How to distribute holy saliva

An extraordinary court ruling from Karnataka, India.

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.[1] 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)[3] and this ritual is observed with a belief that skin d[is]eases of devotees get cured by Made Made Snana.[4] The practice is undertaken with a belief that saliva of upper caste people has the power to cure skin diseases[5] and Lord Subramanya is also believed to cure skin diseases. The practice has general approval by Seers of several maths.[2] 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.[4] The practice is said to be more than 500 years old.[2]

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.)




  1. Akshay Srinivasan says

    You may as well shout: “Eternal American Wisdom save them from this Pagan hellhole”.

    Your “arguments”, such as they are, betray a deep ignorance of India (and that is true of the original article as well). It’d have been a deplorable act if Dalits were infact forced into this; which couldn’t possibly happen in India.
    That, they want to do it, while queer to an outsider (and to me), is not for some “revolutionary” fool to impose a ban upon, it is for him to question and educate them. Their freedom is their right, which they’re very well to defend.

    That its, so-called “defender”, is not as elegant a interlocutor as the other side will have you believe, is likely to make you form opinions which, to put it mildy, are ignorant. Did you know, for instance, that a Dalit is infact the CM of Karnataka ?

    I’m always suprised how the left advocates for freedom only when it suits them. Let’s see, what does an American understand. Would you advocate that the Islam be banned in the US ? Or proselytization for instance. Or perhaps, you’d prefer, Yoga, or Acupuncture, or Meditation.

    Besides, it’s not like Brahmins form the upper political echelon in India; they’re infact one of the poorest groups in Karnataka:
    (No this is not a “Hindu fundamentalist” site, as you’d instantly jump to accuse).

    There is also no such thing as a “Brahmin”, there are fractious groups (like every other “varna”) with no barely any relationships with each other, no, not even philosophically. The bogeyman of an evil-Brahmin, is very well documented, like,

    Yes, the, caste system, was very much deplorable, but the realities on the ground today are much too different; but the left, in India, still harks back to an age old idealogy for cheap political gains, at the cost of needless discord. Many of these idealogues, belong to an Urban elite, who have the slightest idea about the social structure in India’s rural hinterlands, and are way too easily given into theories of class oppression. It’d have been hilarious, if it weren’t true.

    You don’t hear much of from the other side from the folk like NyT, AlJazeera & Co (and Indian beasts like “The Hindu”), because of deeply seated prejudices, and the political influence of Evangelical proselytizers embedded in deeply in India, who’d much rather have you hear the other side of the story.
    The other side consists, as I mentioned, rural folk, who aren’t as good at pushing through their agenda in English.
    Increasingly, “Freethinking”, in India, has become something to think of on the other side of the simple order.

    Viewing India through a socialist eye, tends to assumes some sort of land-wielding gentry, while oppressing the rest; which is clearly non-sense in the case of India. Fitting problems to suit idealogies is a grossly unethical; please go talk to some Hindus in Bellevue before codemning all of them.

    Have you any idea about Bayesian inference, and about prior and samples ?

  2. Akshay Srinivasan says

    I think my previous comment was infused with too much emotion.

    To substantiate my claims of this being another Anti-hindu politics, here are my arguments,
    * Siddharamiah, CPI(M) & co, haven’t raised a peep about the Homeopathy colleges in Karnataka that the state itself sponsors. (Search for “Government Homeopathy college, Bangalore”, or some such thing). Nothing of the kind was even said in the draft, other than usual platitudes for “scientific temperament”,
    * The ritual is practiced by Upper & lower castes alike. The people who fighting against the ban, are themselves Dalits. (See wiki article, dated 31 December 2014).
    * Much of the Hindu temple revenue in India is collected by the state, (in contrast, the state donates money to Churches/Mosques):
    (Okay, that one is not an unbiased source).

    I’ve also edited the Wikipedia article to be more centered,

    Perhaps, people with not add the negative connotation of “Hindu” & “Brahmin”, as they have for the word “Jew” in the past.

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