Time to revisit temple rules?4 min read
Since ancient times, menstruation has been a topic of taboo and discussed only in whispers. A common notion persisted about menstrual blood being impure which often led to the prohibition of women from entering places of worship or even the kitchen to prepare food. Although the situation may have improved considerably, many rural communities are still bound to these age-old practices, which has increased hardships for women.
The iconic Sabarimala temple, located in the Western Ghats hills, is one such place apart from the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai and the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in New Delhi which prevents women of reproductive age from entering the temple. After several failed attempts to bring reforms, the apex court’s recent directions have provided a small ray of hope. The Supreme Court on Monday asked the temple officials to issue a clarification as to why it prohibits the entry of a particular age group of women and also stated that the religious customs cited by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine, violated the constitutional rights of women.
The ban came under legal scrutiny after a petition was filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association as well as a group of women lawyers seeking the right to entry of all women. Naushad Ahmed Khan, the head of the group of lawyers received at least 500 threats by phone including international calls urging him to withdraw the plea filed by the organisation. However as the petition cannot be withdrawn, the Supreme Court has decided to appoint a senior lawyer as an amicus curaie.
WHY DOES THE TEMPLE BAR WOMEN?
Several reasons have been cited for the proscription. According to puranic legends, Ayyappa was a historical figure and an avatar derived from the Dharma Sashtha (a result of the combination of the powers of Lord Shiva and Vishnu). His birth was at the behest to rid the world of the torment of a demoness. After killing the demoness, he releases the woman from the curse who is later referred to as Malikapurathamma Devi, whose temple is also next to Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimala temple. She proposes to Ayyappa, but he refuses as he wishes to return to his yogic personality of Dharma Sashtha and go to Sabarimala. Thus the celibate status of the temple deity Ayyappa is greatly revered consequentially preventing the entry of women.
The ban has also been explained by the arduous nature of the pilgrimage. The temple is situated amidst 18 hills. Due to an obvious lack of infrastructure and transport facilities, devotees had no choice but to trek through the Periyar Natural Reserve and cross 3 mountains. These dense forests were often infested with tigers, elephants and reptiles which made the journey physically challenging for women.
In what added fuel to the fire, the chief of Sabarimala Devaswom Board, Prayar Gopalakrishnan had said that women would be permitted into the temple only when a machine is invented to detect if they are menstruating.
Following his comments, Nikita Anand, a 20-year old woman wrote an open letter published by ‘Youth Ki Awaaz’ on their website that quickly became viral on social media. Scores of outraged men and women posed pictures on social media with the hashtag #HappyToBleedleading to a barrage of posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Despite several controversies surrounding the temple, Kerala government authorities and temple officials remain firm and focused to protect the faith and customs of the temple.
Rahul Easwar, a noted author and activist as well as the grandson of the Sabarimala supreme priest, spoke to The Manipal Journal and stated that this decade-old custom was merely a differentiation and not discrimination.
GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES AND TEMPLE OFFICIALS
“Just as every temple has its own philosophy, similarly the Sabarimala temple also does. There is a Sabarimala temple for women as well where 30 lakh women offer pongala every year but men do not. Even British records certify that the deity is a Naishtika Brahmachari. It is not a menstruation issue. People say that one must not question faith, but we believe in the converse. We welcome all questions and encourage those who speak up, however one must be patient to listen at the same time,” said Rahul Easwar.
When asked about the lawyers receiving threatening calls, Rahul added that he condemns any such actions by devotees and also spoke to Naushad Ahmed Khan himself.
Edited by Sakhi Todi