utting an end to a centuries-old tradition, the Supreme Court ruled that women, irrespective of age, could enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. The dissent to the verdict shows the depth of patriarchal indoctrination. God, who created both man and woman, will never discriminate between them. The ban is more of a social aspect than religious. Supreme Court’s verdict is a good intervention, but there is a spiritual motive behind this ban in the temple. Sabarimala allows millions of females to visit every year but there is an age bar – one can go there before the age of 10 and after the age of 50. Sabarimala doesn’t distinguish people on the base of religion, unlike other temples in Kerala. It is not actually related to menstruation. Because I have seen girls menstruated before 10 and some ladies’ periods don’t stop even after 50 and they seek darshan.
Sabarimala is opened for a very few days in the entire year. In those days, every devotee visiting Ayyappa shrine are called as Ayyappa or swami and they all have to wear the same kind of clothing – Black dhoti with no shirt. This uniformity in devotees is a speciality of Sabarimala Ayyappa temple and no one questions it. Everyone should have the same kind of bag (its actually not a commercial bag that we see around – but a cloth bag) and hence the rich, poor, middle-class – everyone looks the same. No distinction at all. Before entering Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, there is another temple where the devotees go. It’s the temple of goddess Malikappurathamma. Malikappurathamma loved Ayyappan and wanted to marry him. But, Ayyappan said, “I have already decided to be a Naishtika Brahmachari. So I’ll not be able to marry you. But, if there is a time when Kanni Ayyappans (First Time Sabarimala Visitors) stop coming to visit me, then at that time, I’ll marry you.” Till, then, Ayyappan did not want young women to come and see him. Because of the love and care, he had for Malikappurathamma, if we believe religious scripture then this was the decision taken. And the tradition is carried out for 1000s of years.
Apart from this, there is another story behind this ban, the temple belongs to Ayyappan (who is considered to be born of the union of forces of Lord Shiva and Vishnu as Mohini). Ayyappa is celibate so that he can focus on answering the prayers of his devotees. According to the religious scriptures, Ayyappa was born to destroy a female demon that, thanks to a boon, could only be vanquished by a child born of both Shiva and Vishnu. When Ayyappa fulfills his destiny by killing her, a beautiful woman emerges from the body. She had been cursed to live as a demon, but her killing reversed the curse. And that is why women do not go to Sabarimala. It is partly out of empathy for Malikapurathamma and her eternal wait and it’s also out of respect for Ayyappa’s commitment to answer the prayers of his devotees. Since he is a celibate, he should not be distracted. Anyone who goes to Sabarimala knows this. The spiritual scripts are written ages ago and the tradition to follow is also very old and we, the Hindus, are conditioned to follow certain principles in the name of religion. There is no logic or reasoning to it.
Now, it would be interesting to see what the Supreme Court says in its judgements after considering the conflict between the historical background and that of equality.
So picking up the logics from scriptures, the rules were formed. The devotees of Ayyappa wear beads around their neck and fast by following the strict regime for 41 days. They practice self-control during the whole period, which includes celibacy (no self-pleasure). The authorities are worried that if young women accompany them during their journey, they would feel distracted. Moreover, a woman during her periods is considered to be impure. The 41-day fasting would include the menstrual cycle. So young women should not participate in Mandala pooja of Sabarimala temple. But why are periods considered impure? We have blood running through all the veins of our body. Having periods is as natural as excretion. It is a gift from Lord to women to sustain and nurture human race. In these four days, she needs rest and care, climbing the temples and standing hours in the queue may not be advisable, so the deterrence of religious beliefs keeps her away from such hazardous practices. The path to the Sabari Mountain was not easy. It was covered full of dense forests. No sanitation facilities could be availed. It was not possible for common household women to travel with ease. So young women did not go. Slowly, it became a tradition. The shrine was constructed in the mountain regions of the Western Ghats. If you date back 600 years, the whole place was a forest. More importantly, it was a tiger land. A tiger or a carnivore can smell out a woman in periods far easily than anybody else.
But times have changed. Now there is no threat from wildlife. All facilities are available to the devotees so the tradition should also change. Changing traditions with changing times is also a beauty of Indian religious practices.
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