by late Dr Abraham Kovoor

KERALA, the land of my birth, is very similar to Sri Lanka in its topography, climate, fauna, flora and even the cultural and ethnic qualities of its people. As in Sri Lanka, witchcraft and devil dances thrive even to this day among the villagers in Kerala. More than half a century ago, when I was a young boy, it was a common practice to resort to witchcraft whenever anything untoward happened in the family. Most householders, as a result of superstitious beliefs, treasured some sort of 'sacred' medicine or talisman which, they imagined, could effect magical cures for all their ailments.
For the " Nairs " it was the " sacred "' water--" theertham" from the holy river Ganges brought by pilgrims who returned from the 'sacred city of Benares. For Syrian Christians it was often the sanctified oil from Antioch or the 'sacred' water from Lourdes For the Muslims it was the water sanctified by the container made to touch the 'sacred' Kaaba stone at Mecca brought yearly by the Haj pilgrims.

From 1921 to 1924 my younger brother the late Dr.Behanan T. Kovoor of the Yale University, U S., and I were students at the University of Calcutta. The city of Calcutta is about 1500 miles from my native town Tiruvalla. It took about five days for us to reach Calcutta by train.

A trip from Tiruvalla to the distant city on the banks of the river Ganges, by two young boys in search of higher education was an unusual event those days among the people of our neighbourhood. Because of the long distance and the heavy expense involved, we used to come home only once a year during the long mid-summer vacation.


Our departure to Calcutta after the holidays was a ceremonial affair. Days before our departure, both my brother and I were feted by our neighbours. During the last few days of our holidays we had practically all our meals in the neighbouring houses irrespective of caste, creed or class. Almost all the " Nair " families wanted us to bring for them, when we returned, at least a few drops of '" theertham" (Ganges water). For them, we were extremely fortunate because even in our boyhood we would be getting a chance of bathing in the 'sacred' waters of the 'holy' Ganges, and thus attain 'moksha' without much effort.

On the day of departure, our house and courtyard used to get crowded with men, women and children from the neighbouring houses. The men folk in our neighbourhood, who were mostly farmers and petty landlords, kept away from their normal work that day for the sake bidding us farewell.

After prayers and blessings by our family priest the .Rev. K. P. Thomas, a beloved cousin of mine, our mother insisted that we went round to all the elderly men and omen in the group to receive their blessings, which they d by placing their hands on our foreheads, with tears rolling down their cheeks. Many women used to burst out into loud weeping. The sympathetic effect of their weeping on our tender minds made us also shed tears. . was really a touching separation, the effect of which used to linger in our minds throughout the whole journey. Fortunately, on reaching Calcutta, the multifarious attractions of the big city and the boisterous life in our hostel -lade us forget fast all about the home and our good Neighbours. Such thoughts came back to our minds only when the time for our return trip approached during the next summer.


The river Ganges which has its source in the 'sacred' Kailas (Himalayas) flows down the Gangetic plain for out 1500 miles and falls into the Bay of Bengal. It is in flood throughout the summer months when the snow on the Himalayas melt. Since it is a fast-flowing it's water is always muddy. During my long stay in Bengal I bathed in this only once. It became my first and last bath in that because of a shocking experience I had on that occasion As I lifted my head out of the water after a long immersion my head came in contact with a white and object. It turned out to be a highly decomposed dismembered human hand, partially eaten away by fish made me sick, and I had to go without food for a couple of days.

Though prohibited by law at present, during the of my youth it was the usual practice among the Hindus of North India to ceremoniously deposit the dead bodies of their dear ones into the 'sacred' waters of this holy river. By this they insured 'moksha' for their departed souls. Those who lived far away from this river had to be satisfied by throwing the ashes into it after cremation More than half a century ago one could see at any numerous floating carcasses flowing down this river in various stages of decomposition. Thousands of dead bodies were dumped into this so-called sacred river every day at hundreds of cities, towns and villages along the banks of this banks of this long river. Yet, millions of pilgrims from all over India purify' themselves by not only bathing in it, but al by drinking the polluted water. I have seen devotees pushing away carcasses which come their way and continue their ablutions. They were brainwashed from childhood into the belief that ;in spite of the presence of decomposing carcasses in it, the water of the Ganges is pure and 'sacred'.

As a result of the abhorrence after my first nauseous experience in this 'holy' river, I decided not to take even a drop of water from it to my good neighbours. Since Behanan and I were reluctant to disappoint them, we decided to substitute some good well water for the Ganges water.

The nearest Railway Station to Tiruvalla those days was Kottarakkara. When we got down from the train at Kottarakkara we used to fill two bottles with drinking water from the filter in the waiting room, cork them ,properly and keep them along with our luggage. From that time onwards the water in the two bottles was called " theertham"

To reach Tiruvalla we had to travel about 36 miles by transport bus. There were many buses running on this route, all belonging to different operators. There was much rivalry and competition among those bus operators. This competition was a boon for the passengers as they received very polite and liberal treatment from them. As there was no governmental control over bus transport those days, buses came and went at unscheduled times. took whichever routes the driver liked. stopped when- ever the passengers wanted, and cancelled trips according to the whims and fancies of the operators.

To make sure of their fare the conductors and cleaners of the few buses at the Kottarakkara Railway Station used to struggle among themselves to put the luggage's of the waiting passengers on the hood of their own buses. Once the luggage was on the top of their bus. they were sure that the owner of the luggage would get into their bus.

When the conductors and cleaners handled our luggage roughly in their struggle to secure their fare, we used to beg them to be extra careful about the handling of the two bottles of '" theertham" The word " theertham" had an electrifying effect on them as well as the other fellow passengers. They handled the two bottles with due respect, and saw that both of us were given specially reserved seats by the side of the driver Finally. on reaching Tiruvalla. the bus is diverted from the normal route with the sardine-packed passengers in it, and driven to an extra distance of about two miles to drop us at Kovoor house. After dropping our luggage and us at home the conductor produced a small phial with the humble request for a small quantity of the " theertham" to be shared among the driver, the cleaner and himself.


We use.1 to entrust the two bottles of " theertham" to our devoted Christian mother. With pride and pleasure she used to distribute the " theertham" to our " Nair " neighbours according to their needs. Till the death of our beloved mother in 1942 she was not told the real truth about the " theertham" .During the first two days of our arrival home, our neighbours used to flow in to greet us and to get their share of the sacred water.

Next mid-summer too the same fraud was repeated with all solemnity. Thus, for four consecutive years we continued to cheat our Christian mother and the Hindu neighbours with the 'Kottarakkara Railway Station water and every holiday we had to give patient hearing to numerous accounts of miraculous cures effected by the previous year s supply.

Puthur Raman Nair had this to say: "During the two years we had no need to seek medical help. My mother had a severe attack of diarrhoea last April. I just gave her a spoonful of honey with two drops of " theertham " in it. That was all. Within three hours she was perfectly cured.

Kilannaparampil Lakshmi Amma said, "Every time my daughter got cold or fever, a single drop of the " theertham " gave her perfect relief. I was subject to severe migraine since I had a miscarriage three years ago. Now when I get any symptom of the headache coming on, I simply apply a drop of the " theertham " on my forehead, and it stops with that. Even if it comes, the pain is only very slight.

Vettvelil Parukutty who had two difficult and complicated child-births when she gave birth to her first two children, had a very easy one it home when her third child was born. All what she did at the third time was to take two drops of the " theertham" immediately when labour pain started.

Oliprakkatu Narayana Kuruppu proved the miraculous power of the " theertham" by an experimental research . He had two grafted mango trees in his garden. Both were of the same stock and of the same age. During the dry season he watered the two trees. Once he added a few drops of the " theertham" to the water he poured for one of the trees. When the flowering season arrived, the tree which got a dose of the " theertham" flowered, while the other tree produced only a crop of tender leaves.

Chankroth Patchu Pillai immunised all the members of his family by pouring spoonful of the " theertham " in the family well. Since taking this precaution not a single member the Chankroth family fell ill.
There were numerous similar stories of miracles narrated by our neighbours who came to repeat their request for a further supply.


The belief in miraculous powers of holy water is very ancient. Men in every walk and clime have maintained superstitious beliefs in the miraculous powers of sacred and holy objects, persons, places and times. Apart from the psychological effects of suggestion on their minds there is absolute]y no evidence to show that there are objective merits in such beliefs. Just as beneficial effects can be had by hypnotic suggestions, it is possible to have harmful effects also by such suggestions or beliefs. Many of the neurotic subjects at mental hospitals are the final results of diverse types of superstitious beliefs. He who believes in sacredness is sure to get mentally tormented by acts of desecration too. Psychology tells us that such mental traumas are the causes of neurotic afflictions, mostly among the credulous and mentally feeble types Among the numerous neurotics brought to me, I have found by statistics that the prevalence of neurosis among communities is directly proportional to the extent of superstitious beliefs held by them. Even in such communities, there are more women neurotics than men for same reason. Better education for girls, and relaxation of the strict observance of the " purdah ", can help to a great extent to reduce neurosis among women.

A present Deputy Director of Education, was some years ago teaching at Jaffna Central College, where I too was a teacher. One day be drank some water from a " kooja " kept in the staff room. A few hours later another teacher drained the last quantities of water from that " kooja " into a glass tumbler. Out came a small dead snake along with the water. The Director who heard about it became violently sick. The nausea was continuous, and we got alarmed. Finally. it stopped abruptly when he was convinced that the water he drank was from another " kooja " which was on the same table. Though the water he drank was from the same " kooja ", his nausea stopped when he was made to believe blindly that he drank from another This shows how one can get sick and get cured psychologically. But to argue that sickness which not psychosomatic in origin can be cured by fait absurd.
The 'Kottarakkara Railway Station Water' did no any miracle in our neighbourhood. Our neighbours' anecdotes simply showed the credulous nature of those simple folks who were brainwashed from childhood about the miraculous properties of the " theertham" . Discarding logic and reason, their conditioned minds only attempted to give interpretations and explanations to suit their blind beliefs.
The so-called beneficial effects of sacrifices, pilgrimages offerings, prayers, blessings, worships, vows, consecrations dedications, ordinations, 'Lourdes water', " theertham " " prasadams ", sacraments, baptism, anointing of holy ash. " yang ", " pooja " etc., are merely subjective experiences without any objective reality, Similarly curse, charms, " vaskavi " hoonyams, ill omens, inauspicious times, horoscopes evil spells etc., can be harmful only to gullible fools.
Academic education and intelligence need not be considered as marks of non-gullibility. In fact, some of highly educated persons in exalted positions are extremely gullible, even resorting to witchcraft. It is only persons capable of rational thinking who can free themselves from credulity. Blind believers are mentally blind in spite their intelligence and education
theertham :- holy water

Copyright © 1976 by Dr Abraham. T.Kovoor
from " BEGONE GODMEN " published by Shri Aswin J.Shah

Dr Abraham. T.Kovoor was rationalist and teacher, originally from Kerala, South India who later settled down in Sri Lanka. He was the president of the Rationalist Association of Sri Lanka where he and Dr Carlo Fonseka held regular meetings at Thurston College, Colombo.He came to the conclusion that there was absolutely no objective truth behind such claims and beliefs in all types of alleged psychic, para-psychological and spiritual phenomena based on his intensive scientific researches for over half a century. He was one of the first and the only scientist among psychical researchers in the world at that time to be awarded a doctorate for his research in by the Minnesota Institute of Philosophy of U.S. for his thesis on psychic and para-psychic phenomena.
Mr .C. Pathmanathan, former teacher of St.Benedict College, Kotahena and scout leader of Colombo Boy Scout Association, to whom I sincerely dedicate this page , used to attend his meetings and told how Dr Kovoor used to distribute the so-called „Holy Ash" in the same manner some self-appointed Hindu gurus do. „Sathya Sai Baba" one of those Gurus from Karnataka, India , whose performance of „Holy Ash" distribution among his followers was considered to be very miraculous.

Prakash Arumugam

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Prakash Arumugam

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