Sabarimala temple, located Northeast of Pathanamthitta in Kerala, opens its doors today for Lord Ayappa’s devotees, but women are still not welcome. In all of this, this was my thought throughout the controversy, but I vented it when the Ayodhya verdict was read out. I had written on my social media platforms that if this SC order (Ayodhya verdict) is sacrosanct then why not its verdict on Sabarimala? And that I have no interest in going to a temple where the deity becomes impure when women enter it. I would like to further say when we have enough temples and religious places where women devotees can go and offer their prayers, why keep fighting over this one temple. Let the Lord be, let the men be.

Yet, I would like to discuss why women shouldn’t be banned, but a little later.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • On September 29 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a rule that disallowed girls and women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
  • In October, when Sabarimala was opened for pilgrims for the first time since the Supreme Court verdict, protests were staged.
  • Then on November 14, 2019 this year, the apex court referred the Sabarimala issue to a larger, seven-member bench after hearing pleas seeking a review of its decision.
  • As things stand today, the gates of the Sabarimala temple are set to open today for the annual Mandala pilgrimage, women of all age groups will be allowed to enter the temple, however, no protection will be given to the women who do so.

I first came to know about the Sabarimala temple and Lord Ayappa when my spouse was posted at Singareni, a Naxal affected coal reserve region of Telengana, as the force he is in is an all India service, we have people from all over India in it. We had a cook from Kerala. One day he said to me he wants permission from my spouse to grow his beard and hair for the next 41 days and that he will also wear black or blue clothes too. He needed this special permission because he was force personnel. He did get his permission, and I got to know about Lord Ayappa. He was taking his 11-year-daughter one last time before a ban is imposed on her entry till she is 50 years old. I was curious about this ban. I didn’t know then of a God who was enraged if women entered his temple.

It is my personal view that I will not want to enter the temple but there are thousands of women who want to seek his blessings and they have a legitimate right. Women have equal right to enter any space as men do; the Constitution gives women this right.

The second time I heard of this Lord was on September 29 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down a rule that disallowed girls and women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The 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. 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.”

Also read: Sabarimala Case: SC Refers Case To Larger Seven-Judge Bench

He further went on to say, “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.”

But this verdict was not acceptable to the lay worshipper. While women did try to enter the temple, protesters thwarted most attempts by women to travel to the Sabarimala temple. In October 2018, when Sabarimala was opened for pilgrims for the first time since the Supreme Court verdict, protests were staged. Many women journalists were assaulted by the protesters and police had to resort to a lathi charge to disperse them. Finally on January 2, 2019, two women claimed that they had entered the Sabarimala shrine which was later confirmed using CCTV visuals. The temple was closed for purification and then later opened for male devotees. We also got to read that these two women were eventually disowned by their families.

What was shocking that a number of women were among the protesters trying to restrict women from entering the temple, checking cars to see if they contained women of menstruating age and helping with the roadblocks. Patriarchy did win, once again. I truly believe that women are the biggest perpetrators and supporters of patriarchy.

He was taking his 11-year-daughter one last time before a ban is imposed on her entry till she is 50 years old. I was curious about this ban. I didn’t know then of a God who was enraged if women entered his temple.

Coming back to the present on November 14 this year, the Sabarimala verdict review petition was read out, the apex court referred the Sabarimala issue to a larger, seven-member bench after hearing pleas seeking a review of its decision to allow women of all ages into the temple.

So as things stand today, the gates of the Sabarimala temple are set to open today for the annual Mandala pilgrimage, women of all age groups will be allowed to enter the temple, however, no protection will be given to the women who do so.  As pilgrims have already started making their way to the Sabarimala temple, what now needs to be seen is whether women would be able to enter the temple or not.

Whether they enter or not, I am of the view, why take so much of pain and that to for a god who is angered if women enter his temple. So much so that the Kerala floods were ascribed to his anger last year. So, why does this god get angry? There are two popular legends among others:

It is said that Lord Ayappa was born out of a union between two male gods which gave him the power to defeat a female demon who could not be defeated by anybody else until then. When he finally defeated her, he came to know that she was really a cursed young woman who had to live the life of a demon. As happens in legends she fell in love with him and asked him to marry her, Lord Ayyapa refused saying he has to respond to his devotees prayers, but she persisted. Finally, Lord Ayappa said, he will marry her the day his devotees stop coming for his darshan. That day has not come till date, and she waits patiently at a temple, which lies on the way to the main Sabarimala shrine. So, as a gesture of respect women do not visit either of the temples as it will insult  the Lord and the sacrifice of the woman who loved him.

And that I have no interest in going to a temple where the deity becomes impure when women enter it. I would like to further say when we have enough temples and religious places where women devotees can go and offer their prayers, why keep fighting over this one temple. Let the Lord be, let the men be.

According to a second legend, as a prince Lord Ayappa saved his kingdom from an Arab invader named Vavar. After his defeat the invader became a devout follower of Lord Ayappa, there is a shrine in his name too near Sabarimala. His job is to protect the devotees who come to Sabarimala to seek the Lord’s blessings. The god then took a vow to answer the prayers of every devout who came to him, and shunned all worldly desires which included contact with women, therefore women are not permitted to enter his temple.

I don’t buy legends, when other temples in the country allow women devotees to enter and offer their prayers, what’s so special about this temple that women are banned?

It is my personal view that I will not want to enter the temple but there are thousands of women who want to seek his blessings and they have a legitimate right. Women have equal right to enter any space as men do; the Constitution gives women this right. I support them as I do not consider menstruation as impure, how can it be impure when it cleanses our wombs every month. This is gender discrimination.

Let’s wait and see what happens in the next two months, whether patriarchy wins or women’s rights wins. In the meantime I say why don’t we women build a temple of our own, now that the season of temple building has taken over the nation?

The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Also read: Women Activists Seeking Sabarimala Entry Earlier To Skip It This Year

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