We often forget that, the universe, the very creator and creation all encompassing, is the one and only master we have. It is through the manifestation of its energy that it controls everything in this world from an atom to the anatomy of the trillions of species alive today. Though we don’t realize, the law of nature is the Supreme law we are bound by and we have but no choice to submit to it, merely for its precision and perfection of design, granting us no escape.
For millenniums now, ancient Indian system, recognizing the might of the universe, has been following a very scientific way of concentrating the cosmic power, in order to create an eternal representative of the universe that would guide us and guard us by tuning us to the frequencies of the cosmos and enabling us to attain the cosmic balance. The ancient vedic scriptures, the agama shastras, taught us elaborate processes to condense this universal energy and store it in any stable object of this universe, like a rock, a stone, a statue etc. This process they called Prana-Prathishta. “Prana” means ‘universal energy that flows facilitating an entity to be alive’ (every living species in this universe lives because it has prana flowing within), “Pratishta” means ‘manifestation’. When such manifestation of the universal energy is done on a stable entity, it gives life to it, making it an eternally alive representative of the universe.
The Vedas also listed various things to do, very much like an instruction manual, to enable the effective flow of energy through the chosen channel to make it an all powerful manifestation of the universe. This we called GOD. Vedas also emphasised on the power of Bhakti (love and adoration shown to it by the species of the universe) to accelerate the flow of energy in the idol, forming a universal bond between the two objects of the universe. These practices are followed till date in Hindu temples making each idol, GOD, a powerful representation of the universal power.
There is a huge section of our society who are truly devoted to Lord Ayyappa, an infusion of Narayana (Hari) and Shiva (Hara) merged into one. Hence he is called Harihara. Lord Harihara or Ayyappa has many temples that are dedicated to him. Sabarimala is one such temple where cosmic energy has been concentrated through Prana-prathista in the form of Lord Ayyappa, to represent the universe. It must be understood that each idol so consecrated, has gunas associated to it, which result from the time and situation of their coming into existence. Lord Ayyappa too has such gunas associated with him namely being a Naishtika Brahmachari, the eternal brahmachari. Brahmacharya means making efforts to realize Brahman, the aspect of Brahmacharya is a tool to attain the Brahman. According to ancient and medieval era Indian texts, it embodies in its meaning an overall lifestyle that helps the pursuit of sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation, usually including cleanliness, ahimsa, simple living, studies, meditation, voluntary restraints on certain diet, intoxicants and behaviors, leading to the semen flowing upwards through the Chakras in the body to reach the Sahasrara Chakra in the head. This Celibacy is called Naishtika Brahmacharrya (not allowing the semen to flow down). Hence, Lord Ayyappa himself is a god following such austere penance. Hence he requires his devotees to prepare themselves to attain his grace, by following an austere penance namely mandala vratham for 41 days before they set foot into his territory walking bare foot and carrying their irumudies (Cloth parcel containing the offering of rice, ghee and coconut) on their heads.
It is scientifically proven that rigorous penance and subjecting feminine species to immense stress and physical labour would result in her reproductive organs functioning abnormally thereby altering their periodic rhythm and cycle, resulting in gynecological complications. Hence through intrinsic understanding of nature, ancient Indians, a millennium ago, had decided not to subject women of reproductive age to such austere penance. It is pertinent here to note that the ancient Indian practices, a millennium ago, never prescribed prolonged fasting or physical exertion of any kind for women from the onset of reproductive capacity in her until menopause. The responsibility bestowed upon her by nature was always acknowledged and cherished, intensifying her respect in society. However, society today wrongly interprets this as exclusion, and debates on the correctness and legal validity of it.
Our Laws too acknowledge divinity and religious affairs, giving religious denomination or any section or group of the religion, rights to establish, manage, own and administer temples and institutions for the profession and propagation of religion and also to form rules and code of conducts for such temples or institutions thereof.
“Article 26 of the Indian Constitution States – “Freedom to manage religious affairs Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right
(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;
(b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion;
(c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
(d) to administer such property in accordance with law;”
Law allows every section of the Hindu religion their rights to their beliefs as an individual under Article 25(1) and under Article 26 collectively the right to maintain institutions, build temples and frame rules in connection with the collective belief of that section of Hindus. And specifically under Article 25(2)(a) it states ‘Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law:
(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;’ hence it implies that the state cannot regulate the core rituals and practises of the religion but can only regulate or interfere with the secular aspects in the religion.
However a few sections of the society, considered the rules of Sabarimala, restricting women from following such austere penance and physically exerting themselves by trekking Sabarimala, as discriminatory and violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The Kerala High Court enquired into this issue, and after careful consideration of the laws in force, in 1991, ordered restriction of entry of women between the biological reproductive age group of 10 to 50 years, into Sabarimala as it was the long practised custom and religious order of that temple, taking into account scientific aspects relating to that phase of biological condition of women. The HC Bench of Justices K. Paripoornan and K.B. Marar had held that “the prohibition imposed by the Travancore Devaswom Board was not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution. Neither was it violative of the provisions of the Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 as the prohibition was only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class.” Though they raised huge hue and cry about the judgment, the custom remained unhampered and was practiced smoothly the whole time.
We fail to realize that the female species has always been treated specially by nature. Female species has been given higher endurance, compensating their comparatively lower physical strength. Science today and vedic knowledge millenniums ago, prove testimony to the fact that the Universe has designed the female species to be the key facilitators actively involved in its design of existence, entrusting her with the remarkable ability to create and nurture. Every female species from that of plants to birds to animals are all consistently in the process of aiding creation, irrespective of their act resulting in actual creation of a plant or a bird or animal. Shastras stress upon the fact that, women too, when she has been bestowed with the responsibility of procreation by the design of universe, must nurture herself and her off springs and ensure a fertile system to enable creation of healthy progeny. It is against the intent of the universe and also out of character for her, to overly exert herself and perform activities hindering the process of procreation, resulting in unnecessary complications in the design of the universe.
We overlook the fact that Lord Ayyappa himself is the manifestation of the divine cosmic energy. When he is the embodiment of the divine cosmic energy concentrated into that idol in Sabarimala, it is but natural for him to not want to go against the rules ordained by the universe. He would obviously never want his devotees to overrule the rules of the universe. Hence lord Ayyappa does not allow women to follow this austere penance for a brief period in their lives, namely, from the onset of menstruation in a girl, indicating her ‘gift of the ability to create’, to the onset of menopause indicating the ‘nature taking back its gift of the ability to create’, encumbering their ‘ability to create’. This has also been confirmed by the verdict of Lord Ayyappa in various Prasnams (a form of communicating with the Lord seeking his answers to the queries put forth).
While the deity, being so concerned, does not allow women to put themselves through such tough penance just to visit the deity in a certain place and is blessing them elsewhere, it is but strange that the devotees so blessed are calling it bias and are requesting the overruling of the deity’s order.
The Vedas prescribe 4 stages of life among mankind namely Brahmacharya, Gruhastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa; and 4 Dharmas associated with the respective stages of life. There are Ayyappa temples in Kerala dedicated to each of these stages of life. In Kulathupuzha, lord Ayyappa is a bala (child); in Achankovil the lord is a gruhastha (family man) blessing the devotees along with his consort and in Kanthamala he is a sanyasi (ascetic). There are no such austere penances to be followed to visit these temples. It is not pure devotion if the devotee expects the lord to mend his rules to their taste. True Devotion is always unconditional and free flowing and it is Lord Ayyappa’s divine will that is important. The focus should be the divine manifestation of cosmic energy namely Lord Ayyappa, not the Premises or place in which you get to worship him.
The debate under Article 26 of the constitution enabling a section of the religion to frame its own rules is that, whether such practice adheres to societal Morality. Morality is defined as ‘principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong; the extent to which an action is right or wrong’, the act of restricting the female species from going against the rules of nature can never be termed immoral. Though it might be inconvenient for a select few, it certainly is not immoral and can never be termed a Wrong. In this particular case, the section as a whole, i.e. the Ayyappa sect, does not prohibit women, as an entire sex, from entering Ayyappa temples or women between the particular age group from visiting any of the Ayyappa Temples. The restriction is merely at this one temple that too due to the gunas of the presiding deity, for a brief period when she is blessed with the ability to create, as celibacy if followed by her would amount to going against the rule of nature. Constitution of India under Article 15(3) very clearly states ‘Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth:
(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children’. Hence Constitution is not against giving women special treatment and benefits. It indeed agrees that women need special reservation and benefits in order to function to their highest potential. It is acknowledged that they have already been given a huge chunk of responsibility by nature to benefit society and hence special reservation would never amount to discrimination. This is indeed one such special discrimination, allowed millenniums ago, where they are asked to not overly exert themselves, aberrant to the law of nature, and hence is very much in tune with the sentiments of the Constitution.
Deep research shows, every Ancient Indian practice, a millennium old, have been completely based on science and were in tune with nature. The knowledge and clarity of the ancient Indian system is apparent in their precise understanding of nature and their ability to grasp every aspect of nature intrinsically and convert it into a customary mode of practice. Like crafting to perfection a way to create a representation of cosmic energy to guide and guard their people; Miraculously creating an idol-GOD by energizing it with cosmic energy; awareness about the aura around every living thing; understanding that by energizing, the amount of positive charge (negative ions) in the aura of the idol will multiply in huge magnitudes; understanding that during menstruation the female species starts creation afresh and goes through a cleansing process which there by concentrates their aura with negative charge (positive ions); realizing that a menstruating women coming in contact with the divine aura will nullify the charge, engulfing the ‘divinity’ (energized positive charge) there by diminishing the power of the idol-GOD, causing cosmic imbalance and hence requested women to practice solitude in order to effectively cleanse their system without external interference.
All of these practices bear testimony to our astounding grasp of the nuances of creation and that we had always measured our steps to suit the rules of nature. However, as modern day education clouded our understanding and deliberately kept us in ignorance of our rich scientific knowledge, we have learnt to criticize everything ancient and Indian and started supporting their eagerness to brush aside such scientifically crafted practices and routines as barbaric rubbish.
It is still a debate by and large as to whether the Law of the Land is mightier that the Law of Nature and if it will support these scientifically rich old traditions or is it going to take a skewed view of chauvinism without analyzing the holistic picture. However, let us not forget, it is the cosmic will that will eventually prevail.
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Advocate practising at the Madras High Court