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What is Kuthiyottam?

March 2. 2018: The Hindu

What is the Kuthiyottam ritual and why is it in the news?

The Kuthiyottam ritual is usually performed every year during the Pongala festival at the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

On February 28, 2018, the Kerala State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights registered a suo motu case in connection with the Kuthiyottam ritual. The commission said it would examine if the ritual, reportedly involving piercing children’s sides with a hook, violated child rights in any manner.

What is the Pongala festival?

The Kuthiyottam ritual is usually performed every year during the Pongala festival at the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. This year, the Pongala festival falls on March 2.

According to Kerala's Department of Tourism, the Attukal Pongala festival is the largest congregation of women for a festival in the world. Pongala, which means 'to boil over’, is a ritual in which women prepare a pudding made from rice, jaggery, coconut and plantains cooked together, and offer it to the goddess. The ritual can only be performed by women, and the streets of the city are known to be jam packed with devotees during the festival.

What does the Kuthiyottam ritual involve?

Nearly 1,000 young boys undertake a seven-day penance before Pongala day. According to an earlier report by The Hindu, these boys are said to represent the wounded soldiers of the goddess. “The boys have to observe strict discipline and stay inside the temple for seven days. The rigours include sleeping on the floor, strict diet restrictions, and bathing three times a day. They also have to prostrate 1,008 times before the deity,” the report said.

The ritual also reportedly involves piercing the child’s side with a small hook and knotting a thread through it to symbolise their bond with the Goddess.

Why is the issue in the news now?

On February 27, Kerala’s Director General of Police (Prisons) R. Sreelekha put up a blog post titled 'Time to Stop this Yearly Crime in the Name of Faith!'. “Then hooks are pulled out and ash roughly applied on the wounds! All this for temple deity! Parents may feel relieved that their boys will now grow up to be disciplined kids and do well in their studies. Will the kids too feel the same? And how will our dear Attukal Amma be feeling?,” she wrote in her blog.

“The problem here is that consent of the boys is not taken,” says G. Gouridasan Nair, The Hindu’s Resident Editor in Kerala. “There is also greater awareness about the rights of young boys and that is one of the reasons it is being discussed now. What we have to note that this discussion is taking place in the new media,” he says.


Kadakampally Surendran, the Minister for Devaswom — the body which runs many temples in Kerala, said this was not the time to oppose the ritual. The Minister said it was too early to comment on violation of child rights and added that the issue would have to be studied further.

Meanwhile, the Kerala State Commission for Child Rights has clarified that it has not singled out the Attukal Bhagavathy temple with regard to the Kuthiyottam ritual. Commission chairperson Shobha Koshy said though a suo motu case had been registered on the basis of newspaper reports, the commission's order did not mention the Kuthiyottam ritual at Attukal. “We have not gone into the ritual at Attukal, unlike at Chettikulangara where we studied the issue and the case is in court.”

The Shiv Sena took out a march to the commission office alleging that in registering a case against Kuthiyottam, it was encroaching upon the freedom to follow traditions.

The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple Trust has deplored the blog and said it had been issued without understanding the rituals and traditions followed in the temple.

“The blog had been written at a time when the Pongala festival is going on smoothly and it is intended to create fear in the minds of devotees and parents of children who are participating in the ritual,” the trust said in a statement.

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