu community,’’ said Kanyakulangara Subramanian Potty, president of the Vaidika Suraksha Samithy, an outfit of temple priests. "There is no dearth of qualified persons here. We are ready to offer support to the TDB if it requires trained personnel,’’ he said. ‘‘This is a matter of great religious importance. The people should not be left to cheating,’’ he added.
Thekkedath Kuzhikkattu Parameswaran Vasudevan Bhattathiripad, one of the ‘thantri’ panel members of the TDB, said that ensuring the services of qualified persons at all ‘bali tharpan’ locations in the State was a need of the hour. "Proper performance is essential in any ritual. Hence, it is grave injustice to leave the devotees to the exploitation by the unqualified,’’ Bhattathiripad said.
Bhattathiripad is a member of the panel of ‘thantris’ of the TDB that is also authorised to issue certificate to ‘acharya’ applicants at Pamba. ‘‘There are a few streams of ‘bali tharpan’ practices being followed in the State. We usually check whether the applicant is proficient in any of the streams. “There is no caste bar and the only other condition is that the candidate should be a Hindu community member,” he added.