Tamil Nadu: Homam therapy

Print edition : December 28, 2012

A homam being performed on the premises of the Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai on November 22.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

TAMIL NADU has a long history of people with chronic diseases seeking divine intervention for a cure. Ancient Tamil verses, particularly in Bhakti literature, speak about the recital of certain hymns to ward off ailments while stone inscriptions stand testimony to the ancient practice of making offerings to gods to keep rulers in good health.

Even today, devotees throng places of worship seeking deliverance from diseases. But the manner in which a special puja was organised by some Sangh Parivar outfits at a temple on the premises of the Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) in Madurai on November 22 raised eyebrows. Two ritualsmrithyunjaya homam and dhanvantari homamwere performed in the wee hours to stall the onslaught of dengue. Then, holy water was sprinkled in the ward for the dengue-affected.

Tamil Nadu recorded, as on November 15, the highest number of deaths from dengue60 out of the 216 reported in the country. Also, of the 35,066 cases reported in the country, 9,249 were from Tamil Nadu, the highest in any State. Madurai district alone recorded 17 deaths until November 29. On a public interest litigation filed by B. Stalin, a lawyer, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, on November 30, directed the government to ensure round-the-clock medical help for dengue patients.

The homams at the GRH came under sharp criticism from secular-minded people. District Collector Anshul Mishra, who ordered an enquiry by a Revenue Divisional Officer, made it clear that dengue should be handled medically and scientifically. I personally feel that performing homams inside a government hospital is against the secular fabric of our nation. I dont approve of it, and doing a religious ritual to ward off dengue is an insult to us when there are doctors to treat and discharge dengue patients, he said.

Some others pointed out that the rituals conducted ran counter to the Tamil Nadu Government Office Manual and various directions given by higher officials on the performance of pujas in government offices.

Dr. G.R. Ravindranath, general secretary of Doctors Association for Social Equality, said that entertaining such superstitious practices on government hospital premises did not augur well for communal harmony despite the fact that many patients felt the need for emotional support. Apart from religious beliefs, inadequate facilities at government hospitals and the escalating cost of medical care in the private sector drive the poor to seek divine healing, he felt.

Chinmaya R. Somasundaram, the president of the Madurai district unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, said that performing mrithyunjaya homam was aimed at seeking divine intervention to achieve victory over death while dhanvantari homam was meant to cure chronic ailments. According to him, the homams were conducted by senior priests of the Meenakshi Temple for the speedy recovery of all patients. Unfortunately, we are targeted by pseudo-secularists, he lamented.

S. Dorairaj
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