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Sabarimala Makaravilakku Controversy Never Ends

In Kerala, Gods’ Own Country, whenever there is a controversy regarding faith it will somehow end up at Sabarimala Makaravilakku – the diya, or vilakku or light, that appears three times at the distant hill known as Ponnambalamedu during Makaravilakku festival which is held annually on January 14. The appearing of Makaravilakku is an open secret in Kerala, even among Ayyappa devotees. Atheists and rationalists have always maintained that it is lit by police, forest guards and temple officials. Incidentally, even when the Communists were ruling the Kerala State the Makaravilakku ritual has happened.

According to Ayyappa legend, after defeating demon Mahishasura, Ayyappa merged with the Dharma Sastha murti on the Makara Jyothi day. It is believed that the tribals who were harassed by the demon Mahishasura first lit the light to celebrate the slaying of their tormentor. Another legend indicates that Ayyappa Swamy disappeared from earth at Ponnambalamedu or Kantamala where the Makaravilakku is lit and it was Parashuram, the avatar of Vishnu, who first lit the lamp.

Just before the Makaravilakku appears on the distant hill, a star known as Makara Jyothi appears and also an eagle hovers over the Sabarimala Temple.

In the recent round of Sabarimala Makaravilakku controversy (in 2008), the chief priest or Tantri in a press release stated that the Makaravilakku is lit by humans and it is only a symbolic act. He also clearly explained the difference between Makaravilakku (light) and Makara Jyothi (star).

The government also owned up its involvement in the event. Both the Tantri and the present government should be praised for their honesty and clearing the controversy once and for all.
The Hindu newspaper reports
The Makaravilakku was a fire lit by human hand on the hill neighboring Sabarimala while the Makara Jyothi was a star that appeared in the evening sky on the day marking the culmination of the annual festival.
It is the star that is worshiped as a celestial light. The Makaravilakku is merely a ritual involving the lighting of a fire as a symbolic act.
Ayyappa is one Hindu God who has staunch devotees cutting across religious lines. Millions of devotees visit the Sabarimala Shrine during the Mandala-Makaravilakku season (November – December – January). Therefore questioning the Makaravilakku appearance will have both political and social repercussions. So, elected governments have maintained a silence over the issue.

There is also an economic angle to the government silence. People in Kerala jokingly say that the stagnant economy of the State, which is devoid of industry or agriculture, depends on Ayyappa who sits on the hill shrine. Such is the inflow of pilgrims during the two month pilgrimage that Mandala Makaravilakku season plays a major role in the economy of the state.

The present controversy in 2008 started when some fake Swamis were arrested or investigations were initiated against them.

Kerala is also a state which has made controversy a pastime. The 100-percent educated Kerala public is always provided with fresh controversies by newspapers and television channels. In fact, in every five-minutes there is a ‘breaking news’ in any one of the Kerala television channels. Saddest part is that most of the controversies have short life and are left halfway and new controversies take their place.

So the arrest of a fake swami opened up new revelations, more and more fake Hindu swamis were arrested. Soon other religious heads came under the radar. Each day a new fake religious personality was discovered by the channels and newspapers. Debates were carried out on channels and newspapers and finally it ended up at Sabarimala Makaravilakku – the government which conducts the hoax Makaravilakku is equally responsible for encouraging fake religious personalities was one argument.

Soon television crews and newspaper reporters dug up the Makaravilakku controversy and some even went to the extent of trying to film the spot where the Makaravilakku is lit.

With the chief priest coming out openly and stating the significance of both Makaravilakku and Makara Jyothi, the controversy should come to an end. Will it?

The people who kick up the controversy are forgetting the millions of Ayyappa devotees, who take Vratam for 41-days and visit the shrine. There are millions of other Ayyappa devotees including children and women who take the Vratam and do not visit the shrine, as women are not allowed to visit the shrine.

For example, if the shrine is visited by one hundred thousand Ayyappa devotees on the Makaravilakku day, the rest of the two months sees one million Ayyappa devotees climbing the hill shrine.
So no sane person will buy the argument that all Ayyappa devotees come to see the Makaravilakku. Even if the Makaravilakku does not appear, the same number of devotees will come to take the blessings of Ayyappa. Apart from this, thousands of people visit the shrine during the 5-day monthly Pooja and during other festival seasons.

For millions of Ayyappa devotees, visiting Sabarimala Ayyappa is a spiritual quest to find out himself and an opportunity to lessen his burden and carry home the knowledge of Tat Vam Asi –' Thou art that' - All That is animate and inanimate is the Supreme Truth or There is no second.

When true realization dawns, we will be able to laugh at such controversies. Until then we will continue debating, searching, writing and doing many more things on the topic.

Makara Vilakku at Sabarimala or the lamp that is lit daily in our homes is meant for removing spiritual darkness, so that each person can realize that he/she is the One Infinite Eternal Existence or Brahman.