Tamil Nadu

Faith at fever pitch

Print edition : June 12, 2015

A priest throws a sari into the fire pit during the Aswaruda Devi maha yagna at the Sakthi Mariamman temple at Sugunapuram in Coimbatore. which was performed for 17 days from March 16. AIADMK Ministers and legislators took part in the ceremony. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Information Minister K.T. Rajenhtra Balaji (with folded hands) performing "gaja puja" on April 6 at THE Sri Ninra Narayana Perumal temple at Thiruthangal village in Virudhunagar district. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A banner near the AIADMK party office in Chennai thanking Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy for the judgment. Photo: M. Vedhan

In a display of extreme religiosity, AIADMK Ministers, legislators and cadres do their best to propitiate the gods in order to get Jayalalithaa back in power.

FOR close to eight months from September 27, 2014, when Jayalalithaa was sentenced to jail in the disproportionate assets case, to May 11, when she was acquitted of all charges by the Karnataka High Court, cadres of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu showed extreme religiosity. Offerings to propitiate gods and goddesses, mass prayers, sacrifices to make “Amma” (as the AIADMK supremo is fondly called by her supporters) invincible once again, and the breaking of coconuts in temples in thanksgiving were the order of the day.

At the Sakthi Mariamman temple at Sugunapuram in Coimbatore district, an “Aswaruda Devi maha yagna” was performed for 17 days from March 16 engaging the Vedic scholar Kidarankondan Veda Swaminathan of Sirkali and his team. The yagna, which was performed for eight hours every day, concluded on the night of April 1 to coincide with Jayalalithaa’s birth star Makam.

A press release from the temple issued on April 2 said: “Aswaruda Devi is the incarnation of Srimad Raja Rajeswari. She rides a white horse and she is armed to the teeth with weapons to destroy her enemies and smash obstacles that lie on her way. The colour white represents discretion ( vivegam) and victory. The horse represents speed ( vegam). This yagna is being performed to enable honourable Amma to overcome all her obstacles and speedily become Chief Minister again with the blessings of Aswaruda Devi.” It mentioned that Ministers S.P. Velumani, R. Vaidyalingam and Thoppu N.D. Venkatachalam took part in the yagna. Jayalalithaa stepped down as Chief Minister after the Special Judge of the trial court in Bangalore, Michael D’Cunha, found her and three other accused guilty of possessing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. The accused were remanded in judicial custody in the prison at Parappana Agrahara, 20 kilometres from Bangalore. The Supreme Court granted the accused bail in October 2014.

Ministers were in the vanguard of the religious outpourings. Ministers, legislators and sundry leaders made a beeline for almost every temple, church and mosque in the State to offer pujas, yagnas, abhishekam (holy bath given to a deity), anna dhanam (offering of food), vastra dhanam (offering of clothes), go dhanam (offering of cows), and so on. They pulled golden and silver chariots in temples, did anga pradakshinam (rolling in the corridors of the main sanctum of temples), tonsured their heads or grew beards with single-minded devotion to ensure that their makkal mudalvar (people’s Chief Minister) became Chief Minister again.

A variety of homams and yagnas were performed: sarva siddhi yagna, Sri moola mantra yagna, Sudarsana homam, Sagasa sandi homam, Vignesvara sahasra homam, Satru samhara yagna (for slaying enemies), Sri thila yagna and Sri Vishnu sahasra maha yagna. At the Rajagopala Swamy temple at Komal in Nagapattinam district, a Maha Sudarsana yagna was performed with 108 rare herbs. Water from 1,008 tender coconuts was used to give a holy bath to the presiding deity.

Junior Vikatan, a popular Tamil magazine, in its cover story in the issue dated December 31, 2014, featured photographs of Ministers K.T. Rajenthra Balaji, S. Gokula Indira, P. Palaniappan and S.P. Shanmuganathan taking part in these yagnas. The most arresting picture was that of Shanmuganathan throwing red chillies into the homa kund (fire altar) on new moon day at the Prithyankara Devi temple at Korampallam near Tuticorin. The Ministers never failed to hold a picture of Jayalalithaa when they sat, with garlands around their necks, in front of the fire pit.

Another press release from the Sugunapuram Sakthi Mariamman temple said 10,000 women walked from the temple on April 2 to the Santhi Durga Paramesvari Amman temple at Kuniamuthur, 5 km away, with fire pots in their hands and milk pots on their heads. They were led by Minister Velumani. The women performed different types of kavadi (burden dance). At Santhi Durga Paramesvari Amman temple, they held a mass prayer for Jayalalithaa.

As May 11, the day of the verdict by Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court in the appeals by Jayalalithaa against her conviction approached, the religious fervour intensified. At the Kalyana Pasupatheesvarar temple at Karur, one lakh and eight terracotta lamps were lit on May 10 and lined up to form the word Amma. About 7,200 litres of ghee and hundreds of metres of wick were used to light these lamps. M. Thambidurai, Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and V. Senthil Balaji, State Transport Minister, lit the lamps.

At the Anjeneyar temple at Ottapatti in Dharmapuri district, a homam was performed using 108 conch shells. In the Sri Vignesvara sahasra homam, 108 types of “dhraviyams”, or herbal perfumes, were used. On May 10, 10,000 women, carrying milk pots, went in a procession from Sri Mattru Uraitha Vinayagar temple at Tiruvarur through the streets of the town to the accompaniment of percussion instruments. The women reached the Sri Rowdra Durga shrine in the Thyagarajaswamy temple in the town, where the milk was used to perform abhishekam to the deity. Minister R. Kamaraj was present.

It was Information Minister K.T. Rajenthra Balaji who took the cake for his consistent display of devotion. He ensured that photographs of his participation in various yagnas across the State reached newspaper offices. He broke 1,000 coconuts and even performed a “gaja puja” for elephants at the Sri Ninra Narayana Perumal temple at Tiruthangal near Virudhunagar.

Moments after Justice Kumaraswamy acquitted Jayalalithaa, Sasikala Natarajan, V.N. Sudhakaran and J. Ilavarasi of all charges, including disproportionate assets, criminal conspiracy and abetment, celebrations broke out in front of Jayalalithaa’s residence at Poes Garden in Chennai. AIADMK cadres this time broke coconuts in front of a Ganesha shrine at Poes Garden.

N. Varadarajan, an AIADMK sympathiser and president of the Cuddalore district traders’ association, said, “People’s prayers have been answered.” A placard held aloft by a cadre read: “Ultimately, dharma has triumphed.” Kumari Narayanan, a woman cadre from north Chennai, said, “Today is our Deepavali, Pongal, Christmas and Ramzan.” About a couple of kilometres from the party headquarters in Chennai, party workers poured milk over the statue of the AIADMK founder, M.G. Ramachandran. Near by were four big hoardings with portraits of Jayalalithaa with the legends “incomparable leader of the women of the world” and “leonine mother”.

A. Chandran, the councillor representing ward number 84 of the Coimbatore Municipal Corporation, went into an overdrive, asking party cadres to name their newborn boys after Kumaraswamy to “honour” the High Court judge. When AIADMK men came to know that Indumathi, wife of Vijayakumar, a conservancy employee of the municipal corporation, had been delivered of a baby boy, they went in a big group to the couple’s home. The party men requested Indumathi and Vijayakumar to name their infant son “Judge Kumaraswamy” and presented the baby with a gold ring.

Indumathi said, “My husband, my father-in-law and mother-in-law belong to the AIADMK. Without any hesitation, we accepted the AIADMK men’s request to name our child Judge Kumaraswamy.

In the midst of the celebrations, gloom engulfed the homes of about 233 cadres who had committed suicide. They took their lives apparently unable to bear the news that their leader would no longer be the Chief Minister after Special Judge D’Cunha’s verdict in September 2014.

On May 9, M. Muthiah of Kallidaikurichi in Tirunelveli district jumped in front of a speeding train and killed himself. After hearing the news of Muthiah’s death, Jayalalithaa said in a statement: “I renew my diktat that our party cadres should not become emotional but continue to be patient.” On May 11, Jayalalithaa said that justice had been established and dharma had triumphed. She referred to the suicides of four of her party cadres the previous day and said if they had been a little patient, they could have taken part in the celebrations of the day.

What was inexplicable was that the run of suicides continued even after the favourable verdict. In a statement on May 18, after S. Raja of Chennai flung himself in front of a speeding train, Jayalalithaa blamed “the rumours spread by our political enemies about the delay in the formation of the AIADMK government under my leadership” for the cadres’ extreme step. “Our activities will take place as per a planned timetable. There is no confusion in this,” she explained, and asked her supporters not to take their lives and cause her anguish. By May 20, a total of 251 AIADMK cadres had ended their lives. The party distributed Rs.7.53 crore as relief to the families of the 251 men and women. Four persons received Rs.2 lakh each for medical treatment. Those who were watching the phenomenon said some cadres could have been contemplating suicide due to a combination of factors, and the conviction of Jayalalithaa could have provided the trigger.

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