Sabarimala is not the only temple in India where women above the age of 12 and under 60 are not allowed into the precincts. It doesn’t take a genius to know the reason for this strange practice. Women are barred from these places as they are considered to be impure due to a natural bodily function - the menstrual cycle. This is an age-old practice. But we live in the 21st century. We need to change with the times. However, the men in our society still live in a world that we inhabited hundreds of years ago. They are of the opinion that if there is a practice that has been followed for centuries, it needs to be carried forward in the name of tradition and culture.
They forget the root of religion. No God or, for that matter, religious books differentiate between a man and a woman. A bhakt is a bhakt. He is not discriminating between a man and a woman. Each one of us has a one-on-one relationship with God and nobody can take that away or have the power to keep anyone from a place of worship.
People feel that to carry forward what was done in the past, there is need to do the same in this day and age despite the advancements that have been made. The problem lies with the so-called contractors of religion. To dominate women, they continue to follow certain rituals. Fear is used as a tool. Followers are regaled with stories of horror that would not only fall on the individual but also religion if there is a deviation from a norm adhered to in the past.
Let us take another case. Our fight in Shani Shignapur was on similar lines. Women were debarred from entering the inner sanctum of this temple. We were told that untold horrors would befall upon us like Shani Dev would get angry and wreak havoc in our lives if we even attempted to enter it. We were threatened. A fear psychosis was used to deter us. The local police prevented us from entering the sanctum. The villagers, too, were against us. The temple trustees told us that what women were doing was wrong. We had no authority to enter the temple and that we were breaking a 400-year-old practice.
But there was one good thing that stood in our favour after the High Court order in April 2016. While the villagers still don’t enter the sanctum, they don't prevent other women from entering. There was a complete change in the mindset of the people. They understood that women too have the right to pray. Since then, several thousand women have visited the temple and prayed inside the Shila.
Unfortunately, this has not happened in Sabarimala where the dharam ke contractors and those opposing it have failed to change their mindset. Our (women) only request to them is that if they don’t want their womenfolk in that particular age group to enter the temple premises, they can follow the age-old rule but let other women who want to pray enter.
India is not run on what religion says. It is run on Constitutional guidelines. Our Constitution has given us Right to Equality so why not let us exercise this right? In Sabarimala, people continue to follow a draconian attitude and are not willing to follow the Supreme Court order, the highest court of law in the country. There is no way that the order can be ignored. We talk and read of new India. How do people in this country achieve this, if we don’t change our mindset?
If it is all about following traditions and practices that are over 400 years old, why are these people using mobiles? They should go back to the days when pigeons were used to send messages. Why are these people travelling in fancy cars? Why not travel in bullock-carts?
Women today hold high positions — from being the President of the country to winning medals at the Olympics to being CEOs of companies. This is the kind of change in new India. Was all this possible if we had continued to follow practices that are wrong. Did we not stop Sati and Johar? They were wrong practices and were rightly discontinued.
This doesn’t mean that I am not in favour in keeping our traditions and culture alive. I follow all traditions that are progressive in nature. There are several good practices that have put India on the global map. All wrong needs to be corrected. Take our Gods. Shiv is always equated with Shakti. We take the name of Krishna with Radha. Somewhere down the line, we have forgotten the essence of what was written in The Vedas.
This doesn’t mean that all men have a mindset that women need to be subjugated. There were several hundreds of men who were with us in our andolan. They opine that if they have the right to pray why should their wives, mothers, daughters or sisters not be given the same right. It is just 10 per cent of men who still want to keep women away from temples where they are not allowed.
I, too, was not allowed to enter the premises and stopped 155 km from the Sabarimala temple. The way the Sabarimala issue has been handled is all wrong. Why target the families of the women who tried to enter the temple? Why trash their homes? Why threaten them?
Women need to understand the importance of equality that has been given to us. Praying is just a small part of the bigger picture. If there is any place where we are not treated equally, we need to assert ourselves. There will be challenges and roadblocks but we need to stand firm and fight for our rights. We can’t give up because there are problems. No one will come forward to fight our wars. We have to do that ourselves.
Men need to change their mindset. After all, they take birth from a womb. If a mother, daughter, wife or sister is being discriminated against, they need to stand by them and start fighting for women’s rights. They can do so by showing respect to their womenfolk at home.
(The writer is Author of the right of women to pray movement)
- The Sabarimala temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately 15 November to 26 December), Makaravilakku (14 January — Makar Sankranti ) and Maha Vishuva Sankranti (14 April), and the first five days of each Malayalam month.
- Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 61 km) from Erumely,12.8 km from Vandiperiyar and 8 km from Chalakayam, believed to be taken by Ayyappa himself.
- Thazhamon Madom is the traditional priest family who has power over the matters to be decided in Sabarimala Temple. Tantri is the highest priest and is the head of the temple.
Men Not Allowed
Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Kerala worships women. It finds a mention in Guinness Book of World Records for hosting the Pongala festival which sees around three million women participate. Men are not allowed to enter the temple.
Chakkulathukavu Temple in Kerala that worships Goddess Bhagavathi observes an annual ritual called Naari Puja. Male priest washes the feet of women devotees fasting for 10 days on the first Friday of December. The day is called Dhanu. During Naari Puja only women are allowed to enter the temple.
Lord Brahma Temple in Pushkar in Rajasthan prohibits married men from entering its premises. This is the only Brahma temple in the world. The Puranas suggest that Lord Brahma had performed a yagna at Pushkar Lake with his wife Goddess Saraswati who got late for the event. Therefore, Lord Brahma married Goddess Gayatri and performed the ritual due to which Goddess Saraswati cursed the temple saying that no married man is allowed to visit the inner sanctum otherwise a trouble will arise in his marital life.
Bhagati Maa Temple in Kanyakumari, worships Kanya Maa Bhagawati Durga who is said to have gone to an isolated area in the middle of the ocean for tapasya so that she could ask for Lord Shiva as her husband. According to the Puranas, the spine of a Sati fell on the shrine. The goddess is also known as the Goddess of Sanyasa. Therefore, while sanyasi men are allowed till the gate of the temple, married men are prohibited from entering the premises
Trimbakeshwar Temple, Nasik in Maharashtra. Women were not allowed to enter the inner sanctum of this temple devoted to Lord Shiva till 2016. Therefore, the Bombay High Court passed an order saying that even men shouldn’t be allowed to enter the inner sanctum if women are not allowed.
On certain said days, men are prohibited from entering the Mata Temple in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. So much so that even priests can’t enter. Only women are allowed inside.
Kamrup Kamakhya Temple, Assam. This temple permits only women to enter its premises during their menstrual cycle. Only female priests or sanyasis serve the temple where the menstrual cloth of Maa Sati is considered highly auspicious and is distributed to the devotees.
Ayyappa’s Ram Connect
The Sabarimala temple is also connected to Lord Ram. According to a legend, the name Sabarimala is derived from Shabari, a tribal devotee of Lord Ram mentioned in the Ramayana. Sabarimala literally means the hill of Sabari. Lord Ram had come to meet Shabari as her Guru Rishi Matanga had predicted. Lord Rama noticed a divine person doing penance and asked Shabari who it was. Shabari said it was Sastha (Lord Ayyappa).
The issue surrounding age restrictions on entry of women to Sabarimala Temple came up for the first time in Kerala High Court in 1990 when S Mahendaran of Perunna in Kottayam moved a petition, alleging that young women were trekking to Sabarimala and offering prayers at the temple. The court converted the petition into a public interest litigation and had then ruled that the age restrictions do not violate fundamental rights and directed the temple board to allow women in the 10-50 years age group to trek to the temple.
Another controversy surfaced in 2006, when Jayamala, a Kannada actor, claimed that she had entered the sanctum sanctorum and touched the idol of the presiding deity in Sabarimala. The incident created a storm. The Kerala Government had to order a probe but the case was later dropped.
The shrine of Sabarimala is an ancient temple. It is believed that the prince of Pandalam dynasty, an avatar of Ayyappan, meditated at Sabarimala temple and became one with the divine. As per the temple history, the Sastha temple at Sabarimala is one of the five temples founded by Lord Parasurama.
- Lord Ayappa is not a separate denomination
- To treat women as lesser children of God is blinking at the Constitution
- Rules based on biological characteristics will not muster constitution
- If a Constitution has a meaning can it allow what's derogatory to women?
- Social exclusion of women on menstruation is untouchability and is anathema to the Constitution
- In earlier days, prohibition was because of nature and the notion of women as the weaker sex
- The practice of age restriction on women's entry to Sabarimala Temple can't be treated as an essential religious practice
- Impose man’s celibacy on women is to deny women rights and the constitution doesn't recognize such rights
- Dignity of individual is an unwavering nature of fundamental rights
- Path for the future: Whether Constitution will permit which is derogatory to women
- The temple has witnessed two major stampedes that have claimed over 200 lives. On January 14, 1999, a stampede on the foothills of Sabarimala killed 53 and another 104 pilgrims died on Makara Jyothi Day at Sabarimala in 2011.
- At least 20 Sabarimala pilgrims were injured in a ‘minor stampede’ in December, 2016 due to a heavy rush of devotees.
- Sabarimala is the second largest seasonal pilgrimage after the Islamic holy site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. An estimated 3.5 crore pilgrims visited the shrine last year and the total revenue collection of the Lord Ayyappa temple for the 2016-17 festival season was Rs 243.69 crore, according to the Government.
- It is said that the pilgrims have to fast for 41 days to cleanse their minds before going to Sabarimala.