Aug 1, 2006

The Sabarimala Controversy.

Usually when I start writing an article,I usually think a bit about the issue, base my stand and then argue about the points..But then, I really couldn't arrive at a conclusion over this issue even after a considerable amount of thought..

Ok, lets get into the matter..A group of women lawyers have filed a PIL (public interest litigation ) against Sabarimala's ban on women . The women are taking on the Travancore Devaswom Board that has held that women between the age of 10 and 50 years are impure and hence cannot enter the temple .. Quoting Prerna Kumari , one of the advocates who gave the PIL -- "It's unfair that in this age women should be treated with such discrimination."

A little bit background about the case

A proper pilgrimage to Sabarimala means, 41 days of "Brahmacharya" , which means total abstinence from all kinds of pleasures. In its strictest sense, the men who are on the "Vratha" should lead a life of a sage desisting from non-veg food, games, comforts,sexual pleasures etc extending to various levels...Ofcourse, it is highly debatable as on who actually prescribed these.. Or are they mere human interpretations and re-interpretations of beliefs that has evolved over more than 2000 years.. It is also another matter as on how many of the men who take the pilgrimage actually go by the proper norms.. I've taken the trip twice. To be true to myself, I didnt take the 41 day course..I took it only for about 20 days properly.But whatever be it, the Sabarimala trip has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life so far...The divinity that engulfs you when you hear the song "Harivarasanam..." at Sannidhanam is so pristine that it calls me again and again to make another trip..

I talked to some people about why the ban on women was enforced..There were many explanations..Two versions are,

1) The history of Swami Ayyappa who remained a bachelor ...It is said that he's not to be disturbed by the sight of young women. Let me add here that as per the legend, Ayyappa in his life killed Mahishi ( a demon ) and freed her soul and kept here in a temple just outside the sreekovil as "Malikapurathamma". The story further goes on saying that he made a promise to her that he'll marry her at a time when "Kanni Ayyapas " ( first timers to Sabarimala ) doesnt come.. And, that obviously wouldnt happen .

2) As per the temple laws / scriptures, women having their periods are considered 'impure' to the sanctity of the temple. But then, why no other temple bans women ? Well, I got a explanation to that question too.. Women are supposed to abstain from all temples during their periods..and a vast majority of them do so .But as per the norms or scriptures at Sabarimala, anybody who wants to go there should take the 41 day 'vratha' ( penance ).. And , obviously , if a woman having periods is considered impure, then 41 days course will definitely be broken.... This rule seems to be the like the promise with the rider that Swami Ayyappa gave to Mahishi.

Aren't these unnescessary bans enforced for male hegemony ??

Arguments supporting the Ban..

"Our stand is clear. This is an age-old practice based on religious belief and it should be allowed to continue. This cannot be changed through a decision because it is based on belief."

"The temple exists on this belief. So it cannot be seen as denial of women's rights or attempt to curb their rights," said Punalur Madhu, Travancore Devaswom Board...

That too sounds convincing..

Consider what'll happen if women are allowed..

How many men can suppress an inkling of carnal desire when he interacts with a beautiful lady.. Tough.. Even if 80 % or more of the men who come at Sabarimala doesnt take the 'Vratha' in its true sense , the atmosphere there is divine..people actually turn pious there. Such is the atmosphere.. If women are allowed, then I feel, this divinity or divine atmosphere might get eroded, not because of the 'impurity', but because of natural attraction towards opposite sex from both sides.

A conclusion from my side

I dont think it is blasphemous to allow women's entry to Sabarimala..Neither do I think that periods make her impure. Tantri's who bring shame ( I dont really know if it is true or just an allegation ) to the shrine are committing sacrileges by that standard...But the point is that if entry is allowed to them, I feel the atmosphere on Sannidhaanam might get a bit troubled..Ayyappa is a God who is to be seen after taking Brahmacharya vratha..To help devotees to attain that , its nescessary that women are prevented. Just going there and seeing Ayyappa wouldnt allow you to enjoy that pristine moment..Take the Brahmacharya Vratha.The more rigorous it is, the more beneficial it is..And then go there, enjoy the divinity..



Sreejith Panickar said...

But there is another side to this also. Ladies who constantly and repeatedly shout for the remotion of ban on them for visiting Sabarimala between 10 and 50, are shouting solely to make a protest. There are many other Ayyappa temples and Pandalam temple is the most famous among them. There are no bans at these temples. How many of these shouting women come to these places for worshipping? It cannot be said that Sabarimala is under the hegemony of men. We forget the fact that women before and after their periods are allowed entry there. It is not for any such male monopoly.

Durinng their periods, women are not allowed to visit other temples too. And as you have said, it is not practical in Sabarimala during a 41 day penance.

The shoutings are made by women who want to protest for the protest. What if the males ask them to enter the temple just the way men do, topless.... How many of these shouting women will comply to it?

hope and love said...

you have laid down the arguements well..
i feel that women can visit other temples and leave sabirimala as it is..
i dont agree that women should be considered 'impure ' while they are having periods.. but then
spirituality is also not something you can explain.. there must be some reason for women not being permitted.. leave it as it is....
txs for visiting my blog..
i like ur blog.. ur writing is honest..

Muhammad Riyaz said...

I would agree with Sreejith. People who protest are not the people who really want to go to temples and all.

Why is it a big deal in getting the "rights" here? Finally we all worship God - and God does not care about these?

There are many Muslim mosques also taht does not admit women for whatever reasons. You can preach to these guys on why they should have facility for women also. But whats the point in litigations and agitations if the final aim is just worship God?

MOst of these protests are for creating brand names..

Hitchhiker said...

As you have been complimented before, your writing is very honest :)
About your arguments, considering a woman impure during her periods is plain hegemony. A chronicle of the fact that normal human functions are warped and given a hidden meaning just to suit some arguments.
About allowing women in the temple, I am a Christian, and I dont know about your customs so much as to comment on it. But if my 2 cents are worth it, I have seen girls within your religion, who would love to visit a temple on those days, but are forced not to. So even if the Sabarimala case is about in-your-face-feminists-who have nothing to do with spirituality, I think bringing this debate up would help in dispelling some of the shame associated with this.

Ajith Prasad Balakrishnan said...

@Sreejith-- Yeah, there are other Ayyappa temples which allow women's entry..Lets see how the case progresses.

@Hope and love :-- Thanks..Its wonderful to get such a compliment.

@me:) :-- Would love to hear the reasons of preventing muslim women from attending mosques. I think its a bit reformed in India nowadays rt ?

@hitchhiker --I dont think there is any shame associated in that if you discuss it in a mature way...Maybe these customs were evolved due to the patriarchal society setup that we've had..Personally I feel, a little bit feminism is OK for the emancipation of women.But, often it exceeds the limit..In proclaiming independence for females they forget that both males and females won't have a good existence at the expense of others.

Hitchhiker said...

The point is people who use periods as a reason to disbar entry do it by associating shame and disgust with it.
There are of course people who discuss it maturely. But we are not talking about just you and me and people like us, are we?

And about feminism, the initial definition of feminism centered around social, political and economic *equality* of the sexes and a healthy relation between them ...not about women being the leaders. So when we look at it that way, feminism is a theory of life which both sexes can adopt. However there are some militant factions of feminism who claim freedom from men...they are the ones who give feminism its overtheboard reputation. Just clarifying the basic term ;)

Ajith Prasad Balakrishnan said...

@hitchhiker -- Yeah..thats true..Most of the Indian society hasnt reached a level where you openly discuss such stuff..My parents do switch the channels when some discussion like that comes in the T.V in the presence of my younger brothers.

And Yeah, Thanks for defining feminism :)

devOtee AspIrant said...

I dont think that it is periods which is the main issue here, I think it has to do with modesty. Women, in ancient times, and even about a century ago, NEVER were allowed to exit their homes, unless they were carried in a palaquin, or something like that.

The reason for this is that you dont want sexes to intermingle, carnal desire to occur, inappropritately at any time, especially in a temple.

Feminists might argue then, why should it be women who are banned. Modesty is an issue with women not men, this is not only society or social norms, but also psychology... men and women look at an immodest woman in a certain way, and a modest woman in another way.

Due to feminism, a lot of modesty has been lost, and this is a true problem, especially here in the US. In India, feminism has barely lifted its head up, so feminists are still at their excited phase.

Well, women are allowed to go out freely in public, but at least at a temple of sanctity, when such a rule exists, I dont see the point in banning it.

Ajith Prasad Balakrishnan said...

@devotee Aspirant --Thats an interesting take..I had not thought much on those lines

bhattathiri said...

Excellent article.Sabarimala season starts today

Your website is beautiful, informative and Excellent.

Let Wisdom Overtake Emotions Among Devotees of Sabarimala Shrine

Controvrsies are part of Hinduism. This is the only temple in India where religious harmony prevails.

It is most unfortunate that actress Jayamala's reported revelation that she had touched the idol of Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimala temple when she was 27, has sparked a controversy all over India. National media is giving undue importance to this. It is customary that women between the age-group of 10-50 are not allowed inside the Sabarimala temple. This custom is being practiced considering the celibacy of the God Ayyappa.

This Sabarimala temple is situated atop a hill in Kerala and houses a bachelor God called Ayyappa. It is purported that around the 14th of January, every year, a celestial fire - a Jyothi with healing powers - glows in the sky near the Sabarimala shrine. A controversy exists for this also.

What is the relationship between religion and women's rights? Should we care about the treatment of women by religions of the world? Should we be bothered when we see, even in the twenty-first century, a woman being prohibited from doing certain things, like becoming ordained or entering a temple just because she is a woman? But why does the Temple board tell her so? It gives a smorgasbord of reasons: The eight kilometer trek to the temple along dense woods is arduous for women; Ayyappa is a bachelor God and his bachelorhood will be broken if he sees a woman; the forty-one-day penance for the pilgrimage, where one must live as abstemiously as a saint, cannot be undertaken by women - they are too weak for that; men cohorts will be enticed to think bad thoughts if women joined them in their trek; letting women into the temple will disrupt law and order; women's menstrual blood will attract animals in the wild and jeopardize fellow travelers; menstruation is a no-no for God.

And so the list of lame reasons grows. Don't think that no one has ever questioned the inanity of those reasons. Several Indian feminists have fought, and keep fighting, with the Temple board in favor of the women devotees. But the Temple board remains implacable. It is backed by enormous political clout, and poor Indian feminists, like feminists almost everywhere, must fend for themselves. It doesn't help that many Indian women are disinterested in any feminist struggle. They think that it is presumptuous for women to defy established customs. It is hard to rally them, especially when it involves flouting tradition or religion.

Nevertheless, many brave and, sometimes, distressed women, boldly try to go where no young woman has gone before. Here is a report from a publication called Hinduism Today: "The ban was upheld by Kerala's High Court in 1990, but the issue is now being raised by a 42-year old district collector, K.B. Valsala Kumari, who was ordered to coordinate pilgrim services at the shrine. A special court directive allowed her to perform her government duties at the shrine, but not to enter the sanctum sanctorum." In December 2002, Khaleej Times reported, "Women have made this year's Sabarimala pilgrim season controversial by entering the prohibited hill shrine...Kerala high court has ordered an inquiry to find out how a large number of women had reached the shrine in violation of court orders." Strange, isn't it, for the court to scribe such discriminatory orders?

Fifty-four years ago, when the Constitution of India was framed, "Untouchables" - the lower-caste Indians who were believed to be "impure" and hence objectionable to God - won the right to equality and broke open the gates of temples that were closed to them thus far. Article 25(2b) was instituted specifically for them; to ensure that they could pursue their religion unhampered. This article gives State the power to make laws for "the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus". Sabarimala is a publicly temple: Article 290A of the Indian Constitution entails the State of Kerala to pay, yearly, 4.65 million rupees to Sabarimala's Temple board. Nevertheless, it has so far remained shut to one section of Indians - the young Indian women. And the State, instead of opening it for them, works to ensure that it remains shut to them. Now it is the best time that all concerned should sit together and discuss whether permission can be given for women to enter Sabarimala

It is ironic that this shrine, praised as "an unmatched instance of religious tolerance", a temple open to men of all castes and religions, doesn't tolerate most women. The society that has grown, at least outwardly, to breach "God's decree" to keep lower-caste men out of His vicinity, is still struggling to defy "His despise" for women. especially, menstruating women.

Is it so because women are still regarded impure and detestable, at least during certain times? Is it because none in power is disposed to champion women's causes? Is it because women themselves are disinclined to unite against their discrimination? Is it because caste-discrimination is accepted to be viler than gender-discrimination? Is it because society is averse to disturbing the male-dominated hierarchy in India? This ban on women in Sabarimala, while it appears to be a religious issue, at its core, indicates an uglier problem - the oft-dismissed and court-sanctioned oppression of women in India.

What were the reasons and sentiments behind the human belief in the worship of God? Belief in the concept of God and worship of God are not one and the same. All those who worship God, cannot be said to have belief in the concept of God. There are many people, who think that there is no loss in worshipping God, even if such a God does not exist; but if there is one, it will bless them. The basic reason for the belief in the concept of God is the fear of death. Inability of mankind can be attributed as the next reason. The man, who set his foot on the soil of the Moon and who was able to send a missile to Mars, could neither defeat the phenomenon of death, nor could stop the natural disasters like earthquake, volcanic eruption, cyclone or floods. Apart from all these during the bad cycle of life many people have to suffer from unexpected sorrows aroused from close family members, friends and colleagues. Then majority of them will start believing that this is the curse of God. Comparatively, humanity?s sufferings, disasters and losses are more than the benefits it derived from the concept of God and Religion. Great wars fought, people killed or harassed in the name of God are numerous. Don't fear God, Love Him. In this context it is better to highlight a verse from Bhagavad Gita :
Mind is very restless, forceful and strong, O Krishna, it is more difficult to control the mind than to control the wind ~ Arjuna to Sri Krishna.

susanta said...

Nice discussions .... pretty informative to me looking out for Sabrimala visit custom.

I think lot of this customs are man made and has been made to suit people's whims and fancies... Concept of bachelor God residing over that hill and people trying to observe 41 days of "bachelordom" is indeed funny. Add to that the question of why women cannot observe the "bachelordom" if men can do it. The argument of women making the premises "carnal" and "impure" is also part of the "male" fancies. It would be interesting to hear stories where women have their fancies.

I feel its unfair to challenge the claim to ban women from the temple since this will erode the value on which the temple is based on. Generally the temples are based on some mythology and if people destroy that then how is it possible to gain people's trust?

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