Observing religious rituals, at times, borders on cruelty and horror. Children sporting miniature ‘vels’ (steel spears) piercing through their cheeks is no pleasant sight. Yet it continues to be performed at many temples in Chennai and elsewhere during the Tamil month of ‘Aadi’.A group of children, mostly attired in shades of yellow and adorned with garlands, were made to undergo this ritual at the Nagavalli Amman temple in Chennai’s Kodambakkam area on Friday. They were not alone as adult men and women too endured the pain to perform it in fulfillment of a vow.”We do it out of faith. Initially, we feel pain but it subsides subsequently… the deity protects our children. I have done it (piercing) myself and for my children,” K. Mahendran, an auto driver said.Devotees piercing spears and swords in their bodies and dancing in groups on the way to Murugan and Amman shrines is common not only in the state but wherever the Tamils are settled – Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.This is part of the annual ‘Panguni Uthiram’ festival of Lord Murugan (Subrahmanya) in the Saivite calendar. Similar is the case during the local festivals of Amman, mother goddess, in the month of ‘Aadi’, which falls between July and August.Child right activists have raised concern over the practice. Any such ritual is a gross violation of the Child Protection Act, 1999, they said, demanding a ban on it.