Karnataka temple's weird ritual draws protests

Called the 'urulu seve' (roll over ritual), the tradition at the Kukke Subramanya temple in the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada is said to have been followed for 400 years, according to temple authorities.

The ritual is undertaken in the belief that it will cure people of skin ailments. It is performed on the annual 'shasthi' - sixth day of the month - festival.  The three-day festival concluded Saturday and the ritual was performed Friday by many men and women amid protests by a small group of people.

Now, several organisations in Karnataka have begun a campaign to ban the practice saying it is inhuman. Though people from all castes, including Brahmins, perform the ritual, a majority of them are said to be Dalits and those from backward classes.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, a Dalit herself, wants it banned. She issued a statement to this effect in Lucknow Saturday. Temple authorities say they do not force anyone to perform the ritual.

The protesters were upset that the practice was allowed, though the temple was under the state government's Muzrai (religious affairs) department. Muzrai Minister V.S. Acharya termed the practice "innocuous". He said no one was forced by the temple authorities to perform the ritual. "It is a matter of belief," he said.

The temple, about 300 km from here, is devoted to Subramanya. The idol of Subramanya is in the shape of a nine-headed serpent. Legend has it that Subramanya protected serpent god Vasuki who had taken shelter in a cave at Kukke from Garuda.

A well-known ritual performed at the temple is 'sarpa samskara' to ward off the effect of 'sarpa dosha' - curse of the serpent god. Among the celebrities who have prayed at the temple is cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

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