Sabarimala temple priests closed down the temple to perform purification rituals after two women of menstruating age managed to enter the temple and offered their prayers, on Wednesday. Once again, it proves that their resistance in allowing women of menstruating age inside the temple stems from the belief that they are impure. No matter if the highest court in India is of the opinion that women cannot be restricted from entering a temple on the grounds of menstrual untouchability. No matter if the women who visit Sabarimala only want to do so out of devotion. The devotion of female devotees, the Supreme Court’s directive; are all null and void to the temple authorities.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • Priests at Sabarimala temple performed purification rituals after two women in the menstruating age entered the temple and offered prayers on Wednesday.
  • The act of closing down the temple proves that the authorities were resisting entry of women into the temple because they consider them impure.
  • Accepting that women are not impure will lead to a massive shift in gender dynamics in our culture.
  • Patriarchy has used the argument of menstrual impurity to restrict women in numerous ways.

The devotion of female devotees, the Supreme Court’s directive; are all null and void to the temple authorities.

Talking to The Hindu, chief priest Kandararu Rajeevararu said that the rites were performed after it was confirmed that the ritualistic practices were violated by two young women. He said that he was duty-bound to protect the tantric traditions and practices at Sabarimala that treated entry of women in the menstruating age a violation of custom and practices. “The unique tantric tradition and practices at Sabarimala, where the presiding deity is in the form of a persistent bachelor (Naishtik Brahmachari), seldom permit worship by women in the childbearing age. It should not be treated as a ban on women’s entry as there is no restriction for children below the age of 10 years and women above the age of 50 years to undertake Sabarimala pilgrimage,” he said.

No matter how Rajeevararu words it, the plain truth is that the temple priests resolved to purify the temple because they thought it was “polluted” by the entry of two women of menstruating age. They cannot defend traditions and practices which deem women untouchable.

Priests cannot defend traditions and practices which deem women untouchable.

These purifying rituals also tell us how far we are from making progress when it comes to period untouchability. Women of menstruating age continue to face bias and mass resistance at Sabarimala despite a favourable Supreme Court verdict. This is because it was never about traditions, it was about male privilege and the notion of purity. Accepting that women are not impure will lead to a massive shift in gender dynamics in our culture. Patriarchy has used the argument of menstrual impurity to restrict women in numerous ways. But if this argument is left null and void, patriarchy will have no upper hand.

These purifying rituals also tell us how far we are from making progress when it comes to period untouchability.

Imagine losing that upper hand and being told that women are as pure as men, menstruating or not. Imagine having to live in a world where you cannot keep women from doing certain tasks or duties, because they aren’t impure. The resistance patriarchy is putting up now, is to prevent women from reclaiming their space in culture and cause a shift in traditional values. So long traditions and rituals have favoured men and the notion of celibate purity, which demeans women by posturing them as a threat to male sanctity.

Patriarchy can keep resisting and priests can keep performing purification rituals. But this isn’t going to stop women anymore. Women in menstrual age will keep turning at Aiyyappa’s doorsteps as his devotees, seeking his blessings. They do not want to defile his purity. They want to offer their prayers and for him to bestow them with equal status. Also, perhaps some sanity to those who still clutch to patriarchal dictates, refusing to accept that traditions are subjective to change with changing times.

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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