In a U-turn, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala on Monday informed the Supreme Court that it favoured the entry of women of all age groups in the historic Sabarimala temple in the state.
The State’s stand was vehemently opposed by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which said the government cannot change its stand according to its convenience.
Women aged between 10 and 50 (menstrual age) are not allowed in the famous Sabarimala Ayyappa temple situated on a hilltop in Kerala because the deity is a celibate (Naisthik Brahmachari).
Initially, the LDF government had taken a progressive stand in 2007 by favouring women’s entry in the temple, which was over-turned by the Congress-led United Democratic Front dispensation later.
The Chandy government had told the SC that beliefs and customs of devotees cannot be changed through a judicial process and that the opinion of the priests is final in matters of religion.
In fact, the Left government under VS Achuthanandan had taken a similar stand as that adopted by the Pinarayi government, before the Chandy government changed its stand.
“Can a biological phenomenon be ground for discrimination?” a bench headed by justice Dipak Misra had earlier asked temple management that contended the ban on entry of women was because they cannot maintain purity for 41 days – the duration of the pilgrimage.
“You are making distinction based on purity… Now the question is whether the Constitutional principles allow this?” the bench had said. It told the board that the tests of austere applied for men should be the same for women.
The Kerala government’s U-turn comes just days ahead of the start of the three-month-long ‘mandala pooja’ and ‘makaravilakku’ pilgrimage season at the Sabarimala temple on November 15.
The deity’s mythical foster-father, the Raja of Panthala, also opposed the State’s latest position, saying the public faith in the customs and legend of the temple is “deep-rooted”.
The Supreme Court on February 12, questioned the practice of banning women from Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, and wondered if man-made customs can prescribe such prohibition when “the God does not discriminate between men and women”.