VILLUPURAM: It’s a deal couples living around Ulundurpet make with the presiding deity, Angalamman, at Kattunemili village to beget children. They promise the Amman they would donate the newborn to the temple if she grants the baby-boon. After the baby is delivered, they go back and offer the newborn to the priest as a gift to fulfil their vow.
But here is the twist: The priest then announces an auction for the baby, and the parents themselves buy back their newborn after paying what they can afford - often in the range of Rs 50 to Rs 1,000. Devotees claim this quid pro quo with the Amman has been in vogue for at least five generations.
The auction happens as part of a 10-day festival. This year, the festival began on February 24 and on Saturday, over 100 babies were sold in the auction amid a heavy downpour.
The auction actually is a sideshow, since the main event of the day involves raiding the neighbouring cemetery, called ‘Mayana Kollai’, by carrying the decorated Angalamman in a palanquin to the spot. During the procession, some devotees dress like Angalamman and lead the group, often holding a chicken by their teeth.
At the cemetery, goats are sacrificed and people leave behind various offerings like cigarettes and liquor, and dishes like mutton, chicken and biryani to appease the dead. This year’s Mayana Kollai season began on February 26, and was widely observed in various temples across the State. But nowhere else in Tamil Nadu does the baby auction happen.
Another interesting auction happens each year at a different temple in Villupuram. At the Idumban shrine, sacred lemons spiked on the tip of a spear go under the hammer as they are believed to ward off evil and bring prosperity. Last year, one lemon fetched a whopping Rs 39,000.