TN bans new year rites, priests fume

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By M.R. VENKATESH in Chennai
  • Published 12.04.08

Chennai, April 12: A pope reformed the Christian calendar but priests here are furious at the DMK government’s revision of the Tamil year.

The administration has told government-run temples not to celebrate the traditional Tamil New Year tomorrow, saying the year began three months ago.

Angry priests said they had received an oral order banning the New Year rites — special pujas and readings from the Tamil almanac, Panchangam — on Sunday.

For centuries, priests have read from the almanac every New Year evening to tell large gatherings how the coming year would unfold — to reassure them about good rainfall and bountiful crops, or warn them of war and pestilence.

Many temples are preparing to defy the ban. “This is needless interference with age-old temple practices,” said a priest at Chennai’s Sundareshwarar temple.

The Tamil year has always begun with the month of Chittirai, in mid-April. But the DMK government got a law passed last February, advancing it to the first day of the month Thai in mid-January.

This was done to pander to Tamil nationalists who claim that the mid-April New Year is a “Sanskritic imposition”.

The mid-January New Year would coincide with Pongal — an “authentic” Tamil festival (though Sankranti is observed around the same time across India).

Also, Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar’s birthday, usually celebrated on January 17, would now virtually kick off the year, which would be logical as the Tamil calendar dates from him, the government said.

“We’ll go ahead with the special pujas for the sake of the devotees,” a priest said.

A priest at the Jambulingeshwarar temple near Tiruchirappalli, however, said his shrine would obey the ban.

The Ramanathaswami temple in Rameshwaram, however, has been spared a difficult choice. Sources said the special pujas would be held since devotees had already paid for them. But the temple’s long-standing custom has been to read the almanac in the month of Aadi (mid-June), so it gets a breather now.

Several Opposition leaders, led by Jayalalithaa and MDMK chief Vaiko, issued New Year’s Eve greetings to the public today, indicating they disagreed with the new calendar law.

A similar reform of the Christian calendar was decreed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, but for astronomical reasons. He dropped 10 days from the Julian version of the calendar to correct a miscalculation about leap years.