The Supreme Court, in a split verdict, referred the review petitions challenging the Sabarimala verdict to a larger bench. The Supreme Court said that the issue of women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple is not just limited to Sabarimala. It involves the entry of women into Mosques as well. The Supreme Court referenced to larger Bench of issues arising in case of entry of Muslim women into a mosque, female genital mutilation cannot be ruled out.
Needless to say, the usual suspects like Barkha Dutt and Sagarika Ghose were not too happy with the Supreme Court’s decision. Some called it ‘disappointing’ while others claimed that the tradition labels menstruating women as ‘impure’.
Disappointing that the Supreme Court could not stand by its own verdict on #Sabarimala – as the matter gets referred to a larger bench. We cant be talking about a Uniform Civil Code if we still believe that menstruating women should keep away from some temples. Sorry. #WeTheWomen
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) November 14, 2019
It is patently immoral and absurd to hold menstruating women as “impure” and justify discrimination against them. If a shrine is a public place, it cannot discriminate on grounds of any “impurity” arising from gender, caste or religion or bodily function. #SabarimalaVerdict
— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) November 14, 2019
In reality, the tradition has absolutely nothing to do with ‘impurity’ whatsoever. It is based on the celibate nature of the presiding Deity Swami Ayyappa. At Sabarimala, Swami Ayyappa is worshipped in His manifestation as a Naishtik Brahmachari. It was never argued by any party in the Court that the basis of the tradition lies in the belief that menstruation is impure. The basis was simple: The Brahmachari character of the Deity would be violated if women of a reproductive age enter the Temple.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala also imposes various other restrictions on the devotees. A strict 41-day penance and celibacy is observed by the devotees and various other associated rituals are also performed. K Parasaran, who had recently won the Ayodhya dispute in favour of the Hindus, said quite clearly that it cannot be achieved by women when they are menstruating and when men are travelling with them.
J Sai Deepak argued that the exclusion was not ‘men vs women’ but rather ‘men vs men and women vs women’. Even a man will not be permitted to enter merely because of his gender. He has to observe a set of rituals in order to become eligible for the pilgrimage. He argued that if exceptions are made for women on the basis of their age, then men could in the future argue for exemptions of the 41-day ritual.
Furthermore, he argued that Swami Ayyappa Himself took a vow of Naishtik Brahmachari and He is worshipped as such at Sabarimala. The vow carries with it certain restrictions which include the avoidance of contact with the opposite gender. Sai Deepak further argued that the rules are the same for a Brahmachari as well as a Brahmacharini. Therefore, such rules can not be painted as misogyny or misandry.
Therefore, quite clearly, the restriction on the entry of women of menstrual age is not imposed as a consequence of opinions on menstruation. It flows from the necessity of protecting the Brahmachari character of the Deity. Sai Deepak further asserted that ‘Naisthika Brahmacharya is, not a men-only practice and hence the rituals associated cannot be regarded as patriarchal’. Essentially, he argued that not all forms of exclusions are discrimination, a position that was complimented by the then CJI Deepak Mishra himself.
Swami Ayyappa Himself said that He will grace only those devotees at Sabarimala who observe the 41-day penance and live the life of a Brahmachari during that period. Therefore, quite clearly, the traditions are based on the will of the Deity and not on perceptions that consider menstruation impure. Thus, quite clearly, it is a straw-man argument that has been propped up by those who seek to desecrate the Temple.
Moreover, women of reproductive age are not prevented from worshipping Swami Ayyappa at other Temples dedicated to God. Those women who wish to worship Him can still very well worship Him at Temples where the rules of celibacy do not apply. Sabarimala is a very special Temple and the rules and regulations pertaining to the pilgrimage are what make the Temple so special. Permitting the entry of women of reproductive age at Sabarimala serves no other purpose than the desecration of it.
There is a diversity of traditions within Hinduism. There is a multiplicity of the Divine within the polytheistic traditions of Hinduism and the numerous traditions unique to particular Temples are a reflection of it. For instance, The Panchubarahi temple in the coastal village of Odisha’s Satabhaya permits only married women of the local sabar community to enter the sanctum sanctorum and touch the five idols. The daily rituals of the temple deities are exclusively performed by these women. Men are allowed darshan but not entry into the sanctum sanctorum.
The advocacy for the indiscriminate entry of everyone at a particular Temple with utter disregard for the unique practices and lore associated with the Temple itself would destroy the diversity of traditions within Hinduism. Sai Deepak had argued the same in the Court. It essentially demonstrates that there is a fervent desire to view Hinduism through the lens of Abrahamic faiths.
Unlike Abrahamic religions, which are universal in nature, Hinduism is nativist in its interpretation of the Divine. Our Temples have their own sacred traditions and these traditions will not be universal in nature as, quite clearly, the emphasis is always on the manner in which local communities worship the Gods.
Most importantly, our Temples are not a battleground for modern ideologies. They are the sacred abodes of our Gods. Temples are where we go in order to pay obeisance to the Divine. Ideological battles end where the rights of the Deities begin. Failure to understand such a simple matter shows the extensive manner in which Abrahamic ideals are still engraved in the institutions of our country. Our Gods and the manner of worship should not and does not fall under the purview of the state machinery.