SC refers Sabarimala women's entry case to Constitution bench

The Supreme Court referred the question of entry of women to the Sabarimala shrine to a five-judge Constitution Bench. The nature of the judgement brought forth the complexity of the case which has been waiting for a conclusive decision for long. The arguments made by the #Righttopray and #Readytowait camps have paved an opportunity to revisit old traditions and understand its relevance in the presence times.
The camp that has been advocating the entry of women has been doing so on the principles of freedom of religion and empowerment of women. A question that has been asked time and again by this camp is whether a statutory body like the Travancore Devasom Board can have the power to arbitrarily decide that women belonging to the age group 10-50 cannot enter the Sabarimala Temple. The fact that such a decision can have its roots in the notion of menstruating women being considered “impure” which contributes to the larger issue of oppression of women has been a deep cause of concern.
However, the opposing camp has brushed aside these arguments stating that there are profound reasons behind age-old traditions and the practices followed by the temple are based on the principles of Tantra Shastra. Drawing on the belief that the presiding diety is a naisthika bhrahmachari, this camp has constantly called for showing respect to the rights of the deity.
A 1991 judgement by the Supreme Court supported this view and security forces were deployed at the river Pamba to bar the entry of women beyond a particular point. It also needs to be noted that Sabarimala is among the country’s most secular temples allowing the entry of people belonging to all faiths and castes. It is believed that the rigorous 41-day penance that the devotees need to undertake is also among the reasons why women belonging to a particular age group are not allowed in the temple. In addition to this, clear connections have been drawn to the science of temple construction as mentioned in the Agama Shastra and restriction on the entry of women. It is thought that when menstruating women come in contact with the energy of the Sabarimala temple, the entire energy of the place transforms and hinders the spiritual experience.
Yet the question asked by Supreme Court whether spirituality is the exclusive domain of men needs much pondering over. Hinduism as a religion has withstood the test of time for constantly evolving and giving space for new strands of thought. It is well documented that in vedic times women wore sacred thread and read Vedas. Another important fact that needs to be considered here is that it is only after the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936 by the Maharaja of Travancore that the monthly menstrual cycle of women came to be formally acknowledged as “impure”. Ironically, this is the very same proclamation that rewrote history by letting the lower castes access temples thereby ushering in a new era of social reforms.
Now with the case referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench, there is hope that the court will find a balance between the constitutional rights of the deity as well as the devotees. Let challenging the centuries old tradition prove to be a first step in dwelling deep into Hinduism as a school of thought and spiritually awaken oneself to gain an understanding of its tenets.

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