The Nation is closing watching what is happening in the God’s own country, the world famous Shrine Sabarimala is in the news from September 28 when the Apex Court permitted young women entry into the shrine. There are umpteen queries regarding the practice of this unique temple which is being showcased as a centre of discrimination but to unearth the real facts little pain has be put in. The strange theories of discrimination and differentiation have no place at all in this discourse. Kerala is a land of thousands of temple which follows thousand unique practices any attempt to see these temples through the biased prism of gender would bring in catastrophic results.
The Sabarimala Temple is distinct in several aspects, the deity, Lord Ayyappa, son of Lord Shiva and Mohini (Vishnu) is a perpetual celibate, moreover, the deity opted the wilderness and permitted the devotees to visit him once in an year, after observing the religious penance of 41 days. The (Mandala Vrat), the religious penance, brings in a drastic change in the diet of the devotee and further revamps the daily course of a devotee.
The devotee accepts mudra from a Guru and abstains from carnal pleasures, adheres to the religious practices strictly, the religious penance changes the course of life for 41 days, which is considered as a re-inventing period of self. The penance and the Darshan of Lord Ayyappa are inseparable and the penance culminates with the Darshan of Lord. The custom has been continuing from time immemorial, the “Darshan” in Sabarimala is strictly based on the “Mandala Vrat” (religious penance)of 41 days.
It’s absolutely wrong that women are totally prohibited from entering the Sabarimala Shrine, as per the customs, the girl child below 10 years and women who by passed the age of 50 used to have Darshan, as the Lord Ayyappa a perpetual celebate ( Naishtik Brahmachary) see women only in two forms one as a child and other as a mother. The custom has nothing to do with menstruation or any discrimination arising out of it as there are many temples which celebrate the menstrual cycle of Goddess in Kerala, like Chengannur Temple. Out of Devotion to Lord Ayyappa, the women as such, never tried to forcibly enter the temple, rather waited for their turn, to again visit the temple after their childhood visit.The “long wait” has never been considered as a “forcible ban” which the women folk tried to break all these years, rather it came from the inner hearts, it was a self imposed restriction born out of supreme devotion to the Lord Ayyappa. The practice is not part of any discrimination rather a unique practice of a unique temple, there are many other temples which give preference to women over men, like Attukal Temple. The famous Mannarasala Nagaraja Temple, appoints only a woman as Chief Priest and no man can ascend to the said position. These practices are unique temple practices based on the localized custom and traditions, the issue of discrimination doesn’t arise at all.
The Supreme Court’s five-judge Bench on 28th September ruled in favour of the entry of women irrespective of their age in the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple. The Supreme Court struck down the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 which violated the right of Hindu women to practice religion, being un-Constitutional.
The State of Kerala and the Travancore Devaswom Board which is administering the shrine backed out from preferring a Review Petition before the Supreme Court. The State of Kerala had ignored the religious faith of the crores of Ayyappa Devotees and had submitted affidavits which suits their political ideology and compromised their duty to properly inform the Court. The discharging of duty to the Hon’ble Court is of utmost important and it very much included the duty to inform about various unique practices prevailing in the same geographical area and the uniqueness of the southern temple rituals.
The temples like Attukal Bhagwati temple has its place in guiness book of record for the largest gathering of women devotees in the world for Pongala festival. It’s pertinent to mention that men are not allowed in this gathering for offering Pongala. If this is viewed through the prism of gender, the men shall also be allowed and this would shatter a unique festival of women, no one ever demanded it because it’s a unique practice respected and revered from immemorial past. The preference given to women over men shall not be seen as putting men on a lower pedestal but as a unique ritual but the way things are going now, sows seeds of apprehension that everywhere gender is being dragged and the false notions patriarchal chain is brought in which is nothing but born out of sheer ignorance. For understanding every society and its practices it has to be closely observed, it has to be practically felt any superficial assumption without deeply understanding it may bring terrible results.
The Devotees and various organizations have preferred Review Petitions before the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the same shall be considered on 22 of January. Since the Hon’ble Court has decided to hear the Review Petition it would have been a great service to the society had the Government exercised restraint till the matter is decided by the Apex Court. It should not have used State machinery to push atheist women into the temple ignoring the fervent pleas of Ayyappa Devotees to not do so. It’s easy to ignite fire, but it’s a mammoth task to douse the flames, a little restraint would have served the goals of justice and the spirit of democracy.