The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday allowed continuation of “Made Snana” ritual in its traditional form at Kukke Subramanyaswami temple at Subramanya till the court decided constitutional validity of the ritual.
The court passed the interim order on a review petition filed by some of the employees of the temple questioning the modification of the ritual by the government.
The court also stayed its 2012 order in which it had given its consent to the modified form of the ritual as proposed by the government then and accepted by those who had questioned the ritual terming it as unconstitutional.
What is Made Snana? Wikipedia has a brief but still helpful explanation:
Made Made Snana is practiced on certain festive days in Subramanya temples of Karnataka and Made Made Snana practice undertaken at Kukke Subramanya Temple is wellknown all over the state. People from lower strata of society in general roll over the plantain leaves after the leaves are used to take food by upper caste people (Brahmins) and this ritual is observed with a belief that skin d[is]eases of devotees get cured by Made Made Snana. The practice is undertaken with a belief that saliva of upper caste people has the power to cure skin diseases and Lord Subramanya is also believed to cure skin diseases. The practice has general approval by Seers of several maths. After the rolling over, the vestiges covered on the bodies of the devotees are washed in nearby Kumaradhara River and after this bath in the river, the ritual is said to be completed. The practice is said to be more than 500 years old.
Reformers oppose it; traditionalists are angry at reformers for opposing it.
There’s an obvious flaw here. If it’s really about the curative powers of Brahmin saliva, clearly the practical thing to do is to collect some saliva from all the Brahmins present, dilute it with something – holy water if you like – to make it go around, and then pour it into a bowl so that people can dab some on their skin diseases. If you actually want to apply someone’s saliva to your body, the best method is not to lie down on the plantain leaves that held the food those people just ate. That’s not a good method at all.
That method isn’t good at distributing saliva, it’s good at degrading people. That’s clearly the actual point of it – the spectacle of “lower” caste people rolling on the ground on other people’s dirty dishes.
Nirmukta republished an article by Narendra Nayak on this practice in January 2012. Nayak saw the practice as a child but it was inter-Brahmin: Brahmins rolling on the leaves used for eating by other Brahmins.
But, what happened at the Kukke Subrahamanya Temple is something totally different. Here the scheduled tribe people performed this act on leaves on which Shivalli Brahmins have partaken food. This again brings to the fore many issues which have to be discussed in detail. This temple is, to put it mildly, not as popular as the one nearby at Dharmasthala. The latter being owned by a Jain has drawn more people particularly from the other side of the Western Ghats and subsequently has higher collections. The owner of this temple has been also running many capitation fee colleges and businesses. In order to compete with it, the management of the Subrahmanya Temple has been trying its best to get publicity. Its speciality is providing solutions for naga dosha which in loose translation means problems due to cobra or serpent trouble!
So it’s a money-making dodge! A money-making dodge that combines medical-woo with pointless degradation. Neato.
So, the word has gone around that the ritual of rolling over the leaves on which Brahmins have eaten can cure a number of skin diseases and also other things like bestowing children on sterile couples. But, if one goes by the history of such practices, it looks more like a rite for the down trodden to perform to demonstrate their loyalty to the upper castes who have partaken food on these leaves. In this temple which is run by Shivalli Brahmins, their community is served separately and the others have to eat outside like all such places. There are instances where people have been forcibly evicted from the places reserved for this community! It has been done not just to the supposedly lower castes but even to Goud Saraswat Brahmins who though call themselves so are held in low esteem by these so called upper castes! So, behind these practices lies a simmering cauldron of caste politics.
The fine art of coming up with new and creative way to treat some people as Higher than others, and some of the others as Lower than dirt. Good job, Kukke Subrahamanya Temple; good job, Karnataka High Court. (If Nayak is right about the origins of this practice, the court got the facts completely wrong.)