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Pattina Pravesam ritual is the practice of carrying a revered saint, usually the head of a monastery or mutt, in a palanquin as a mark of respect to the guru by his or her followers. Typically, after a pooja to the guru is done, the guru is carried on a palanquin around the mutt, across the town. Carrying someone on a palanquin, while taken to have spiritual value, has been criticized for a long time, too. Critics have said it demeans the palanquin bearers.

The state government has temporarily allowed the Pattina Pravesam ritual by the Dharmapuram Adheenam. A Periyarist organization had said it would protest the Pattina Pravesam ritual. The state government responded by saying it feared unrest and could not give protection. The BJP jumped in and said it would ensure the procession happened.

As early as 1953, Deivasigamani Arunachala Desika Paramachariyar who took responsibility as the Kunrakudi Saivite mutt opposed Pattina Pravesam ritual. He objected to the practice of carrying saints and others on a palanquin in a procession.

As early as 1953, Deivasigamani Arunachala Desika Paramachariyar who took responsibility as the Kunrakudi Saivite mutt opposed Pattina Pravesam ritual

When he was going to a school event that he was presiding, his car broke down. Kunrakudi Adigalar, which was his title and the term with which he was referred, borrowed a cycle from a shop nearby and came to the event. The organizers were flustered and told him they would have sent a car if he had sent word about the breakdown. He apparently told them that everyone should do their duty. He was blessed with hands and legs to do his duty, so he could take the cycle and come there. “Aren’t people who carry palanquins human?” he wondered.

Kunrakudi Adigalar, in his commentary on a Thirukkural verse that talks about palanquin bearing, said those who were ethically raised will not bear others being put to hardship to serve them. Through this he clearly spelled out his views on carrying saints and others on palanquins.

When Adigalar was a member of the legislative council, in 1973, the DMK government launched a scheme to get rid of hand-drawn rickshaws, which were a latter day adaptation of the palanquin. The government scheme provided cycle rickshaws to replace them.

Tamil savant U Ve Swaminatha Iyer has described the Pattina Pravesam ritual in detail in his autobiography En Sarithiram (My Story). There are similar accounts of people being carried on palanquins.

Saivite saint Thirugnanasambandar went on a palanquin to meet Saint Appar in Thirupoonthurithi. When Appar learned of this, he joined others in carrying the palanquin. When the palanquin reached the village, Sambandar asked where Appar was. Appar who was among the palanquin bearers said that he was carrying the palanquin and counted it as a blessing.

Photo shows a section of a temple gopuram that depicts a scene from Periyapuranam in which saint Thirugnanasambandar is carried on a palanquin. One of the bearers is Saint Appar. The boy saint Sambandar is anguished that an older saint is carrying him, gets down and meets him.

Sambandar got off the palanquin to meet Appar who was older to him and was, as per tradition, deserving of respect.  The place they met is on the fields between Thirupoonthurithi and Vellamparampoor and was christened Sambandar Medu in memory of the meeting. A temple has come up now that depicts this scene.

In the film, Vedam Puthithu, a brahmin boy asks an older saint why he needed to be carried around on a palanquin. And whether those carrying him will not be put to hardship. The saint takes it as a lesson, gets down from the palanquin, and starts walking.

Periyapuranam talks about a similar incident. Professor Nallur Saravanan, head of Saiva Siddhanta Perumandram (association), gives the details. He says that in the 14th century, a palanquin was passing by the streets of Chidambaram carrying Umapathy Sivachariyar. Maraignana Sambandar, a Saivite saint and mendicant, pointed to the palanquin procession and used scornful words to describe it.

Professor Nallur Saravanan, head of Saiva Siddhanta Perumandram (association), says: “It seems Dharmapuram Adheenam is more concerned about rituals than the Siddhanta (philosophy). When he has accepted many changes brought by modernity, why can’t he accept this?”

Saravanan explains that the Periyapuranam records this incident and says Umapathy Sivachariyar, a brahmin, got down from the palanquin and bowed to Maraignana Sambandar, a shudra. “It seems Dharmapuram Adheenam is more concerned about rituals than the Siddhanta (philosophy). When he has accepted many changes brought by modernity, why can’t he accept this?”

In Srirangam, the practice of carrying the person who did the Araiyar Sevai was given up following criticism. Many Adheenams don’t do Pattina Pravesam. But an old and traditional mutt like Dharmapuram Adheenam are continuing with this practice, says Saravanan.

Pazha Nedumaran, Tamil nationalist leader, wonders why heads of mutts use air conditioning in their rooms, travel in air-conditioned cars, use mobiles, computers, radio and television, but want to stick on to a practice in which a man carries another man.

VCK leader Thirumavalavan says carrying the palanquin is a Sanatanist tradition, opposing it is democratic.


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