The Sabarimala debate: Jnana vs Bhakti

Sri Ayyappa should also be worshipped as per his preferences in his abode where he continues to exist in a non-physical for, at least from the devotee’s perspective.

Many catchy phrases have been used to describe the ongoing Sabarimala debate. ‘Tradition vs law’, ‘reason vs faith’, ‘patriarchy vs equality’ etc. However, I feel all these give a very simplistic reading of the situation. There is only one core debate and that is Bhakti vs Jnana, everything else is an agenda wrapped in social concerns.

Jnana relies on logic, Jnana incessantly asks questions and tries to seek answers. The seeker of Jnana does not accept the status quo and is always looking for answers. Bhakti is exactly the opposite. A Bhakt does not have any questions. He has surrendered himself to his diety and abides by what the diety asks him to do. He has unflinching devotion and follows all rules and rituals without fail. The Jnani is trying to evolve by seeking answers to all his questions, the Bhakt is evolving by letting go of all his doubts. Who is right, the seeker of knowledge or the devotee?

In the penultimate chapter of The Gita, Krishna while responding to Arjun says, “The faith of each person is according to what he is made up of..” And he continues to elaborate on this principle by essentially saying ‘to each his own’. If ever there was a liberal mindset, this has to be it. This principle to me is the foundation of what India today looks like. There is no ‘One’ correct way of worshipping or living life, there is no ‘One’ principle or ‘One‘ book or ‘One’ god to worship. The debate of Shraddha vs Jnana has been long settled in this country.

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A person inspired by logic and reason can take his path and a person inspired by bhakti can also take his path without interference. ‘All rivers lead to thee..’ is the principle on which an average Indian works, he does not question other’s faith except for academic discussions. We have moved far beyond the silly ideas of right and wrong, good or bad at least at a philosophical level. And this brilliant liberal mindset has given rise to the diverse pool of philosophies. A way of life which is the core Idea of India. One is free to worship shakti or purusha, be a dualist or non-dualist, be an advaitic, mimasic, nyayic. Follow any other path as per his or her guna-dharma.

To profess that there can be only one way of worshipping at all places of worship is not liberalism. It is essentially regressive in nature. The logician and the bhakt can coexist in our ecosystem. As long as this principle is maintained the Idea of India will continue to exist. When the rational imposes his ideas on the devote, he is a fundamentalist and if the devotee insists that everyone should live by his rules, we are fast being swallowed in the narrow-minded quagmire of monotheism.

One should observe how a devotee’s demeanour changes in front of an idol which he worships. The unwavering belief that the deity is actually present in front of him watching over him is enough to transform his conduct. Most of the ritualistic part of Hinduism revolves around this deity’s preferences. Vinayaka is worshipped with a red flower and Durva, Shiva with white flowers and bel leaves. Hanuman, Vishnu, Ram, Krishna Durga, Laxmi, Kali, Saraswati – each have their set of rituals dedicated to them as per their preferences.

Worship is not only about the deity but also geography and form specifically. This is because the mode and style of worship is closely connected to a story, as is the case with Sri Ayyappa Swamy of Sabarimala. We respect the preferences made in our stories. In a way we live the story each day, we keep it alive. Hence Ram Leela is enacted every year, Narkasur and Ravan are killed every year, the audience knows the story but we re-live it every time.

Continuing in the same tradition, Sri Ayyappa of Sabarimala should also be worshipped as per his preferences in his abode where he continues to exist in a non-physical for, at least from the devotee’s perspective. No one is under any obligation to follow this tradition. If you don’t believe, don’t be a prick and don’t go there, it is as simple as this. Cannot deny the story behind the worship. If the story is denied, the method of worship won’t make sense. Similarly, if the method is denied, the story ceases to exit.

At the core of Hinduism is the ego factor. Be it any mode of worship, the aim is to let go of this Ahankar or ego. Bhakti tries to achieve this by complete surrender. For a Bhakt, there are no doubts or questions, just unconditional fondness and love for his chosen deity. Bhakti movement was founded on a deep sense of oneness and self-sacrifice.

But the 21st Century Bhakti movement is totally different. The Bhakti movement can be summed up as follows:

“I don’t understand what you stand for and I don’t believe in you but I will find you and worship you”.

*Swami Saranam Ayyappa*


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