The fundamental difference between a Temple and a Mosque or Church is that, a Temple is a “Devalaya” where as a Mosque or a Church is a “Prarthanalaya” meaning Temples are “abodes of Gods” whereas Mosques and Churches are “places for prayers.”
Temples can’t be built anywhere or by any means. One has to follow the intricacies of “The Agama Shastra”, a collection of ideas that lays down the rules for worship, temple building, spirituality and rituals for building a temple. A temple always has a “Prana Pratistha”, a ritual in which the God is invited to come and reside in the idol of the temple after which he takes up permanent residence there.
So technically speaking The Gods are the owners of their respective temples. In the Indian judicial system also, since the time of the British, the deities have always been regarded as legal entities who own the temple and who can fight their case through the trustees or managing board in charge of the temple in which they are worshiped. This was again withheld by the Allahabad High Court in 2010 during the Ayodhya trials. The deity as the ‘Owner of His Abode’ enjoys the right to privacy under Article 21. Consequently, the deity enjoys rights as a person under article 25(1) and 26 which includes her/his right to follow her/his Dharma like any other person, and the state is duty bound to protect her/his rights.
That being said, it makes temples an integral part of Hindu traditions because Gods live there. Going to a temple signifies paying a visit to a God in his house to pay our respects.
As compared to temples, mosques and churches they are just places of worship. They are physical places of gathering that facilitates the offering of Namaz or prayers respectively. Namaz and prayers can be offered anywhere, be it home or office or even on a train or a bus of you are traveling. Mosques and Churches are prayer house they can be built anywhere as there is no God residing in these structures. Even the Supreme Court said so in a verdict in 1994 regarding mosques.
Coming to the actual issue of not allowing “entry of women” in temple, it is not a discriminatory practice. Various temples worship various forms of the divine.
In Sabarimala, Sri Ayyappa is worshipped in his “Naishtika Brahmacharya” form and thus he doesn’t want to come in contact with any women of a certain age bracket, even visual, to help him practice this form of control of his senses.
According to the shastras, Sri Ayyappa was sent to destroy a demon who was terrorizing people in his kingdom. But after defeating the demon he found out that she was a lady who was cursed to walk as a demon. As Sri Ayyappa released her from the curse, she wanted to marry him. But he refused to marry her saying he needs to answer to his devotes. After she persisted, he agreed to marry her the year new devotees stopped visiting him. So she decided to wait in a nearby temple where she is worshipped today as Malikapurathamma. And Sri Ayyappa took up his “Naishtika Brahmacharya” out of respect for the lady. So women are not allowed or rather most of them choose not to visit the shrine out of respect for Sri Ayyappa’s resolve and Malikapurathamma’s love and sacrifice.
Also there are temples like The Bhagabati Maa Temple in Kanyakumari where men are not allowed to enter. It is believed that Maa Parvati went to a lonely site in the middle of the ocean for Tapasya (spiritual practise involving deep meditation). She tried very hard Tapasya for getting Bhagwan Shiva as her husband. As the temple is built on the same spot for Maa Parvati, so no men are allowed to visit this temple, to allow Maa Parvati to continue with her Tapasya without hinderance.
Whenever we visit someone’s home we abide by his rules and regulations. We can’t just go to anyone’s home and dictate him the ways around his own house. The same is applicable to temples. The rules and regulations to be followed in that particular God’s house are laid down by the Shastras and Puranas and one is bound to follow them when we visit her/his temple. There should be no exceptions to this.
Not allowing women or men in a particular temple is not discrimination. It is a way of paying respect to the rules and regulations laid down by the owner of the house. If one talks about the fundamental rights of women to enter a temple (of course no one will talk about the rights of men ever) then they should also talk about the fundamental rights of the deity who is a legal entity and who is the owner of the house.
One cannot compare the rights of women to enter a mosque to that with the right of women from entering temples. If Mosques, being houses to host religious gathering to offer Namaz, don’t allow women to enter then it may be considered as a violation of their right to visit a place of their choice to offer prayers. It is pointless to search for discrimination in a custom where a deity in his eternal celibate avatar wishes that women of a particular age group shouldn’t be around him. There are hundreds of Ayyappa Temples all over the country where there is no restrictions for anyone of any age group or gender to enter.
Moreover out of the lakhs of temples all over India, there are only 5 temples that don’t allow women and only 6 temples that don’t allow men to enter owing to their special spiritual and cultural significance. There are even places in Chinese and Japanese traditions where similar practices are followed. So comparing the practice of these handful of places to that of Mosques, where women are not allowed in any of them, is highly flawed and the person doing so is just ignorant of Hindu culture and traditions.
Hindu culture and traditions are very complex. Not everything here is painted in black and white like the west. Our traditions are full of shades of grey which need correct guidance for proper understanding. Of course there are some social evils that we picked up throughout the course of history due to foreign influence or the situation of a particular period of time. These needs to be eliminated at the earliest. But dismissing every aspect of our customs and traditions by viewing them with the myopic lenses of the west and without having a proper understanding of the same is an insult to this great land of Bharat.
Save Sabarimala. Save Our Temples. Save Our Traditions!
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