A 1,500-year old tribal ritual in Karnataka has become the subject of fierce debate, with some progressive thinkers demanding it be banned while others want it to continue. Made snana (bathing on leftovers) is a ritual in which people roll on plantain leaves containing the leftovers of meals eaten by Brahmins in the belief it will heal them from skin afflictions. A Brahmin is a member of the highest caste. Priests and scholars are classified as Brahmins, and members of this caste are revered by Hindus. The call to ban the controversial practice has grown strong, with 18 heads of Hindu religious institutions across Karnataka state condemning it, as well as low-caste organizations. The annual event is held in Kukke Subramanya temple, a hill shrine 110 kilometers from Mangalore, and other temples in the state. Kukke Subramanya, believed to be 5,000 years old, is believed to have provided relief from nagadosha (serpent affliction) for many people including cricket star Sachin Tendulkar. The authorities had recently issued a banning order but revoked it following pressure from devotees. The practice is conducted in December mostly by a forest tribe called Malekudiyas (people of the forest). “Even though there are around 500 members here many others join, swelling the numbers to 5,000 for the annual made snana,’’ said AV Nagesh Malekudiya, a tribal activist. “It gives us spiritual strength. No one forces us to practice it. So where is the problem?” asks Venkamma Malekudiya, a devotee. VS Acharya, the state higher education minister, supports the tradition saying, “the practice may lead to the creation of antibodies for better health.” However, religious progressive groups and thinkers say it is nonsense and are pushing for it to be banned. “If it can cure diseases effectively, the state government should close down hospitals and set up such temples across the state,” said Panditaradhya Shivacharya, Swami of Sanehalli, speaking at a recent conference in Bangalore attended by the 18 Hindu religious institution chiefs. Veerabhadra Channamalla Swami, chairman of Nidumamidi Mahasamsthana Mutt, said “it is a question of human dignity. The practice in itself is inhuman uncivilized behavior which cannot be condoned in the name of religion.” Writer and social critic G Rajashekhar said “the government should ban the ritual in all temples of the state, for there is humiliation of the lower castes involved in the ritual.” The state government has in the past outlawed other “inhuman” age-old rituals. “It is a blind belief without any scientific significance,” said Father Faustine Lobo, spokesman for the Karnataka Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
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