Sabarimala Debate: How Equality discourse is being used to undermine Adhyatmic practices

It is important to note that, if campaigns like #RightToPray were to succeed it would destroy both the temple traditions and the Dharmic framework that facilitates unique tailor-made Adhyatmic practices.

Since last year, a discourse around the concept of “Right to Pray” is being built by a certain section of feminists, activists, and media, who argue that Hindu practices like restrictions on the entry of women in certain temples like Sabarimala Ayyappa Swami temple, Shani Singapura temple, etc. amounts to misogyny and patriarchy and hence goes against the ‘progressive’ notions of “Gender Equality”. But, a careful analysis of this discourse would reveal how these activists are using “Gender Equality” as a means of undermining various Adhyatmic practices of Sanatana Dharma and preparing a field for the spread of Abrahamic religions.

Equality rooted in Abrahamism, promotes Sameness, kills diversity

Over the centuries, the concept of “Equality” has evolved into a necessary “human right” in response to various inequalities and discriminations prevalent at social, political, economic, and religious levels. Though, much of this discourse has evolved on the civilizational platform of the West as a response to various discriminations and inequalities prevalent in Abrahamic societies rooted in Abrahamic worldview, the concept of “Equality” itself is not completely free from Abrahamic influence. “Equality” discourse is not only “not free” from Abrahamic influence, it is in fact clearly rooted in Abrahamism, deriving key assumptions and principles from Abrahamic religious worldview.

Abrahamic religions are rooted in the belief in One God, One Book, One Savior, and One means of Salvation. Thus, the entire world is divided into believers and non-believers and faith in one true God alone qualifies as a tool for Salvation. This oneness in the path and goal, this sameness in belief, thought, and action constitutes the core tenets of Equality and Universal Brotherhood propounded by the Abrahamic religions. In other words, “Sameness” constitutes the very core of “Equality Discourse” of Abrahamism. In this worldview, there is no place for diversity- be it diverse beliefs, diverse competencies, diverse temperaments, diverse Gods, or diverse paths to emancipation. In the name of unity and equality, what Abrahamism promotes is “one size fits all” approach to solving all issues, which instead of solving trivializes them, destroys enriching diversity, and forcefully enforces conformity to “Sameness”. It is this “One size fits all” approach, which ails all discourses of Equality even today.

Equality Discourse has no place in Adhyatma

Santana Dharma, on the other hand, is a complex adaptive system, an “Open Architecture”, which is organic, decentralized, and very rich in diversity. It conceives the concept of “Ekam Sat” (One Truth), but in the same breath adds that its expressions are many (bahudaha vadanti) and hence rightly calls it “infinite” (Anantha). Thus, it not only recognizes diversity, it deeply cherishes it.

The core of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is “Adhyatma”- that which relates to the Self, which may roughly be translated as “Spirituality”. In this sense, Hinduism is very different from the Abrahamic concept of “Religion”. The term “Religion” is often derived from the term “Religare”, which means “to bind, unite”, and Abrahamic religions have always taken this unity to mean “Equality” created by destroying diversity and enforcing “Sameness”. Thus, there is no “Adhyatma” as far as Abrahamics are concerned, even with respect to Salvation, much less with respect to religious activities like Church mass, Sunday prayers, etc. How can there be an element of “Adhyatma” in systems, which do not even recognize the validity of the Atman-the Innermost Self? Thus, calling Hinduism as “religion”, while defining religion in the Abrahamic sense, is not only incorrect, but is also an injustice to millions of practitioners of its diverse Dharmic traditions.

Keeping “Adhyatma” at its center, Sanatana Dharma conceives a four-fold purusharthas (purposes of life) as the working framework of entire society. These four purusharthas- Dharma (Righteous Duty), Artha (Wealth and Security), Kama (Worldly desires), and Moksha (Liberation), act as guiding light in the life of each Hindu. Moksha (liberation), which is nothing but the realization of the true nature of the inner Self, is considered the ultimate purpose of life, and all actions, all other pursuits of life are used as a medium to travel the path towards Moksha. Thus, all life is Adhyatma- a pursuit of the Self and hence, there is no bifurcation between the sacred and the profane.

In this Adhyatmic pursuit, key elements that determine the path of the individuals are Svabhava (inner temperament) and Adhikara (inner competency). Since, each individual has different temperaments, different desires, and different inner-callings, their Svabhava are also different. Since, people are equipped with different skills and qualities in different intensities, their competency levels will be different as well. Hence, for each individual with his/her own unique sets of desires, temperaments, skills, and competencies to attain Moksha, unique tailor-made spiritual practices must be designed, so that all can fulfill their Adhyatmic quest, irrespective of race, gender, faith, etc. This is exactly what Hinduism has done. It has developed a complex but flexible framework, with both general guidelines (Samanya Dharma) for all people, irrespective of their qualities or competencies, and special tailor-made guidelines (Vishesha Dharma) for people with a specific set of skills and competencies, with further allowances for unique personal spiritual practices for each individual.

Hence, there is no place for Equality Discourse in the Adhyatmic framework of Sanatana Dharma, because Equality discourse disregards diversity in Svabhava and Adhikara of individuals and forcefully enforces “Sameness” among all people. Does this mean there are no issues of inequality in Hindu society? Definitely not. There is inequality at many levels in Hindu society. But, such an inequality and discrimination has crept in, because there is a lack of/poor implementation of the “Merit framework” and there is a loss of focus from Adhyatmic pursuit. Thus, the solution to those inequalities is not destruction of diversities, but reviving merit-based Dharmic system, whose focus is directed towards Adhyatmic pursuit.

Sabarimala issue: A Case study for how Equality discourse is being used to undermine Adhyatmic traditions

Sabarimala Ayyappa Swami Temple in Kerala is among the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus. Every year, thousands of devotees practice severe austerity for 41 days and undertake a pilgrimage to the temple on foot to have the Darshan of Lord Ayyappa Swami in his form of Naishtika Brahmachari (Eternal celibate).

A temple is not merely a place of congregation, wherein pleas are lodged and confessions are made. Instead, it is a place for practicing Upasana (worship), having Darshana (glimpse of the divinity), and expressing Bhakti (devotion). Hindu temple is the very house of the deity, wherein the deity has manifested for the sake of devotees by taking the idol as its body. Hence, the entire temple, when consecrated properly, will be filled with the bliss, the essence, and the energy of the deity, who has been invited to reside there. In other words, a temple is an energy center, to which devotees visit to harness the energy and interiorize the essence of the deity, so that each devotee can ultimately become one with the deity and realize the same Self, which inhabits both the devotee and the deity. Thus, visiting temples, offering worship there, and having Darshan of the deity are all aspects of the Adhyatmic pursuit of a Hindu.

Since, Brahman, the ultimate reality is infinite, his manifestations and its accompanying energy forms are infinite as well. Thus, each Deity has a unique name (nama), unique form (rupa), and unique Svaroopa (essence), accompanied by a unique kind of energy (Shakti). Owing to this diversity in the manifestations of Brahman and the energy that accompanies such manifestations, there is a diversity in the way temples are constructed, the way idols are carved and consecrated, and the way the deities are worshipped. Thus, each temple, especially the ancient temples hosting unique forms of deities, has its own rich and unique temple traditions and rules of worship, which caters to the unique essence and the energy of the deity present in that temple.

It is in this context that the issue of Sabarimala temple entry must be understood. Contrary to what has been propagated, there is no blanket ban on the entry of women into the temple. There is only a restriction on the entry of women of reproductive age and this has been placed to cater to the unique manifestation of Lord Ayyappa in his Naishtika Brahmachari aspect, which makes him unsuitable for worship by menstruating women [I have elaborated on this aspect here]. Many feminists have argued that this restriction amounts to infringement of the “Right to Pray” of women and hence is discriminatory to them. But, these feminists conveniently ignore that there are many other Ayyappa Temples, hosting different forms of Ayyappa and yet there is no ban on the entry of women in them. They also ignore how there are many temples and festivals like Pongal within Kerala itself, which are women only practices. Thus, the restriction has been placed not only to cater to the unique requirements of the deity manifested there, but also to cater to the unique requirements of the female devotees of menstruating age.

The fact that these feminists and liberal activists conveniently ignore temple traditions, which are inconvenient to their Equality narrative, but instead focus exclusively on traditions, whose narrative can be manipulated and exploited, shows how this Equality discourse is being used for destroying the rich diversity of Sanatana Dharma and undermining Hindu Adhyatmic practices. #RightToPray initiatives, be it with respect to Sabarimala temple, or with respect to Shani Shingapura temple- they all serve as case studies showing how Equality discourses are being utilized to undermine Adhyatmic traditions of Sanatana Dharma and prepare the ground for harvest by Abrahamic ideologies.

It is important to note that, if campaigns like #RightToPray were to succeed (they have already in the case of Shani Singapura), it would not only be infringing on the rights to freedom of worship of the devotees of those temple traditions, but would also destroy the Dharmic framework that facilitates unique tailor-made Adhyatmic practices to each individual based on his/her temperament and competency. If such a destruction of the Dharmic framework were to materialize, then the loss would be to the practicing Hindus, both men and women, who would no longer have access to tailor-made Adhyatmic practices.

It is thus welcoming to see how women devotees of Kerala have started to recognize the dangers in the Equality discourse being propagated by #RightToPray activists and have instead started #RightToWait campaign to reclaim the narrative about Hindu Adhyatmic traditions and uphold the people’s right to practice a personalized tailor-made Adhyatmic practice.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
With a degree in civil engineering, and having worked in construction field, Nithin Sridhar passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and social issues, to religion, spirituality and ecology. He is based in Mysore, India. His latest book “Musings On Hinduism” provides an overview of various aspects of Hindu philosophy and society. Tweets at @nkgrock
  • Prasad

    Thanks a lot. Such articles must be widely shared to build a buttress against the forces that are trying to destroy our sanathana dharma.

  • aronitethinking

    Raiders of the Last Pagan Faith.
    The ‘Faith’ of Hinduism is based on Traditions that vary from temple top temple, Sect to sect and even within same categories of people- and if that belief isnt acceptable, then there is no question of claiming ‘rights’ over that place.You either share that belief or go elsewhere.
    To impose fancy notions of how the diety should be approached without considering how the Deity is conceived as one aspect of the myriad Divine Truth- destroys the approach itself besides rupturing a continuing living tradition.
    You either believe Ayyapan in this case is a Strict Brahmacharin – or Celibate and is acquiring his powers to help you through such a uninterrupted penanece. or you simply dont believe in this diety’s Tapasya. In that case you have no business being there or telling those who do respect the deity and his penance. If interrupted the deities curse! No one goes to them to get cursed. To inflict on hindu faithfuls the curse of their godas and goddesses isnt reformation but plain desecration and defilement.
    This is a good article where this Tradition base of our dharma is explained to the Raiders of the Last Pagan Faith.

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    Almost every temple and community or tribe in India represents a unique religion and culture that used to thrive under liberal Aryan-Brahmin laws before the vicious PANGOLIN* tyranny of the Indian Republic began to persecute India’s natives.

    Temples are not managed by Government. They are plundered by Government. In 1949 the Indian Republic turned the People of Dharma into Third Class Citizens through out what remianed of India and even in formerly well governed and prosperous Princely States such as Mysore, Travancore, Kohlapur and so on where Dharma has a toe hold after being eradicated in the British Empire between 1857 and 1923, In 1959, The Indian Republic confiscated the temples, treasure, lands, water bodies, educational institutions and religious freedoms of the People of Dharma.

    In an India where the erudition, culture, integrity and arithmetic challenged judiciary acting under the grotesque anti-Hindu Constitution chastise the myriad religions labelled “Hindu” by the British, there is no recourse left to the victims other than violence. Almost every temple in India is a unique religion and culture which were held together by Brahmanism and Aryan (Brahimn) Law. Typically oblivious to the reality and the truth, Indian courts are seeking to bring all these religions in line with what the British wanted and the grotesque Constitution erected by Elpinstone, Cambridge, Columbia, Madras Christian, St Stephen’s, Loyola and Presidency educated British stooges who had not an idea about Indian History, culture, traditions and religions beyond what the British taught them to destroy Brahmanism, and so eradicate the People of Dharma so that their loot and plunder may go unchallenged. As it did when the Indian Republic confiscated the Religious Freedoms, temples, treasure, educational institution, lands, water bodies and other common wealth of the People of Dharma in 1959. Violence is the only thing that the British begotten Indian Republic may heed.

    The judiciary go after low hanging fruit that cannot fight back. In this game, the Judiciary is aided in their lack of erudition, competence, integrity and arithmetic by the Indian Constitution. India is a nation of bullies forged in the crucible of the Indian “Social Engineering” Constitution that is designed to steal from some for the benefit of others. They are also facilitated by the reality that Hinduism is not a religion. Almost every temple in India represents a unique religion and culture that can be smashed and thrashed by the insensitivity, ignorance, arrogance and insouciance of India’s judiciary. The only cement, Brahmanism,that held them all together has been destroyed by the British and their PANGOLIN* successors.

    *Note: PANGOLIN: An enemy of India who believes in inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and persecution of some for the benefit of others. At present, the sole purpose of the Indian Republic, Constitutional or otherwise, is to pamper and provide for certain constitutionally preferred sections of society who the British found useful to hold and exploit India at the cost of those who the British hated and persecuted. The Pangolin is a creature that is unique to India and feeds on ants that are known in nature to be industrious and hard working if not quite as fruitful as bees who flee to better climes. (PANGOLIN is an acronym for the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Other (alien) Religions-Communist Consensus that usurped the British Mantle and has worn it with elan to loot, plunder, and rape India since 1921 and re write History and laws to their exclusive benefit since 1947)

    • Slasher

      Absolutely well spoken. My only quibble would be to replace the words Brahminism and Aryanism with Hinduism. However I understand the author’s anguish. In fact I and many other Hindus in India are coming to the same conclusion as the commenter. Things have gotten so out of hand a correction is absolutely necessary. What form it will take is hard to say but it needs to happen.

      • SuchindranathAiyer

        The Tribals, like the Dalits were never part of the Varna system. They were outside the purview of the Aryan Law that bound The People of Dharma prior to 1921 and were not even allowed entry into Dharmic temples.

        They were first conjured into “Hindoos” and then turned into a weapon to destroy “Hinduism” by the British and their stooges the Ambedkar-Periyar type politicians.

        The label Dalit was coined for them by the British in 1921 when they began the use of the label “Hindoo” for the new lumpen of all those who were not “People of the Book” i.e. members of alien religions.

        The tribals were deprived of their rights and privileges as free men and women following their own laws and customs while ranging and foraging freely through India’s forests just as the Hindus were deprived of their hereditary Temples, Religious endowments and common wealth in 1959 by the Indian Republic.

        Any postulate otherwise is part of the Indian State’s continuing duping of the Indian people.

        • prashants5 .

          Well said! The Tribals known as “Vanavasi” and were considered “Avarna” ( outside of the Varnashrama setup).