A viral Facebook post claiming that the Kerala government has handed over the tender to manufacture the Aravana Payasam (an offering to the deity at the Sabarimala hill shrine) to a UAE based firm is doing the rounds on social media platforms. The post carries an image of a packaged food material with a label- ‘Aravana Payasam’ & ‘halal’ and additional text in what appears to be Arabic. A quick fact check by Newschecker has revealed that the claim is not true and misleading.
The viral post has been shared on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Few users also enquired about the veracity of the claim in ‘social question-&-answer’ platform Quora. The controversy comes as the hill shrine is set to reopen on Monday, 15th November for the annual pilgrimage season.
Most forwards carry a screengrab of an FB post by one Ramaiyer Srinivasan, where he claims that the ‘Kerala Devaswom Board awarded the tender to a Muslim’. It continues to say that the company ‘did not hesitate to insult the tradition by not only calling it an Arabic name but terming it halal too.’ The post also contained a ‘plea to all Hindus’ to reject the prasadam.
The post was shared by multiple people on multiple platforms, with many expressing outrage at the alleged granting of tender to the UAE based firm Al Zahaa (whose name appears on the packaging), while others expressed shock at the halal certification.
The viral posts also triggered a petition on Change.org, which called upon the Kerala government to request a GI tag for the product, preventing commercial exploitation.
The Aravana Payasam
The Aravana Payasam is a sweet dish typical to Kerala, offered to deities in temples across the state. However, owing to its distinctive taste, it has developed a unique association with the Sabarimala hill shrine.
On first look, the package does not contain ‘Travancore Devaswom Board’ or ‘Saranam Ayyappa’, two iconic identifiers of Aravana prasadam, on its packaging. It must also be noted that the packaging says ‘Aravana Payasam’ and not ‘Aravana Prasadam’.
To confirm if the news was true, Newschecker began by tracing the information available on the package of the so-called ‘halal Aravana Payasam’. On a Google search of the name Al Zahaa sweets, a bio of the firm on a company listings website ‘Diligencia’ pops up. An archived copy of the webpage can be accessed here.
The bio reads, ‘Based in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, Al Zahaa Sweets LLC is a Private Limited Company that was established in 2020. The organisation operates in the Food Products sector.’
Using this as a lead, Newschecker was able to track the contact information of the company. On reaching out, Al Zahaa confirmed to Newschecker that the product had no association with the temple.
“We have noted the rumors regarding our product. Ours is an LLC (Limited Liability Company), located in UAE, manufacturing different varieties of snacks and Sweets including Arabic Sweets. We manufacture our products in a very clean and hygienic environment by accomplishing the norms of Government Authorities in UAE. Our popular brand Aravana Payasam doesn’t have any connection with religion, caste, or creed. It is not at all connected with Lord Ayyappa OR Sabarimala. We don’t have any contract with any Indian or Kerala company or any board. We are selling our products in the UAE market only. Aravana refers to ‘kattipayasam’ (thick payasam),” the company told Newschecker.
Furthermore, Newschecker spoke to N Vasu, President of Travancore Devaswom Board who confirmed that the claims made in the viral post are not true. “The report is absolutely false. Aravana payasam is a prasadam (offering to the deity) that is manufactured in the facility adjoining the Sabarimala Temple by the temple authorities that is overseen by the Sabarimala Executive Officer. There is no way any tender can be given to any other organisation for manufacturing the Prasadam,” he said.
Sunil Arumanoor, Travancore Devaswom Board PRO, said, “Aravana is prepared by the staff of Travancore Devaswom Board. There is a facility for the manufacture of the prasadam at Sabarimala itself.”
A Malayalam YouTube video featuring the same Aravana Payasam manufactured by Al Zaaha uploaded by handle Silent Springs on October 3 further proves that the product is intended to be sold for overseas Keralites. The presenter describes her love for the dish and reveals that it was made in UAE and sold there.
It has to be noted that the controversy over ‘Aravana’ brand name is not new. In 2007, Singapore based Wilmar International had tried to patent the brand name.
A viral post showing a packaged product with the Arabic writings on the label, with the claim that the tender for manufacture of the iconic Aravana Payasam was now given to a UAE based company, is misleading.