Sabarimala: Lord Ayyappa’s vows v/s the selected ladies’ woes
Although known for traditions existing from the most primordial times to relentlessly being carried forward, our country is also one of the unfortunate few that are embroiled in never ending legal battles. The infamous Supreme Court (SC) verdicts have a way to seep into our psyche while they remain in the society for ages, as if an antidote to tradition itself.
It was the decade of 1990s that the Sabarimala row became part of the social consciousness. In 1991, the Kerala High Court upheld the ban on entry of women and directed Devasom Board to implement it. Fast forward to 2019, the SC verdict only seems to make the waters murkier. Some news channels play the devotees’ pleas, requesting women to adhere to the age-old traditions, on loop. While many others run debates with the ball being bounced to and fro, and never finding a resting place in either’s court.
If one delves deeper into meanings accorded to meticulously followed rituals one would realize that the temple structures across South India follow a certain repertoire based on a set of beliefs. The location of a temple is chosen along the magnetic lines of the earth and it is done so to contain the energy field that the idol emits and further resonates. It goes beyond debate then that the geographical location plays a significant role in the establishment of a temple. The Garba Griha or Sanctum Sanctorum is placed with utmost precaution, keeping in mind intricate details in the course of spirituality. In particular the Sabarimala temple has a long tradition, part of which resembles the aforementioned rituals. Women in the age bracket of 15-50 years are prone to experience energy disruptions should they enter the temple premises during their menstrual period.
More importantly, it has come to surface that the Sabarimala temple is built in reverence to Lord Ayyappa who is believed to have taken Naishtika Brahmacharya, which translates to lifelong celibacy. For worshippers and even atheists living in India, it is no rocket science to understand that every god in the Hindu pantheon is worshipped for particular characteristics they come to portray. To call lord Ayyappa prejudiced for avowing to brahmacharya is rather polemic. As if to pacify the female devotees, Lord Ayyappa has a dozen more temples in Kerala itself.
The larger question here is whether the vision towards the traditions is narrow or the tradition itself? It is appalling to see women entering the temple on whims and not in adherence to a belief system in whose name they enter. Justice Indu Malhotra’s opinion needs to be specially highlighted here. As a devoted lawyer should do, she upheld the constitutional value that states ‘Secularism’ as the binding fabric of our country. She categorically mentions that if the rule of gender equality is to be applied to a certain temple, then it must have to be extended to all places of worship across every other religion and that amounts to intrusion of State in the matters of religion.
Hinduism encapsulates both the sacred and profane elements of religion and it is reflective in the practices that are followed by devotees religiously. It not only reveres menstrual blood which is otherwise considered profane, it also encourages worship of Goddesses such as the Kamakhya Devi temple in Assam. It is needless to argue then that the religion respects women, and menstrual blood is indeed considered sacred. The neo-feminazi debates surrounding empowerment of women are as hollow as a rotten bitter gourd. It seems a new trend has gone viral such that it leaves people bereft of common sense, prodding them to never use their mental faculties. The subtle line between fighting for equal rights and fighting against every tradition in the name of equal rights is what most transgress in ignorance. The latter is an extremist fad which contains within itself the perils of a sad demise. When one collates Sati to Sabarimala what they are essentially collating is a widespread conscience collective to a narrow traditional practice pertaining to an individual temple. While both should be open to scrutiny in an evolving society, the quest to understand the meaning should not be a biased one.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca quotes, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”. While the debate on common versus wise people is for another day, I believe the political subterfuge is surely relevant in this case. In matters of religion and faith, India has been constitutionally established as a secular country where politics and religion are not to be combined. However truth is stranger than fiction and what happens in India is undecipherable not just for the common populace but the wise as well. The Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s intrusion in the matters of Devasom board and the SC not only look ill placed but raise concerns of political mileage that the rulers earn through religious route in our country.
The SC verdict is eagerly awaited and the well educated folks of Kerala know how to voice dissent however it is my earnest plea to women across India to understand the subtleties that revolve our tradition and the path to empowerment. It would be quite a despondent situation if the real battle towards empowerment of women gets entangled in the quagmire of feminist fad that is far from the resemblance of fair war.