Pagans handicapped from the start in modern India
The monotheist British colonialists could not conclude their “civilsational” enterprise satisfactorily as they had to make a quick departure in 1947. However they did the next best thing: they made sure that the conversion programme continued by preparing fertile grounds for it. They handed over power to those who were inculcated with a loyalty to the monotheistic worldview like M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. At the time of independence, for this reason, the majority polytheists did not get a chance to design the constitution to safeguard the Hindu interests. The pagans were side-lined and the brainwashed Indian natives and their prejudiced colonial minders granted the monotheistic worldview a privileged status in the constitution vis-à-vis the pagan spiritual paradigm. The constitution was based on the European monotheist framework, which was simply ill-equipped to dispense justice in a battlefield of cultures.
Soon, with the emerging polity operating in a Soviet socialist mode and following colonial precedence, wealthy Hindu temples began to be taken over by the various governments, while carefully leaving the monotheist places of worship in the hands of their autocratic clergy. Then they opened another front in the battle against the unsuspecting pagans. Customs and rituals that evolved in the sub-continent for several millennia began to be prohibited by judging these cultures using the corrupt, contaminated and unrealistic lenses of the monotheist worldview. As we now know, this fraudulent and erroneous worldview encourages the spiritual monoculture of a terrible kind that promotes the annihilation of all other spiritual practices and rituals.
By the sheer resistance of the Hindu pagans, India, unlike the rest of the world, refused to be spiritually subjugated by monotheism despite the high rate of growth of churches and mosques. The Hindu temples continued to survive against all odds and some destroyed ones were even revived, despite the severe attacks on them conducted regularly by the crowd-funded monotheist enterprise. The missions of Islam, Christianity and their alter ego, Marxism, got control of the education system of India through the so-called English-educated class. The first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his British legacy observed a Semitic streak of pseudo-secular polity that favoured Islam, Christianity and a brand of Communism that continued to stamp down on Hindu polytheism in all its wide variety, annihilating one tradition at a time, all the while chiding and blaming each and every pagan group for backwardness, superstition and social evil. The Western colonial narrative portrayed the monotheist intrusions into the Hindu heartland as part of a reforming upliftment programme for the pagans.
A typical case in point is the abolishing of the devadasi system, which dealt a heavy blow to the Hindu temple tradition. The Hindus were compelled to abandon a vital component in their rituals as prescribed by the Agamas. In reality, the devadasi system manifested, symbolised and kept alive the power of the matriarchs in Indian society. The presence and involvement of the devadasis in many temple rituals was mandatory for the conduct of such. The matrilineal system this community followed was a slap in the face of the misogynist patriarchs of the desert culture. It enraged the monotheists when they came across this practice. With the help of pagan converts to monotheism, the devadasi system was abolished, falsely portraying their ancient polyandrous customs as prostitution in the spurious light of Abrahamic patriarchal prudery.
The argument that won the day against devadasis was not exactly the same as the one against the entry of fertile women into Sabarimala, but the issue was once again women who were falsely portrayed as sex slaves of the “upper caste” Hindu males of India. In reality the devadasis belonged to the most privileged among women in India, who were sought after by elite scholars as well as the royals. They were women of status and traditionally followed scholarship in arts and literature and practised matrilineal traditions. These women were performing artists, poets and musicians of a very high order. Their fortunes crashed only after the monotheist, misogynist worldview contaminated the open pagan mind. The colonial patriarchs took advantage of the liberal outlook of the devadasis and made them “nautch” girls first and then forced them into prostitution overnight by throwing them out on the streets through legislation. They were evicted from their homes owned by temples, which they had lawfully possessed and lived in for generations. Native converts to the monotheist worldview also played a major role in this cruel chapter of Indian history, as a confused and beleaguered folk buried the last remnant of female dignity guaranteed by the ancient polytheist pagans. Indians who take pride in the classical arts of the region are forever indebted to these brilliant women and their talented community for creating and ferrying these cultural assets across to the modern era, though they themselves perished in the hands of crusading British charlatans. To get a true picture of the devadasi community and their exalted and dignified role in Indian polytheist culture, read Women of Pride by Lakshmi Viswanathan.
There is enough evidence to suggest that the Sabarimala numbering 18 hills in the Sahyadri mountain ranges were sacred grounds of ascetics and forest dwellers since time immemorial. And today the popularity of Lord Ayyappa, the Lord of Sabari Hills, pervades the whole of South India. Deemed by believers to be a god who manifested for modern times (Kaliyuga) and hence most important, Ayyappa symbolises the common man’s aspiration of getting moksha, the release from the birth cycle, regardless of his station in life, whether he be a Brahman or a common labourer. The devotee’s penance for 41 days, his journey across the hills and the ascension of the 18 steps at the pinnacle and then breaking the twin ghee-filled coconuts of duality are symbolic of the Hindu philosophy of crossing the 18 materialist stages and surrendering one’s ego to the deity and becoming one, in order to comprehend and experience the ultimate spiritual knowledge, “tat-vam-asi” – “you are that”, the undivided principle. The monistic self-realisation that the highest truth is indeed yourself!
The temple is designed for open worship and doesn’t restrict the entry of members of other religions but does traditionally restrict the entry of women of menstruating age. It may be noted that the temple in olden times was open only during the Mandala period of 41 days, which ends with the Makarajyoti, the time when the sun enters Capricorn. However in the 1980s the temple authorities and the Devaswom Board, the department that manages the temple, established a flagpole in the temple and decided to open the temple every 1st day of the Malayalam month and keep it open for 5 days. Another reform was the entry of devotees without observing the traditional penance and women of all ages during this time. The legal prohibition of women of a certain age in the Sabarimala actually came into existence as late as 1991, when a devotee petitioned the Kerala High Court seeking a prohibition of women of this age from worship at the temple, since this was against tradition.
In the “Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States”, Ward and Conner corroborate that this tradition of restriction on women existed around 200 years ago. The rules and regulations of a temple came into force through individual tradition and not by written rules, as is the case for every temple that ever existed until the colonial polity came to be established in India. Thus it is indisputable that such a tradition has been in existence at least for the last 200 years. It is interesting to note that young girls, pregnant women and old women used to visit Sabarimala at that time.
The legendary history of the temple narrates that the Sabarimala temple is one of the five temples of Sastha or Ayyappa consecrated by Parasurama, each of these depicting the god in each stage of purusharta, the essential stages in a person’s life – as a baby, teenager, celibate, householder, forest dwelling ascetic (Sabarimala) – and as an enlightened yogi.
When the Sabarimala temple was taken over by the Travancore government along with 347 other temples in the area in 1812, the Pandalam royal family had the complete rights to the temple. As reported by the Times of India, according to the Travancore Tribes and Castes written by anthropologist Diwan Bahadur L. A. Krishna Iyer, Sabarimala was in the joint possession of Pandalam Raja, Kakkattu Potti, the Perinad folk (inhabitants of a village by the same name) and the Kochuvelan (chief of Ulladan community nominated by the Pandalam Raja).
In 1950, the temple was completely gutted in a fire set by miscreants and the consecrated murti disfigured. The investigating police officer found evidence of forced entry into the temple and suspicion fell on Christian poachers residing in the adjoining area. Despite promises to the electorate of publishing the investigation report none of the succeeding state governments ever released the report or take any follow-up action. It is ironic that the main electoral promise of the first Communist government of Kerala that was elected to power in 1957 was that it would publish the investigation report of the fire that destroyed the Sabarimala temple if it came to power.
As we now know, the Communists were not serious in keeping their promise. On top of it the current Communist government, with a plan to upgrade Sabarimala from a pilgrimage spot to a tourist destination, orchestrated the Supreme Court judgement to allow women of fertile age by presenting an affidavit through the Devaswom Board to the said court that it had no objections in lifting the restrictions on women. Sabarimala is one of the milch cows of the Kerala state government and plans for its expansion had been on the cards for years now. The only reason it is still pending is the whole temple area and the access points are part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve and hence needed the approval of the Forest department for any use of land, which was not forthcoming all these years. With restrictions on women gone, it was assumed that the Forest department could be coaxed to grant approval. This conjecture is confirmed by the speed in which the Devaswom Board issued a press release about its intention to request the Forest department for 100 acres of land the very next day after the historic Sabarimala judgement was delivered. The stated reason for more land was to make additional facilities for women’s entry.
Is it wrong for young women to visit the temple?
It is debatable why young women should not visit Sabarimala Ayyappa. There are many views on this. The judges who ruled for lifting the restriction on women of a certain age voted in favour of equality of the sexes negating the fundamental right of a citizen to believe, unlike the dissenting judgement of the lone woman judge. However, Ayyappa in Sabarimala is not the monotheist god who is offered burnt fat. Ayyappa is like most Hindu deities a sankalpa-pratishta (intended consecration), wherein the unique deity represents a naishtika brahmachari (faithful ascetic), and a stage in a Hindu man’s life where females of fertile age are kept at a distance. This is strictly not a place intended for a devotee of any monotheist god. This temple is meant for devotees who become ascetics for 41 days and visit Ayyappa and commune with the deity.
However, one may ask: but why cannot a woman of fertile age visit Ayyappa even if he is a naishtika brahmachari? There is a shrine for a female deity, Malikapurathamma, next to Ayyappa’s atop the hill, which would have been anathema to a faithful ascetic, but evidently it is not. The pro-tradition reply is: a woman of fertile age visiting a human naishtika brahmachari is a transgression of decorum if she is approaching him knowingly and the same applies to Ayyappa, because for his believers the deity is a living being and also a legal entity by Indian law. People have the right to believe it just as people have the right not to believe it. So if non-believers want to enter the temple, what is their purpose? What did the two women, who breached the tradition, achieve by scaling the summit? If one is to truly believe what they say, that they had darshan of the Lord, which god are they talking about? This confusion about an undefined monotheist god and a well-defined polytheist god pervades the mind of such beings, if we give them the benefit of the doubt and forget the only other possibility that their intention was belligerent and the act was performed only to insult or desecrate what is held sacred by the polytheists.
There is also a small section among ignorant people who propagate that Ayyappa became a naishtika brahmachari only because the upper castes, to be specific the tantric family who consecrated Ayyappa and the Pandalam royals, somehow appropriated the temple and the hills from the tribal people, thus disinheriting the rightful caretakers of Sabarimala and Ayyappa, and therefore it is only justice that women be allowed into the summit.
I find little substance in the above argument. Since the tribal people actually lost their forest land and rights over the temple only after Kerala became a democracy under the Indian union and since the hill people themselves follow the traditions of the ascetic Ayyappa, and women of fertile age did not generally ascend the hill in ancient times, it may be assumed with some confidence that the tantric and the royals were only following lokachara (tradition of the people) by intentionally consecrating a naishtika brahmachari at Sabarimala. Ayyappa, by legend, is married to two women and has fathered a child, and this particular intended consecration as an ascetic is unique to Sabarimala and the only one of the five temples where there are restrictions on women.
The equality of women was originally a given for the Indian pagans and evidenced by the high number of temples consecrated to goddesses and the number of “women only” temples in India. The “women only” temples provide exclusive space to women secluded from men. Men neither question this tradition nor invade this space out of respect for the privacy of these women. On the other hand, the “men only” temples are very rare. Sabarimala provides space for men, single and married, to gather for a special purpose: seclude themselves from fertile women in a 41-day penance so as to focus on moksha, the ultimate final release every Hindu polytheist is focused on. Just as it is pure maryada (decorum) for men not to invade the space reserved for women, it is pure maryada for women to leave the space reserved for men to men alone. This was no discrimination against women but a restriction based on age. This is not at all a transgression of women’s rights. There is no written law but tradition for this purpose, just as decorum is decorum and not a written law.
However, for the monotheist, decorum is an alien word when it comes to religion and spirituality. Barging into the sacred space of the polytheist without decorum, permission and respect has been a characteristic feature of the monotheist. For them it is their god-given right; the right to worship and redemption was exclusively given to them by capital “G” god in the Bible! Only when this misdemeanour became glaring did the believers of Ayyappa go to court in 1991 and secure a legal ban. However, the persistently growing monotheist sentiments didn’t let go but kept increasing the pressure on the polytheists and finally put the judiciary under the thumbscrew in 2018 to overturn the old world decency, decorum and gender dignity.
Is this very difficult for a learned and honourable judge to understand? Was this judgement aimed at drawing applause from the global monotheist crowd? Is a monotheist not competent to understand this type of cultural decorum? We will know the honest answer only if a monotheist is first willing to give up his fake monotheism and false premises behind it in order to comprehend the spiritual reality.
Even though there is disagreement among believing Hindus on the restricted women’s entry to Sabarimala, there is unanimous agreement as to who should bring about the reforms. The Supreme Court is incompetent to make religious reforms for the reason that it cannot make or change laws. Only if a custom or tradition violates the rights of an individual, can the court intervene, and that too without violating another fundamental right of another. In this case, the Supreme Court of India violated the right to belief. A more important requirement crucial for the sustenance of polytheism in the future will be to free their places of worship from government control. The present dispensation is detrimental to polytheism because it exposes its traditions and customs to ideologies such as Communism and people in power with monotheist prejudices.
To be continued …
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