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Sabarimala Temple Debate: The Devotion Of The Impure

Rehana Fathima Sabarimala

With the ongoing debate on whether women should enter the Sabarimala temple or not intensifying Dr Archana Patil asks, “Does one really want to crave to meet a God who allows his managers to refuse a woman’s existence at his abode, merely based on biological secretions?”

Sabarimala temple in Kerala witnesses perhaps the largest human gatherings in the world. It sees a footfall of approximately 3.5 crore devotees and pilgrims yearly. These devotees include men and only “pure” women. While most temples embody our society’s favourite issues of caste discrimination and religious distinction, Sabarimala temple discriminates against women in particular. Well, just the impure ones.

Not too long ago, before the intervention of Hon’ble High Court of Kerala in 1991, the entry of women in the temple was banned altogether. Thereafter, the appropriate age for women to offer prayers at the temple was decided to be less than 10 years and more than 50 years. The temple administration along with the Government of Kerala branded some women as “impure” because, they menstruate, a natural biological process one would argue. Perhaps the High Court too was convinced that menstruating women were impure to be turned away from Lord Ayyappa’s blessing.

Scientific Facts

Scientifically the reproductive cycle with hormonal patterns leads to menstruation, then, where is the question of purity or impurity? Age of menarche and menopause can vary. Puberty can be attained before 10 years of age and menopause can extend beyond 50 years of age. This itself defies the concept of appropriate age for women visiting Lord Ayyappa’s temple and in turn inviting trouble for the family. So far, God does not seem to be complaining about purely impure women beyond 50 years of age visiting Him.

Age of menarche and menopause can vary. Puberty can be attained before 10 years of age and menopause can extend beyond 50 years of age. This itself defies the concept of appropriate age for women visiting Lord Ayyappa’s temple.

Most of us, neutral Hindus would typically subscribe to Adi Shankaracharya’s timeless philosophy of non-dualism ‘Advaita’- God is one and we are one (united) with God. Back in the 8th century, he preached to us the grandest and perhaps most illustrious definition of God – ‘divinity is beyond distinction’. Surprisingly enough, even in the 21st century, few decision makers believe otherwise.

Does one really want to crave to meet a God who allows his managers to refuse a woman’s existence at his abode, merely based on biological secretions? As a woman, I would rather visit Lord Ardhnarishwara who depicts, God’s inseparable, all-pervasive and mutually complimenting Shiva and Shakti energy. A symbol of synergy between man and woman.

Does one really want to crave to meet a God who allows his managers to refuse a woman’s existence at his abode, merely based on biological secretions?

Taboos Around Menstruation

Menstruation overall is a taboo based on countless baseless myths and superstitions. With systematic, social and religious conditioning a woman’s bodily process has been turned into a tool for her oppression. The fight for gender equality seems never-ending. The battle for her life begins in the womb, continues on with her education, career, safety, and moreover the right to live with basic dignity and respect. It is extremely unfortunate that the one place where she need not have to fight at all and experience unconditional grace is just another place that shuns her.

My sincere request to the administrators of the Sabarimala temple board and all other temples, churches, durgahs would be to take up causes that matter and will benefit the society such as – educate and sensitize people towards family planning, campaign to save the girl child, and sponsor education of girls, empower women to stand up and speak against any kind of discrimination or atrocity. The most important campaign would be to effectively educate women and men too against taboos and myths attached to menstruation.

Dr Archana Patil is the CMD of a hospital in Rural Marathwada. She has been working for Cervical cancer / breast cancer and also against farmer suicides in the drought-hit district Latur. Views expressed are the author’s own.

Picture Credit: YouTube