Purpose of religion is spiritual exploration

Religion stands for peace and harmony. Yet religion has been used to justify violence throughout human history [2, 3, 4, 5]

In the history of Kerala, warfare has been rare. However, religion has played a more subtle role in contributing to human misery. In Kerala, religion has been an oppressive factor by promoting communal forces, inhibiting social cohesion necessary for economic development.

The purpose of religion is spiritual exploration. However, religion has expanded its influence into cultural, social, political, commercial and educational activities historically. Religion operates with belief frameworks that require suspension of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this enables manipulation of religion by vested interests.

Kollam carnage [2] offers an opportunity for critical assessment of traditional practices in Kerala, many of which have evolved from ancient times. These customs and practices may have had valid reasons in the past, but are incompatible with present conditions. The smart approach will be to discard old customs that do not fit current conditions, instead of clinging to them in the name of tradition.

Malankara Orthodox church head Baselios Marthoma Paulose II calls to ban fireworks in religious festivals (“Call to ban fireworks in religious fests,” The Times of India, Apr. 12, 2016). The causes of the Kollam carnage are much broader and deeper, and a better approach will be to address the root causes.

Fireworks do not have any religious significance, but help enhance festivals and cultural programs associated with celebrations. Hence fireworks are a misfit for religious festivals. One approach to improve the situation is to bifurcate current festivals into two. One focused on spiritual aspects, and the other focusing on cultural and commercial activities. Fireworks (not fire crackers) may be made part of the cultural festivals.

It is a common practice in Kerala to parade elephants in celebrations, including religious festivals. These elephants are mistreated, resulting in frequent rampages and deaths. It is high time for Kerala to outgrow ancient traditions, and adopt practices that are compatible with high population density in cities and suburbs. Elephants are a safety hazard in crowded areas and small festival grounds. Besides, elephant parades are promoting animal cruelty (“These elephants suffer in silence,” The Times of India, Apr. 12, 2016 [2]). Since these are large and frequent occurrences, elephant parades have a negative impact on the social consciousness by desensitizing cruelty.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Ban use of fire crackers (those creating sound effects), instead use fireworks ( those creating light effects) in cultural festivals.
  2. Stop use of elephants in temple and other festivals.
  3. Religious practices, especially organized activities, need to be limited to promoting spirituality. Using religious justifications for social and political activities are conflict-enabling, and decreases social cohesion.
  4. Kerala government should divest itself from religious institutions.
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