Sabarimala: Religion, Discrimination or Unnecessary Hyped Feminism?
Sabarimala Shree Dharmasastha temple, located at Sabarimala inside Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, is dedicated to the Hindu celibate deity Ayyappan, who according to believe is the son of Shiva and feminine incarnation of Vishnu. Because of the celibate and pure nature of the deity Ayyappan , a strict vratham needs to be followed by the devotees before pilgrimage.
This Vratham is 41 days austerity period which begins with wearing Mala of Rudraksha or Tulsi beads, then following lactovegetarian diet, following celibacy, teetotalism, no use of any profanity, controlling anger, bathing twice a day and visiting local temples regularly. All these fall under the rituals related to deity Ayyappan and the devotees of Lord Ayyappa perform it with utmost faith and sanctity.
Entry of women of menstruating age (10-50 years age group) is also prohibited in Sabarimala because of the same celibacy nature of the deity in the temple.
This is a custom and practice followed in Sabarimala just out of the belief related to the deity and if it is understood closely it can be inferred that this doesn’t fall under any state of discrimination. A true women devotee who understands and respects the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa would never ever urge to enter the shrine.
1991, Kerala high court verdict:
In 1990 a PIL was filed in Kerala high court for this supposedly discriminatory practice and to seek legal permission to allow women of all age to enter the shrine premises and offer prayers. The verdict of Kerala high court came in 1991 where justices K. Paripoornan and K. Balanarayana Marar banned entry of women between 10-50 years stating :
“Such restriction (restriction of women entry) imposed by the Devaswom Board is not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. Such restriction is also not violative of the provisions of Hindu Place of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 since there is no restriction between one section and another section or between one class and another class among the Hindus in the matter of entry to a temple whereas the prohibition is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class.”
28 September 2018, Supreme Court verdict:
The Supreme Court has struck down a rule that disallowed girls and women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Chief Justice Dipak Misra-headed Constitution bench in a 4-1 verdict said the temple rule violated their right to equality and right to worship. The only note of dissent came from the lone woman judge on the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra.
“We have no hesitation in saying that such an exclusionary practice violates the right of women to visit and enter a temple to freely practice Hindu religion and to exhibit her devotion towards Lord Ayyappa. The denial of this right to women significantly denudes them of their right to worship,” the court said. Justices AM Khanwilkar, RF Nariman concurred with the CJI.
Justice DY Chandrachud termed the custom as a form of “untouchability” which cannot be allowed under the Constitution. “Article 17 certainly applies to untouchability practices in relation to lower castes, but it will also apply to the systemic humiliation, exclusion, and subjugation faced by women.”
“Prejudice against women based on notions of impurity and pollution associated with menstruation is a symbol of exclusion. The social exclusion of women based on menstrual status is a form of untouchability which is an anathema to constitutional values.”
In any event, he said, the practice of excluding women from the temple at Sabarimala is not an essential religious practice. “The court must decline to grant constitutional legitimacy to practices which derogate from the dignity of women and to their entitlement to equal citizenship.
Notions of ‘purity and pollution’, which stigmatize individuals, have no place in a constitutional order.” Justice Malhotra batted for letting faith be, however irrational. “In a secular polity, issues which are matters of deep religious faith and sentiment must not ordinarily be interfered with by courts.” She, however, drew the line at pernicious practices such as Sati.
She said a secular polity must allow heterogeneity in religion, allow diverse forms of worship, even if irrational, insisting that courts must not enter into areas of faith.
“Constitutional morality in a secular polity would imply harmonization of fundamental rights, which include the right of every individual, religious denomination, or sect, to practice their faith and belief in accordance with the tenets of their religion, irrespective of whether the practice is rational or logical.”
The majority rejected all the arguments of the temple board which had resisted allowing women of all ages. This included an argument that it was an age-old practice and an essential practice of Hindu religion and that followers of Ayyappa were a separate denomination.
On the contrary, it is an essential part of the Hindu religion to allow Hindu women to enter a temple as devotees, the bench said.
Chandrachud said all individuals were created equal. “To exclude women from worship by allowing the right to worship to men is to place women in a position of subordination. The Constitution should not become an instrument for the perpetuation of patriarchy.”
So the case was all about supposedly discrimination against women just because a particular age group of women is not allowed in the temple. A case was filed and so many years were spent by women activists to fight against it. But the following are the list of temples where men are not allowed because of the same reason as in Sabarimala- Faiths and beliefs related to the Deity in the temple.
The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, a temple located in Kerala that worships women, has made it to the 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 that sees the largest gathering of women during the festival.
Another temple located in Kerala that worships Goddess Bhagavathi and observes an annual ritual called ‘Naari Puja‘ in which the 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.
Santoshi Maa ‘Vrat’:
The ‘vrat‘ for Santoshi Maa is observed strictly by women or unmarried girls. They are prohibited to eat sour fruits or pickles during that period. Males are allowed to enter the temple to worship the goddess but are strictly prohibited from entering the premises on Fridays.
Lord Brahma Temple:
This 14th-century temple located 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 trouble will arise in his marital life.”
This is the reason men are not allowed to enter this temple.
Bhagati Maa Temple:
This temple, located 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. Due to these reasons, sanyasi men are allowed till the gate of the temple, while married men are prohibited from entering the premises.
During a particular period, men are strictly prohibited to enter this temple located in Muzaffarpur in Bihar. The rules are so strict that even a male priest is not allowed to enter the premises. Only women are allowed to enter this temple during that particular period.
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. It is said that Lord Vishnu had cut Maa Sati with his Sudarshan Chakra due to which her waist fell on the spot where the temple has been built.
But strikingly, no case is filed till date for allowing entry of men in these temples. Is the word ‘discrimination’ coined only for women and not for men?
The point is that pertaining to the religious beliefs, these rules were made for these temples. Unless and until these religious beliefs are not harming anyone in person, there should not be any intervention of court or law. Neither these traditions should not be considered as a practice of discrimination in any possible way.
If Sabarimala doesn’t allow women because of the celibacy of Ayyappa then it should be accepted with equal respect as the tradition of not allowing men in the above-mentioned temples is accepted.
And talking about the Hindu religion, it has never considered any gender as untouchable or weak. If it has spoken about powerful and mighty Shiva, it has also held the fierce Durga as Goddess of strength. If Hindu religion would have considered menstruation as impure, Kamakhya Devi temple would not have been considered as holy ever. Hindu religion is a religion rich with numerous cultures, traditions, practices, and beliefs where everyone is considered equal and every tradition has its own beauty.
The urge to allow women to enter the temple premises in Sabarimala is just unnecessary and a hyped case of feminism which has, unfortunately, mixed tradition and beliefs related to the deity with the practice of discrimination.
Discrimination would have been the case if women would not have been allowed to enter any temple premises all over India and the world.
But it is evidently not a case. The question is – was the entry of women of all ages in Sabarimala abolishing all the beliefs related to Lord Ayyappa, really that important? This simple stubbornness has led to such a burning issue which is really shameful for a diverse and secular country like India. It’s true that every individual is equal and have right to follow religion as per Indian Constitution, but it’s also quintessential to respect the sentiments and the traditions of the temples which are being followed for decades as per the deity of that temple. Amendments should be called for only if any religious practice cause harm to anyone.
If Sabarimala is barring the entry of women, then there are hundreds of other temples which allow them. Such hue and cry to allow women to enter Sabarimala could have been averted for maintaining a peaceful environment and the dignity of Lord Ayyappa. No religion preaches violence after all!