Tamil priest whips devotees to exorcise

April 10th, 2008 - 11:07 am ICT by admin  

Namakkal (Tamil Nadu), April 10 (IANS) A male priest officiating at a temple near Chennai exorcises devotees of ghosts and witchcraft by whipping them. For the past week, a few thousand faithful have received a few lashes or mild strokes depending upon their age from priest Periyayya, participants in the weeklong ritual at the Mariamman temple said.

Mariamman is the Tamil name for Hindu goddess Durga. The shrine is located in Seerappalli village.

Opinion on the practice is divided. While the priest refuses to explain his actions, devotees think it is a good thing.

“While I received a couple of lashes below the hip, the ‘poosari’ (priest) gently placed the whip over the heads of my two female children aged three and four. Though not possessed by spirits, we underwent the ritual as a precaution against future affliction,” 31-year-old Raja Marthandan told IANS as he walked away from the shrine.

Rationalists opine that the practice is reprehensible.

“The whole thing is a barbaric torture of the innocents punishable by law. In this scientific age when we have begun dismissing faulty scientific axioms like the ex-planet Pluto, whipping simpletons in the name of exorcism is a cruel proof of prevalent, senseless gullibility,” said T.S.S. Mani, rationalist and human rights activist, on telephone from Chennai.

Situated 300 km southwest of Chennai, Namakkal district is a mixture of science and superstition.

It is home to state-of-the-art automobile bodybuilding workshops as well as scientifically managed giant poultry farms.

But labour problems and suspected attacks of bird flu have almost crippled Namakkal’s commerce. The two stray events have resulted in many of its residents slipping back into age-old superstitious beliefs, an industrialist said.

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