The Sabarimala Verdict delivered by the Supreme Court was hailed by some, as a ‘victory for women’. There are however, as we’ve seen in the past weeks, thousands of women—actual devotees of Ayyappa—who are ready to wait. Court ruling or not, they are not willing to accept the violation of a centuries-old religious practice that bans the entry of women between the ages of 10-50, in the shrine. This became evident in the face off between the devotees and the women activists who sought to ‘make history’ by entering the shrine. Clearly, the female journalists and activists at Sabarimala last week, were not guided by any spiritual or religious feeling, their attempts to enter the sanctum sanctorum were just to prove a point and further their agenda of Hindu hatred.
Sabarimala excludes women of a certain age but does not discriminate against them. The deity in this particular temple is in Naishtika Brahmachari (absolutely celibate) form whereas in other temples Ayyappa is consecrated as child, Grihista and Vanaprasta. Women are free to visit the other three temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. Male devotees who undertake the trek to this shrine, observe 41 days of strict penance to cleanse themselves. Ayyappa’s female devotees believe that it is with their sanction and cooperation that their husbands are able to prepare for and undertake the pilgrimage.
As Justice Indu Malhotra, the sole woman on the four-Judge Bench that delivered the verdict, remarked-“notions of rationality cannot be brought into matters of religion”. Why are atheists who are neither devotees nor believers, trying so hard to barge into a temple held sacred by countless devout women? Just because their voices are more strident and their positions more dominant, these attention-seekers hogged media space and turned a serious pilgrimage into a virtual circus! Why did TV Channels deliberately provoke the devotees by sending female journalists who were obviously expected to provide ‘Breaking News’ by breaking a religious tradition.
The determination of the devotees, who did not allow these women to enter the temple, forced several politicians to change their stand. Those who were waxing eloquent on ‘equality’ and the need to ‘change obsolete traditions’, are now talking about a ‘compromise’. An audio clip of the Kerala CM’s speech in which he vows to be a staunch Ayyappa devotee, is now being circulated on Social Media. However, reports are coming in of many devotees being arrested on false charges of ‘instigating violence’ on the pilgrimage route. As Madhu Kishwar tweeted, “This desperation to crush Hindu sentiment is going to dig the grave of Communism in India. For the first time, Hindus are waking up to their second class status in their own land.”
There are allegations by several devotees, who oppose the entry of women of reproductive age, that lifting the ban is actually a conspiracy to dilute the importance of the shrine. In the past there have been attempts to damage the shrine, in 1950 there was a fire that damaged the Ayyappa idol and gutted the temple. Circumstantial evidence casts suspicion on the Christian community. Between 1950 and 1955 there were three attempts to destroy this temple, pilgrims were also attacked. Later, in the eighties there was a bid to construct a Church near Nilakkal while in 1983 some Christians tried to plant a Cross in Ayyappa’s garden. The fact that the Kerala Govt. controls the temple through the Travancore Devaswam Board has often led to allegations that the crores earned through this pilgrimage are cornered by the politicians instead of being used to provide facilities for the pilgrims. Why should a temple be run by an atheist government? Sabarimala has been targeted by the Leftists because it is a symbol of Hindu unity and faith.
This year, when the temple opened on October 17 for the first time since the Supreme Court verdict, three women attempted to enter the shrine under heavy police escort. However, protesters opposing the Kerala Government’s unusual alacrity in implementing the Court order, saw to it that their desperate attempt to gain publicity was not successful. The presence of the police, lathi-charge on protesters and stone-pelting by some, marred, what is a highly pious journey for Bhagwan Ayyappa’s followers. Besides the violence, there were reports that Rehana Fathima, one of the ‘activists’ who tried to be one of the first women to enter the sanctum sanctorum, carried a used sanitary pad with her in her ‘irumudikettu’.
If one were to take a good look at the details of the three women who tried to ‘create history’ by entering the temple, not even one of them was an Ayyappa devotee. This holy trek was being treated as an adventurous expedition, completely devoid of the spirituality associated with it. The question that needs to be asked here is why should such women be allowed to have their way? Is their stubborn desire to prove a point more important than the religious beliefs of a group? Everybody knows that a real devotee, will respect the traditions and will stay away.
The media sent female journalists to cover the pilgrimage, obviously with the intent of sensationalizing the event when they entered the temple. It is said that the Kerala Govt. had considered deploying women police personnel at Sabarimala, the plan was however dropped following the protests. As the Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani put it, “I have the right to pray, but no right to desecrate. That is the difference we need to recognize and respect.” If we consider the Ayyappa devotees as a separate group following their own rituals, they cannot be accused of discrimination and their rights can be recognized.
Meanwhile special teams of Kerala Police are hunting for the protesters who are being accused of ‘instigating violence’ at Sabarimala last week. The police have already arrested 1400 people from several districts, many of them were led away in handcuffs. This crackdown is clearly Pinarayi Vijayan’s bid to punish the devotees who foiled his attempt to implement an order that changed a centuries-old Hindu tradition. A review petition has now been filed by the Nair Service Society and the Ayyappa devotees’ association, against the September 28 order by the Supreme Court. The Court has refused an early hearing but, with the temple scheduled to open again on 1 November, has not heard the last of this controversy.