The Leftover God (Outlook India)
“The annual Champa Shasti festival held over November and December at the Kukke Subramanya temple in Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka has an unusual tradition. On all three days, the Shivalli Brahmins are served a multi-course meal in seclusion in the temple precincts. And after they are through, instead of clearing the spread plantain leaves on which the food’s served, Dalits, backwards and local tribespeople are allowed to roll on the leftovers.
“The belief is this ritual will cure the ‘devotee’ of ailments, especially skin-related ones, and will gift a child to those praying for a baby. It’s also considered an ideal form of thanksgiving to the local deity after ‘wish fulfillment’. The ritual, called ‘maade snana’ in Tulu and Kannada, is said to be over four hundred years old but there are no written records to prove such a claim.
“As the tradition reinforces and ‘enacts’ caste hierarchies, where even a Brahmin’s ‘jhoota’ [food ritually contaminated by contact with another’s mouth] is bestowed with powers to cure people from subaltern communities, it had been catching a lot of flak since last year from progressive groups in the state. Especially as this was being allowed in a temple that belongs to the muzrai department, a state-run body which administers Hindu temples.
“Last week, though, saw protests heating up more because after the huge outcry last year, the local administration had promised to end this ritual which violates basic human dignity. Apparently, under ‘pressure from devotees’, the administration allowed the practice from November 28 onwards. Nearly 4,000 people joined up to roll over the leftovers.
“What took the row beyond the usual temple affairs level was muzrai and higher education minister Dr V.S. Acharya’s statement that it was a ‘faith-based ritual and banning it was tantamount to hurting the sentiments of the people’. People immediately started questioning not only his credentials as a trained medical doctor, but also his RSS roots. They began asking if he would similarly allow dowry, child marriage and other social evils as they are also faith-based? [...]
“The complexity of the issue unravels itself when we take into consideration the largely illiterate Malekudiya tribe’s support for the ritual. When the local administration hinted at a ban, members of the ST community went on a rampage, even declaring that they would stay away from building the deity’s chariot, a traditional activity they have performed for years during the festival season. (If the chariot is not built, the festival will remain incomplete without the final procession of the deity.)”