By Ramya BN
Mangalore, June 9, 2012: India being a secular country has given space to numerous religions and beliefs. It is a wonder to see how human beings’ faith in God, bonds different religions! A fine example of communal and religious harmony is the ‘Georgian Pilgrim Centre Ichilampady’, in Puttur taluk of Dakshina Kannada district.
Hundreds and thousands of devotees belonging to various religions pour in during the annual feast of the patron saint, St.George that is celebrated here on 22nd and 23rd of Medam Malayalam Era which usually falls on May 6 and May 7 of the year.
Saint George is being worshiped in this shrine where Hindu rituals like ’Urulu seve’ (rolling around) and ’koli harake’ (offering of fowls) are followed to celebrate the annual feast of the church.
The church has a history of more than 60 years. Following of Hindu rituals like walking on the knees, walking with stone on head etc are followed here and this is what makes the church unique. Another uniqueness of this church is "Kozhi Nercha" (offering of fowls) as like in Kerala temples and Daivasthanas in Karnataka.On the eve of Perunnal or festival day, a colourful procession (Rhasa) is taken out during the night from the church wherein people greet the procession with Nilavilkks (lamps) and candles.
Another unique practice like that in Hindu temples during the annual fair or jaathre, is the hoisting of the religious flag prior to the commencement of the feast in this shrine. In Ichilampady church, celebrations start 7 days prior to the perunnal with "Kodimaram Ideel" (hoisting of flags) participated by people belonging to all religions of the locality. Vicars bless the posts and the flag is hoisted after prayers. The main function during the feast is the Holy Qurbana or Mass.
Devotees visit this shrine with the strong belief that paying obeisance to the patron saint, will relieve them of their skin ailments as well as other health problems. One can see devotees walking on their knees soaked with devotion seeking relief from their leg pain and other physical problems. There are devotees who walk with a stone on head to get rid of their head ache and other ailments pertaining to head. Devotees who have suffered losses vow to carry the cross and go in a procession.There is also a strong belief that childless couple and unemployed people will be blessed and their wish fulfilled if Saint George is worshipped with true devotion.
The main offering during Perunnal is "Kozhi Nercha" (offering of fowls) by devotees whose wishes are fulfilled by the Lord. This is followed by a feast Veehoottu wherein the dish thus prepared is served with roti as ‘Prasadam’ to the devotees.
This pilgrim shrine which represents the true spirit of secularism, continues to draw pilgrims from far and wide who come here seeking the much needed solace in life.