Amritapuri attack (Mukundan C Menon)
Persecuted Church of India
Aug 31, 2005 12:24 PDT
Indian Currents, Issue 36, September 04, 2005
By Mukundan C Menon
Ever since it was estab lished in early 1980s, there is no dearth of
controversies and mysteries plaguing Amritapuri, the headquarters Ashram
of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, at Vallikavu in Kollam district of Kerala.
So is the case related to the August 21 attack by a knife-wielding man
when the Mata, known in the west as "hugging saint mother", was holding
her first prayer meeting, after returning from a US tour, for the
benefit of around 18,000 devotees, including foreigners, assembled at
the sprawling Ashram auditorium.
The assailant, identified as Pavithran (47), a rubber tapper residing at
Venmony in the Kanjikuzhy police station limits of Idukki district, was
overpowered by Mata’s devotees and handed over to the police. In the
melee, three of the devotees sustained injuries from the rubber budding
knife that Pavithran was carrying. Pavithran also suffered injuries as
he was allegedly thrashed up by Mata’s devotees after locking him in a
room. The Karunagapally police took Pavithran into custody booking him
under attempt to murder case, and also registered case against 25
identified inmates of the Ashram for physically harming the assailant.
Soon after the incident, claims and counter-claims were aired by Ashram
authorities and Pavithran’s relatives plaguing the whole issue into
controversy. Leading the Ashram voice was its Vice-President, Swamy
Amritaswarupananda, the second-in-command after the Mata. The attempt on
Mata’s life, he insisted repeatedly, is not an isolated incident.
Mystery shrouds the attack, the Swamy said, and questioned Pavithran’s
relatives’ claims that he is a mentally challenged person.
Ashram authorities, including the Mata, disputed initial reports that
Pavithran is Mata’s devotee and an Ashram inmate. If he had been in the
Ashram earlier, I would have remembered h is face, said the Mata who
established a record of sorts by hugging nearly three million devotees
around the world during the past two decades.
Pavithran’s father, Madhavan, former president of Venmony SNDP unit, and
brother, Muraleedharan, who is an active BJP worker, reached
Karunagapally next day of the attack. They said that the assailant
cannot even walk properly due to the "brutal" assault he suffered from
the Ashram. The Ashram authorities, however, claimed that no physical
harm was done to him except that Mata’s devotees overpowered him before
handing him over to the police. The police corroborated version of the
assailant’s relatives and charged the assault case against 25 Ashram
inmates. Notably, on the night of the attack, Karunagapally police
station was stoned and a cameraman of Surya TV was attacked allegedly by
Mata’s devotees, in spite of the spiritual leader appealing her children
to maintain calm and peace, and also to forgive the assailant.
More perti nently Madhavan also revealed that his son, a mental patient
for the past 15 years and undergoing treatment of Dr. Radhakrishnan of
Changanassery, is an RSS worker apart from being a devotee of Mata and
an earlier inmate of Amritapuri Ashram. Madhavan also handed over
Pavithran’s medical reports to the police, which was also corroborated
later by Dr. Radhakrishnan.
According to Madhavan, who is also a devotee of Karunakara Guru’s
Shanthigiri Ashram in Thiruvananthapuram, among his family members,
Pavithran is the only devotee of Mata Amritanandamayi. As against the
version of Ashram authorities that Pavithran was a total stranger,
Madhavan said that his son used to occasionally visit the Ashram and
also stayed there. He even reached the Ashram after the Tsunami calamity
last December and undertook volunteer services for the victims in the
area as a Mata devotee. A rubber tapper, he is working for the past four
years in the rubber estate of Unni Thamburan at Koottanad in Pala kkad
district, from where he came to the Ashram before the August 21 attack
along with about 50 devotees.
Notably, Pavithran was convicted twice earlier in similar attack cases
in his native place. Two decades ago when his father, Madhavan, was
attacked by Kerala Congress activists, Pavithran retaliated by
inflicting knife injuries on five of them. Since the Kerala Congress
activists happened to be Christians, it soon took a communal colour.
This incident apparently influenced Pavithran to join the RSS, and
became the chief instructor at the local RSS Sakha at Venmony. He
continued his active association with RSS after reaching Koottanad in
Palakkad district as a rubber tapper worker.
Both Madhavan and Pavithran’s wife, Prema, said that he used to always
keep the tapping knife in his possession. He become violent whenever
there was a break in his regular medicine in-take. Dr. Radhakrishnan
reportedly told the police that mental patients like Pavithran are
always sus picious of others, and they become violent for
self-protection as they are ridden with fear psychosis that others might
Incidentally, Pavithran had clashes with certain inmates of the Ashram
earlier, who restrained him from going to the Mata. Apparently, he
became violent as he was prevented from entering the stage from where he
only wanted to sing the prayers along with the mother. He was in
particular agitated since his way was blocked in front of other devotees
who accompanied him all the way from his workplace in Palakkad. For
unknown reasons, however, the Ashram authorities, especially its
Vice-President, Swamy Amritaswarupananda, refused to believe this
version and went on harping about their own theories about conspiracies
on Mata’s life behind the attack incident. This attack cannot be treated
as an isolated incident, he said repeatedly. However, Mata
Amritanandamayi herself later recalled that there was an earlier attempt
on her life seven years ago by a nother devotee in an inebriated
Whether he is a devotee or mentally deranged person, what is the need to
come to a temple carrying a knife, the Mata asked while addressing a
press conference at the Ashram next day of the incident. Whatever he is,
"my court has forgiven him", the spiritual leader said. Then, how was
the assailant brutalized by her Ashram inmates? "All my children
(devotees) might not share my views on forgiveness", pat came her
To deepen the mystery further, Mata Amritanandamayi said that there was
intelligence warning a fortnight ago about a possible threat to her
life. Did she receive the warning bell directly from the intelligence
authorities? No, she simply heard it from her "children" within the
Ashram. Did the warning come from State or Central Intelligence? If
there was a genuine official warning, what security precautions were
undertaken before the August 21 incident?
Obviously, there was no answer to these questi ons from within the
Ashram. Interestingly, although the attack received wider attention
within and outside India, the spiritual leader’s claim on such a warning
miserably failed to get official corroboration.
Yet, rumours were lavishly floated within the Ashram that the warning
related to a possible Al Qaeda attempt on her life. Quipped a rational
wag: "Never knew before that Bin Ladan’s Al Qaeda depends upon rubber
tapping knife for their operations". Said another: "The allegation on Al
Qaeda was a clever mechanism for getting the attention and apathy of the
U.S. administration for Mata since her occasional spiritual sojourns are
to the US."
RSS attacker on RSS ‘Mata’
Eventually, after conducting elaborate enquiries on Pavithran’s
antecedents at the Ashram, his native place at Idukki, his work place at
Palakkad and with his doctor at Changanassery in Kottayam district, the
Kollam district police submitted a report to the higher authorities
which contradicted all those claims of the Ashram authorities about the
incident, especially that the assailant was a total stranger to the
Ashram. According to the police report, prepared in August fourth week,
"Pavithran is a regular annual visitor to the Ashram during
August-September’’. He arrived at the Ashram on the previous day of the
attack for participating in a bhajan session led by the Mata.
"Investigations show that he is a fine bhajan singer,’’ the police
report said. It directly contravened the August 22 written statement
issued by the Ashram that Pavithran was a stranger to them while denying
press reports that he was an Ashram inmate. "`Those living in the Math
have never seen him on its premises,’’ the Ashram statement added.
Further, the police report said that Pavithran has been a strong devotee
of the Mata for the past 14 years. On August 21 he whipped out a
"budding knife’’ when stopped by three permanent inmates of the Math
from rushing to the stage (where the Mata was leadi ng the bhajan
session) through the ramp. "He is in the habit of carrying the budding
knife following an incident in 1984 when he stabbed six Kerala Congress
activists who attacked his father, Madhavan, over the issue of a ration
shop at Venmony. The Kanjikuzhi police arrested him and registered a
case. He was convicted in the case but later released under the
Probation Offenders Act. He then went to the High Court and got the
conviction set aside", the police report said.
In particular, the police report said that soon after the attack on
Kerala Congress activists, Pavithran joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh (RSS) at a branch at Peringodu in Palakkad district and regularly
attended it. He joined the Peringodu branch because he worked as a
rubber tapper at a Peringodu estate. The police report also corroborated
Pavithran’s relatives version saying that he is under the treatment of a
Surprisingly, despite the initial outcries over the incident f rom the
RSS and Sangh Parivar camps, they kept a meaningful silence over the
official disclosure that the very assailant on their Mata Devi was
indeed an RSS activist. It should be recalled that those who expressed
anguish and contacted the Ashram following the attack include former
Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee, BJP President L. K. Advani, and former
Union Minister O. Rajagopal, who himself is a close devotee of the Mata.
Said an independent "Mata-watcher": "It was a great solace that the
assailant was a Hindu and an RSS activist. Had it been the handiwork of
a mentally sane or insane person belonging to any of the minority
segments, the Sangh Parivar would have converted the whole of Kerala
into a communal quagmire by now."
In an interestingly related incident within the Amritapuri, the Kollam
police arrested a Sri Lankan lady devotee, Richuve Sebastian (61). An
inmate within the Ashram for several years, this mentally deranged
foreigner is habituated in creating problems w ithin the Ashram,
according to the police. Upon the direction of the Chief Judicial
Magistrate of Kollam, she was admitted to the hospital. Even Mata
Amrithanandamayi had admitted that many of her devotees and Ashram
inmates are mentally deranged persons. "Those who send such patients to
the Ashram should try to depute somebody to accompany them", the Mata
said at the Aug 22 press conference.
Death of Caroline Abitbole
The presence of large number of mentally deranged "devotees" in
Amritapuri had raised questions three years ago following the suspicious
death of a French lady, Caroline Abitbole, within the Ashram premises
and which ran into yet another controversy recently.
Following the death of Abitbole on August 5, 2002, a group of social,
political and cultural activists, including noted writer Balachandran
Chullikad, Dr. Sebastin Paul M.P., human right activists Prof. P. Koya,
Dr. M. S. Jayaprakash, Dr. Febeena Seethi, Dr. P. Muraleedharan, Dr.
Abdul Sala m, Prof. Shaji Kadamala Pala, Br. Reny George and Sr. Anniee
Punnoose, apart from this correspondent, sent a joint petition under the
auspices of Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (CHRO) seeking
the interference of the French Ambassador in New Delhi into the mystery
surrounding her death.
According to the petitioners, their attention was particularly drawn "by
a two-column advertisement inserted by her husband Dr. Rajen Ragavan (1,
Aleedumont Aux Droux, 71140 Bourbon-Lancy, France) in a couple of
Malayalam dailies on August 10, 2002, claiming Ms. Caroline’s death as
suicide". The advertisement curiously warned that legal action would be
initiated against anybody who "irresponsibly spread or publish wrong
information" pertaining to his wife’s death, the petitioners said.
"The suspicion over Ms. Caroline’s death was aroused since earlier news
reports said that her body, after falling from the 8th floor of a
building within the "Ashram" premises, was found with t he head
separated from the body — which is a near impossibility in such suicidal
deaths. Apart from this, at least a dozen suspicious deaths of
inmates/devotees, both of Indian and foreign origin, had taken place in
the same "Ashram" in recent years."
Pointing out that barring Dr. Ragavan’s warning, the petitioners said
that his claims in the lengthy advertisement "are self-contradictory to
raise numerous questions begging answers". For example, first para of
Dr. Raghavan’s advertisement said: "My wife was a psychic patient for
the past more than 20 years. Soon after the symptoms of her disease were
identified on August 5th morning, the "Ashram" authorities
telephonically informed me about it. I informed them to administer her
"Haloperidole" injection, which is usually given under such
circumstances. One of the "Ashram" doctors, Dr. Jaggu, gave the
injection immediately. From the same morning onwards, our mutual friends
had taken turns in looking after her."
The petiti oners questioned: "If such a care and attention was given to
Caroline, how come she could jump and commit suicide later on the same
day? Apart from this question, a sentence in the fourth para of the
advertisement contradicted the earlier claim: "Since the "Ashram" has
become a major pilgrim center, separate attention cannot be given to
According to the petitioners Dr. Raghavan’s advertisement also said: "We
have two flats at Amrithapuri. Myself and Caroline used to go and stay
there together and separately. In order to see the Western sea and other
natural beauty undisturbed, she insisted to remove the long iron bars on
the window in the flat. For Caroline’s happiness, we both together
removed the window bars. Let me take this opportunity to regretfully
submit that this was done without the permission or information of the
"Ashram" authorities… Caroline had psychic disorders in 1980 at Canada,
in 1987 at Thailand, in 1989 at Rishikesh, and in 1998 at California.
Chavara police arrested her in 1994 for attempt to commit suicide by
jumping into sea. One or two years before that, she was arrested at
Ernakulam for walking naked on a road."
The petitioners raised the following questions, some of which are
pertinently relevant to the recent episodes involving Pavithran and the
Sri Lankan lady devotee:
"1) Has the "Ashram" got recognition/registration from Kerala/Central
authorities as a place for mental cure? 2) Had the stipulations and
conditions imposed by authorities on private mental institutions,
following the en-mass death of mental patients at Yarwadi in Tamil Nadu
last year, been followed in this "Ashram" in Kerala? 3) Why a patient,
with a chronic psychic history of 22 years, as well as involved in
criminal cases, was allowed to stay in the "Ashram" that, too, without
her husband? 4) Despite her psychic history, why the iron bars in the
window on the 8th floor flat was removed without the
information/permission of the "Ashr am" authorities? 5) Was the earlier
news reports that Dr. Ragavan had first met Caroline at this very
"Ashram" genuine and correct? 6) How and where their marriage was
solemnised? 7) Since all unnatural deaths had to be subjected to
thorough probe according to Indian and French law, what prompted Dr.
Ragavan to take the extra-ordinary measure of releasing such an
advertisement warning anybody raising doubts/questions on Caroline’s
death within five days of the incident?"
In conclusion, the memorandum to the French Ambassador said: "We also
wish to submit that a large number of dignitaries, including ruling
politicians, Judges, and Police Officers are the devotees of Matha
Amrithanandamayi and visitors to the "Amrithanandapuri Ashram". We,
therefore, feel that an impartial probe to bring out the truth on the
grounds and circumstances that led to Ms. Caroline’s death is almost
impossible without the serious interference of Your Excellency
representing the interests of both the French government and French
citizens in India."
Dr. Raghavan’s response
Nothing came out of this memorandum either from the French or Indian
authorities. However, Dr. Raghavan took almost three years to respond on
August 17, 2005. His belated response came four days before the August
21 attack by Pavithran at the Ashram.
Alleging that the petitioners had used "viciousness, perversion and
totally unethical terms" which are "an insult to the great Sanatana
Dharma that Holy India, the cradle of spirituality of the whole world,
has given to the world", Dr. Raghavan questioned: "If you are genuine
doctors, and intellectual people, you should have learned to respect the
basic tenets of mutual respect, decency, right of speech and refrain
from base and baseless attacks on my own self and on the memory of my
wife without first asking me for all the facts and figures in the first
Apart from throwing some challenges, including to deal directly with him
through e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), Dr. Raghavan gave his own
versions and explanations to certain points and questions raised in the
1) "Caroline Abitbole was NOT killed, but committed suicide as she had
tried several times before. Had there been murder, I and her family
would have rightly opened up enquiries, but the events preceding her
death are all but very clear to me and to everybody else. She suffered
from one of her numerous psychotic bouts and for those who know this
field of medicine, the world in which the mind functions in these states
is totally different from the one we know, and suicides are
unfortunately frequent in these cases. I have myself had spinal injury
patients who tried to commit suicide in such bouts."
2) "Caroline could come to the Ashram, just like anybody else in the
whole world, and following AMMA’s advice, we always tried to be there at
the same time. It just happened that I had to come back to France for
profes sional reasons, just one week before she was supposed to return.
She was under treatment and I had no worry: I had done the same wrong
assumption in the past, but without such tragic consequences."
3) "I first met Caroline on the 4th of April 1989 at the Sivananda
Ashram, Rishikesh, where I was serving in the Charitable Hospital. For
your information, there too she had a serious bout of psychosis and got
detained by the police at the Raiwalla station. I myself, in person,
went to the French Embassy in New Delhi to get a French doctor to help
her as I was flying to England. The Embassy admitted her in a private
clinic before sending her back to France. You are invited to verify all
this information if you want…"
4) "Although it is none of your business to enquire about our marriage,
we did get married at Vic-la-Gardiole, in France on the 16th of August
2000. You may check that too with the French authorities if you have
that much time to waste vilifying others…"
About what prompted him to take the extra-ordinary measure of releasing
such an advertisement within 5 days of his wife’s suspicious death, Dr.
Raghavan offered the following explanation:
"Well, Dr. Ragavan is certainly not a foolish and blind-folded fanatic
of Indian culture, (or of any culture for that matter!)…!! I have been
coming to India since 1977, that is for the past 28 years, to lucidly
learn medicine, music and spirituality. I have travelled as a pilgrim
all over India, and visited dozens of Ashrams, temples and met several
masters, like Ma Anandamayi, Mother Krishnabai, Baba Muktananda, Mayee
Amma, Sai Baba, Krishnamurthi, Panrimalai Swamigal, etc. etc.
"Having stayed at Madras and Pondicherry for my medical studies, I have
had time to understand the typical and atypical Indian attitudes and
conditionings. Knowing all that I took the precaution of relieving your
minds of unnecessary questions, and precisely 3 years after I took this
precaution, you come u p again with silly questions !!! If I did not
take that precaution, you would have unleashed all your evil
interpretations, as some of you have done, and at that time of mourning
for me, and I considered it really despicable on the part of some of
"Sadly though, this despicable attitude seems to be firmly ingrained,
and that is a shame to the pristine and unequalled grandeur of Indian
culture and philosophy."
Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (CHRO)
3, Rams' Cottage