Monday, January 11, 2016

Entry for women at the Sabarimala shrine.

Taking up a 10 year old petition filed by women lawyers questioning the existing practice of banning women - in menstruating age - into the shrine, a bench of the Supreme Court has asked the Travancore Devaswom Board which administers the temple as to whether the Constitution permitted such discriminatory practices. The court has underscored its query based on "Constitutional legitimacy superseding all religious beliefs or practices."

Moreover, Articles 25 and 26(Right to practice and profess any religion) provide a protective umbrella to all the citizens, in this regard. 

The background to the differing opinions.

The previous LDF government, in 2008, had filed an affidavit supporting the PIL filed by the women lawyers highlighting the following points:-

    (a) Banning entry of women of menstruating age was discriminatory and should be discontinued.
    (b) Everyone is entitled to freedom of conscience and the Constitution gives right to worship 
          equally to one and all.
    (c) Those who're physically able to come to Sabarimala should be permitted to worship at the
    (d) The deity is not anti-woman and therefore,
    (e) An appropriate commission consisting of eminent scholars with authentic knowledge in
         Hinduism and reputed and incorrupt social reformers to submit views and suggestions on the
Note. The suggestion at sl(e) is so full of riders that the petition is assured of a long and tortuous path before it finds a logical conclusion.

It's reported that the present UDF government has decided to oppose the entry of women of all ages for the following reasons:-

      (a) It would upset the age old rituals and customs of the temple.
      (b) The temple and the deity are unique in every sense. Lord Ayyappa is known to be a celibate
            and consequently, only youthful women are denied entry.
      (c) The site of the temple on a secluded hill top, whose access is through partially cleared forest
            land, also needs to be taken into consideration on account of the safety and security of 

My take.

The customs and traditions revolving Sabarimala or for that matter, any religious place of worship have been handed over the ages by the word of mouth. It may be surmised that the worshippers and the priests might have added rituals to suit their own personal agenda, though I must hasten to add that this a very personal conjecture. The fundamental question is as to whether we need to upset the apple cart and create confusion among the devotees.

Talking about the rituals connected with the Sabarimala pilgrimage, these are the things that I've been told by my elders - with the reasons in italics - as I grew up:-

       (a) Abstinence from the daily indulgences from the 1st of the Malayalam month of 'Vrishchikom'
            (Roughly around the middle of Nov) to the 1st of 'Makaram'(The middle of Jan). Therefore,
            intoxicants of any variety, non vegetarian food and physical relationship with the fairer sex
            are taboo. Intoxicants and non vegetarian food tend to enhance carnal desires.
       (b) Must have bath twice daily, once in the morning and the second in the evening. A clean 
             mind in a clean body accentuated with visits to the temple.
       (c) Black dhoti, along with the chain of beads around the neck, are a must. In the days of old, 
             when the joint family system was in vogue, the adornment of these symbols warned everyone
             else, especially the menstruating women, to stay out of the vicinity.
       (d) No haircuts, no shaves. The unruly, dishevelled hair as well as the unshaven facial hair
             was to put the fairer sex off, thanks to the uncouth sight that they presented!
And following them - to the extent feasible and when somewhere in time, the joint family system had become a thing of the past and the 'flat living culture' had come into vogue - I'd visited the shrine 18 times, on the trot!


These days I follow the 'abstinence bit' during the period without the pilgrimage to the shrine but I must confess that this time, I'd broken my vows twice - during the get togethers of the classmates, followed by that of the course mates.

Flexibility in my religious practices, eh?



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