The Sabarimala Dharma Sastha Temple has been a place of Hindu unity since time immemorial. It is the place where people forget their differences to meet in a single place with the feeling of brotherhood and have the darshan of Sri Dharma Sastha.
As it has always been a bulwark against the conversion activities of the evangelists, it has always been in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Sabarimala Sri Dharma Sastha Temple is Kerala’s richest temple and millions of devotees from different parts of the country climb the hill by crossing forests and mountains to have Darshan of Ayyappa or Dharma Shasta every year. For this reason, Sabarimala has been targeted many times like the temple burning in 1950 (in which action on the accused is yet to be taken for it is alleged to have been done by the Christians living in the foothills of the temple, who were settled by the British as plantation workers), planting of crosses for propaganda by evangelists, attacks on the traditions of the temple etc.
The most recent attack is on the temple tradition of not allowing the entry of women of menstruating age. The restriction is not for all women, but for those who are aged between 10 to 50 years. Post-menopause women and children can enter the shrine. Women of menstruating age are restricted since the deity of the temple is in Brahmacharya stage, in which he should avoid contact with women. Another thing is that according to the tradition, Sri Ayyappa had promised Goddess Malikapurathamma to marry her when there are no new pilgrims to the temple. So according to the tradition, even the entry of the Goddess herself is restricted.
Various liberal intellectuals, under the evangelist influence, ask for the scriptural references of this tradition called Brahmacharya followed in the temple, claiming that there is no such reference and it is only a ploy of the upper castes to discriminate against women. But contradicting their claim there are many scriptural references speaking about the practice of Brahmacharya which we have quoted below:
- Apastamba Dharma sutra (188.8.131.52) – “strIbhiryAvad artha sambhAShI” – He shall speak with women so much (only) as his purpose [note: purpose for a brahmacari is explained in 184.108.40.206-30 – to seek alms for daily food). So, a brahmacari cannot speak to a woman except to seek alms.
- Bodhayana Dharma Sutra (220.127.116.11) also gives same rule as Apastamba does above
- Vaikhanasa Dharma Sutra – (2.1) states that seeing and touching women are prohibited for brahmacari (“..strI darshana sparshana..”)
This problem started when a Devaswom board commissioner appointed by the then communist government of Kerala, S. Chandrika, entered the temple with her daughter-in-law, breaking the tradition. Following this, a petition was filed in the Kerala High Court by S. Mahendran, a devotee of Ayyappa from Changanassery.
Mahendran, in his petition, complained about young women trekking to Sabarimala and offering prayers at the Sabarimala shrine, and alleged special treatment being given to wives of V.I.Ps. He pointed out a specific instance of the first rice-feeding ceremony of the grand-daughter of the former Devaswom Commissioner Smt. Chandrika, conducted at Sabarimala temple in the presence of her daughter, the mother of the child, and other relatives, including women. A photograph which appeared in the Janmabhoomi daily of 19-8-1990 was also enclosed along with the complaint petition. He sought suitable action to be taken against the persons concerned.
This case which was heard by a bench under Justice K. Paripoornan ordered for a devaprashnam, which is a traditional practiced followed in Kerala to know about the wishes of the deity. The devaprashnam conducted in this regard also revealed that the Lord does not wish to allow the entry of menstruating age women as he is observing his Brahmacharya vrata, following which a judgement was given in the Kerala High Court banning the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years.
Now, if these ‘progressive’ feminists wish to visit Sabarimala by breaking the tradition and the Lord’s wishes revealed in devaprashnam, then that means they do not have any devotion or respect towards Ayyappa. If they have no devotion or respect, why even bother about visiting the temple?
Another thing is that pilgrims must climb hills and cross forests to reach Sabarimala as pointed before. Along with this they must also observe vratam or strict observance of vows for 41 days before visiting the temple – it would be hard for women to observe this practice of Vrata for 41 days as it will disturb their menstrual cycle. Also, since Ayyappa at Sabarimala is a Naishtika Brahmachari, the energy in the temple may create an imbalance in the natural creative energy present in women of reproductive age; if they are repeatedly exposed to those energies over a long period, it may prevent household women from doing their duties. Hence, only those who are yet to attain puberty or those who have already reached menopause undertake the pilgrimage.
The feminists who ask for the entry of women in the temple have always been silent about the traditions followed in the temples like Attukkal, Chakkulaththukkavu etc., where women enjoy the special rites of keeping pongala, naari pooja etc. So, one more question which arises in the minds of local Hindus who follow traditions is whether feminism, according to these feminists, is about making women dominate men leading to misandry, contradicting its original motive of giving equal rights to both the genders of humanity?
The people who support women entry also includes so called right-wing Hindus with a leftist attitude. They have personally harassed the Hindu women activists who support the age-old tradition in a most vile manner, by stating it as Christian propaganda to divide Hindus. But these ‘right wingers’ are sadly infected with distorted left-liberal view points, which will only cause harm to Hindu society.
Sure, Hindu traditions are open for reform, but these reforms must only come from within the tradition itself, i.e. they must be guided by the practicing Acharyas of Hindu tradition as well as Pramanas or authoritative texts. Should Hindu Dharma be subjected to unnecessary reforms just because the left-liberal feminists and the evangelists say so?
We must also keep in mind that each Hindu temple has its own tradition and local practices. The mode of worship also varies from one temple to another. There are numerous other Ayyappa temples in Kerala where women of all ages can worship Ayyappa. The Sabarimala temple itself is connected with three other sastha temples, explaining the four stages of a dharmic life. While Sabarimala temple represents the stage of Brahmacharya or Student, the three other temple representing the three stages of life as Bala, Grihastha and Sanyasa allow women of all ages to worship the Sastha at these temples. So, we must respect and preserve all these diverse traditions of various temples.
(Note: This article is jointly written by @Dauhshanti and @paanchajanyaa)
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