The Sabarimala imbroglio has been framed as a gender discrimination issue. The side in favour of lifting restriction presents this as a clash between modern values and traditional patriarchy. My contention is that it hides really troubling issues thus requiring a clinical discussion bereft of emotion.
I will use our traditional format of Tark Vitark (debate): Purvapaksha, Khandan, Pramana and Uttarapaksha to discuss this issue. In this particular case this will mean I will first understand the arguments of the liberals (Purvapaksha) and follow that with a reasoned critique (Khandan). Then I will place Sabarimala in a larger Hindu context giving my rationale (Pramana) and finally I will give an alternate hypothesis of the issue (Uttarapaksha).
From discussions in social and main stream media, I have culled out the main arguments of those in favour of lifting the restriction. These are:
- The practice of restriction is not ancient. It began in 1991. This is because there were some instances of entry of women, which a 1991 High Court judgement stopped.
- Restriction of entry of women in the age band 10-50 is:
- Gender discrimination
- Associated with the unacceptable notion that menstruation is impure
Women rightly see themselves as equal to men in almost every field and ideas of discrimination and stigmatising female-specific biological processes have to end. Sabarimala is therefore seen from this perspective by liberals and feminists
- Deities are divine and beyond human failings. Thus, the notion that they need shielding from sexual temptation does not stand to reason.
- The Sabarimala temple is funded by the state and therefore, by law, the state cannot allow any discrimination.
Restriction Began In 1991
There was a tradition from ancient times that women in the reproductive age group do not visit the temple. Men had to perform a forty one days vrata before visiting the temple. This tradition was followed willingly by devotees. A Sabarimala devotee, Mahendran, was disturbed by the Travancore Devosam Board violating this tradition by allowing female VIPs in the reproductive age group and male VIPs who had not followed the forty one days vrata into the temple. He filed a petition in the Kerala High Court. A Division bench, after much deliberation and consultation with stake holders, including women’s groups, ruled that temple tradition should be followed. The 1991 court judgement did not start the tradition, it stopped violation of the tradition. Hence the argument that pre 1991 women were allowed is not only false but it is deliberately mischievous.
Restriction Amounts to Gender Discrimination and is Associated with Menstruation
If the temple were to prove that the reason for the tradition has no nexus with either gender discrimination or the notion of menstrual impurity, then the onus of proving otherwise falls on those who have made this allegation. I will provide the temple’s point of view.
- The deity has taken the vow of eternal celibacy. He is what is called in Hindu tradition Naishtika Brahmachari. How do we know this? Most ancient temples have a recorded history called Sthana Purana. The Sthana Purana of Sabarimala is called Bhootanatha Upakyanam. It is recorded in this scripture that the deity has revealed his character as Naisthtika Brahmachari.
- The legend of Mahishi also indicates that Ayyappa is a Brahmachari. Mahishi was a dreaded Asura who Ayyappa bested. This released Mahishi from a curse. Transformed, Mahishi expressed her wish to marry Ayyappa. Ayyappa revealed that he had taken the vow of Naishtika Brahmacharya. He however told her that the year no new devotee comes to him, he will end his vow and marry her. Till today she waits in her temple close to Sabarimala under the name Malikapurathu Amma and is revered by devotees. Respect for her sentiment is another reason why women refrain from Ayyappa’s darshan at Sabarimala temple. It must be noted that there are close to 1000 other temples dedicated to Ayyappa where women of all ages worship because the deity takes on forms other than that of a Brahmachari in these temples.
- The iconography of Ayyappa with a band around his knees is a standard way of depicting a Brahmachari performing Yoga
The question arises that even if he is a Brahmachari, why does he have to stay away from women in a certain age group. Here again we refer to the scriptures. Shrimad Bhagwatam and Appasthamba Sutram list the eight rules of Naishtika Brahmacharya practice. One of them is to avoid contact with the opposite gender as much as possible. The eight rules apply to both men and women, to both Brahmacharis and Brahmacharinis. This demolishes the argument of gender discrimination. In fact, there are temples with Brahmacharini deities where men do not worship. I am listing five temples here, where men or a category of men do not worship. Attukal Bhagawati temple, Chakkulathukavu temple and Bhagati Maa temple all in Kerala, Brahma temple in Pushkar where married men do not worship and Mata temple in Muzzafarpur. This suggests that the Sabarimala case is not about gender discrimination but that there is a logic based on tradition or shastra.
It is clear that the restriction in Sabarimala has a nexus with women in the reproductive age group and no nexus with the notion that menstruation is impure. If this were the case then the temple would restrict women only on days they were menstruating.
Another argument is that girls may reach menarche before the age of 10 and many women do not reach menopause till after 50. Here the fact is that the temple traditionally did not specify an age band. The system worked on honour. Much later, the government specified the age band.
Isn’t the Deity Above Human Failings
This is a valid argument and needs to be looked at carefully. In Abrahamic faiths, God is above and separate from man. A man saying he is God is blasphemy. For saying ‘My father and I are one’, Jesus was crucified. Hence my argument is that the question itself comes from an Abrahamic mindset that we have all imbibed.
In this particular case, it stands to reason that we should evaluate it from a Hindu perspective. Unlike in Abrahamic faiths where God and man are separate, in Hindu faith God and man are one. Identifying with Mind-Body you are man. Transcend Mind-Body and you are God. God takes avatars as man. In the Hindu system, Gods have weaknesses too. Shiva could not resist the beauty of Mohini and thus Ayyappa was born. Krishna had 16000 partners. Indra is a serial offender. Thus, Gods have human flaws and follow guidelines just like humans do.
These are metaphysical arguments and the rational mind might brush them off as superstition. This is problematic on two counts.
- Who is to mediate between faith and rationality. In the Christian faith, you must accept the virgin birth of Jesus to practice that faith. Who is to decide if it is superstition or not. If you have no skin in the game, who are you to stop Christians from believing in virgin birth.
- How does it harm anybody if Christians believe in virgin birth or a majority of women believe in the Brahmacharya vows of Ayyappa. What right does anybody have to impose their view on another group that is minding its own business.
The Sabarimala restriction is conflated with other ills in Hindu society that needed reform, the entry of Dalits into temples for example. In the at least 5000 years of the existence of Hindu Dharma, no scripture discriminates against any group, including Dalits. The restriction was man made and a social blight. In the case of Sabarimala, I have already shown that the restriction has no link with gender discrimination or the notion of menstrual impurity. If the practice does not resonate with your rational mind, then let the irrational people follow their belief. As long as they are not hurting anyone you have no right to hurt their sentiments.
Legally, you have the right to profess any faith. However, once you adopt that faith, you have to follow the rules of that faith. If you bring it down to individual rights, we are on a slippery slope. If I say I have a right to pray to any deity by my rules, it will destroy the faith and will tread upon the rights of believers in the rules of that institution. The rights of those who question the very character of the institution and still claim the right to be a part of it has to be questioned critically.
Further, three Supreme Court judgements (1925,1969,1973) have held that once a deity is consecrated, It becomes a legal entity and has Rights. Thus, Sabarimala temple is the abode of Ayyappa. When we go there we defer to his wishes just like we would to the wishes of any other host.
The Government Funds Sabarimala And Therefore Cannot Allow Discrimination by Law
This is a misconception. In 1922, the princely state of Travancore acquired the land owned by the temple and in return agreed to give it a sum of Rs 51 lakh every year. In 1947, when Travancore was absorbed into the Indian Union, its liabilities were assumed by the Indian state. Hence Sabarimala does not get government funding. They get rent. The law is also clear as in the Shiroor Math judgement of 1954 that the state will be responsible for only the administrative aspects, leaving the religious aspects in the hands of the temple and it’s devotees.
Sabarimala exemplifies the tremendous diversity in Hindu Dharma. It celebrates Brahmacharya. There are other temples that celebrate Grihasta. Still others that celebrate Kshatriyata. There is a whole ecosystem of devotion surrounding the character of Sabarimala. By framing the issue as discriminatory we are destroying a very delicate Hindu system based on the premise of Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti and hollowing its very core. ‘Every point of view having a right to exist without forcing itself on others’ is a timeless liberal value. If liberals were to not brush aside Dharma, they will find a very evolved liberalism there. By imposing your values, you are attacking the pluralistic foundation of Hinduism. This could have very dangerous consequences.
With deracination, most of us do not know the character of Hindu temples. Placing Sabarimala in this context will strengthen the temple’s counter to the liberal argument that modern values need to replace an unreasoned tradition. To do this I will locate the temple in the larger Hindu cosmology. Some people may reject the metaphysics involved in understanding this aspect. To them I say that you do not challenge the weirdness of Quantum Physics because you accept the authority of Einstein and Hawking and their epistemology of observation. Well, Rishis Vishwamitra and Vasishta were also scientists. They too set out in the quest for truth. Their epistemology was experience and they laid down a process for anybody to have that same experience. So, I urge you to open your mind and, if you cannot, then at least try and understand the Hindu point of view. Without this understanding, a productive Tark Vitark is not possible.
There exists an Infinite Consciousness that is changeless, unborn and deathless. It is the source of all consciousness in the universe. The material universe is a manifestation of this Infinite Consciousness. Just like waves rise from the ocean, are sustained in it and, after crashing on the rocks, dissolve in it, all creation too rises from Infinite Consciousness, are sustained in it and dissolves into it. Everything in this universe is a compound of the five elements, energised by a vital energy (Prana) and made conscious by the Infinite Consciousness. Hence, nature, man and God, in their essence, is One.
If the truth is that everything is one, then it stands to reason that there will be natural laws of living that create harmony in this seeming diversity in unity. It also stands to reason that the goal of life should be to realise that you are not separate from that Infinite Consciousness – Tat Twam Asi, which incidentally is the guiding mantra of Sabarimala. That natural law, as seen by the Rishis, is called Dharma. Dharma pervades socio-politics, individual behavior, relationship with nature, art, philosophy, relationship with God. In short, pretty much everything. Everything is, in essence, the Infinite Consciousness and thus sacred.
Now we need to locate the Temple in this cosmology.
Character of Hindu Temples
That everything, even solid matter, is energy was known to ancient Hindus. Quantum Physics agrees. A temple is meant to harness this macrocosmic energy to provide devotees with a higher experience. A temple is primarily an energy center, worship is secondary.
How is this energy materialised? Now we need to go into Agama Shastras. By the use of Tantric Vidya, a Yantra (Geometric pattern) is consecrated by the Prana of a Yogi. Once consecrated, the Yantra has an existence in time and space. Now the energy of the deity is invited to reside in the Yantra. The energy is channeled from the macrocosm and concentrated on to the top most point (Stupi) of the temple spire (Vimana). The spire is hollow inside and below it is the sanctum sanctorum (Garbha Griha). The energy flows down to the sanctum sanctorum. This is where the moorti of the deity is placed. It is thus a living energy form in time and space. As we saw, three Supreme Court judgements have ruled that a consecrated deity is a legal entity.
Simplistically speaking, there are two kinds of temples – Vedic and Tantric. Both are consecrated in the same way. The difference is that in Vedic temples, puja is performed while in Tantric temples there is no puja, only darshan. A devotee goes there to imbibe the deity’s energy in order to elevate his own. The deity too is energised by the purity of the devotees. Sabarimala is a Tantric temple. It is thus a place for darshan and not worship. This point needs to be understood by liberals.
To sum up, a temple is a microscopic form of the macrocosm. It is an energy center. All a temple does is amplify whatever bhava you go with. If you go with shradha and bhakti, it will amplify that. If you go with ego and skepticism, it will inflate those.
The whole idea of a temple is to purify yourself, to free yourself from ego and baser nature and prepare the mind to contemplate higher truth. Filled with passion, tossed between attachment and repulsion, afflicted with greed and anger, one cannot contemplate the higher truth. The role of a temple is to aid you to shed these qualities, to become pure so that the mind can concentrate on your true nature. The energy of the temple and your bhava are the two ingredients that help achieve the objective.
Each temple is unique and has a distinctive character. The deity resides in the temple in a certain form. This decides the character of the temple, its sentiment, feeling, energy and rules. The rules are dependent on the character of the deity. Sabarimala celebrates celibacy as a means for self-purification. The first eight of the eighteen steps symbolise the Ashtaragas – Desire, Anger, Greed, Attachment, Pride, Competitiveness, Jealousy, Boastfulness. By crossing the steps, the devotee is symbolically crossing these human afflictions and moving towards the realization of Tat Twam Asi.
There is an exchange of energy in the temple. The devotees’ energy further energises the temple and the temple raises the devotee’s energy. This is intuitively understood and respected by devotees. There are rules about how to maintain the sanctity of the temple’s energy. If the energy is disturbed, then there are rituals to rebalance the energy. The disturbance can be for any reason, by man or woman. Recently, the Shudhi rites carried out by the Tanthri at Sabarimala has been hysterically interpreted as cleansing the pollution caused by the visit of women with menstruating capability considered impure. This is not true. Any disturbance of energy, for any reason, by man, woman, child or faulty rituals, needs to be corrected by Shudhi.
With the assault on Sabarimala this sublime idea of a temple being an energy center is being destroyed. Its benefits accrue to the one who goes with shradha and not any misplaced idea of equality. What was amplified for the women who entered the temple by deceit and deception? Was is purity or was it ugliness. Contemplate on this question. A place where millions surrender their ego is being strangled by the egos of a handful.
A temple is an idea of beauty so sublime that it brings out the best in human nature. What will be achieved by overpowering this delicate idea by brute force. Think about it, our current world view is based on the ugliness of monotheism, the wound of Cartesian absolutism and the dreadful notion that nature is the slave of man. It has landed us in conflict, sickness of the individual psyche and destruction of nature. Dharma has always been there as a wise alternative with enlightened personal living, responsible social living and coexistence with nature. India is one of the last stubbornly surviving bastions. Why would you kill it with absolutist ideas. This assault on the temple is not something that liberals should gloat over.
The liberal point of view, that this is a case of gender discrimination, is not a slam dunk. The traditionalist arguments are also meritorious. The feminists believe that it is high time discriminatory practices end. Equally, the Hindus believe that it is high time reverse discrimination against the majority ends too. What is needed is dialogue. Forcing a point of view can have dangerous consequences. However, what I am going to present here is that there is a bigger conspiracy and the liberals are being used as a screen. The real agenda is far more sinister. I will build my case based on facts.
In their path breaking book, Breaking India, Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan have detailed the nexus between Western governments, academia, foundations, evangelical organisations, leftists and jihadists and their agenda to divide India along its fault lines, change its demography and prevent its rise. They execute their plan by creating a negative narrative of India, atrocity literature, subversion, evangelism and terrorism. A February 2004 Tehelka Expose by V S Shashikumar details Project Joshua which aims to Christianise India. The project has humongous funding and a breathtaking strategy that would make a military plan look amateurish. A more detailed discussion on this larger Breaking India agenda is beyond the scope of this article. The purpose here is to simply state that there is such an agenda. In this section, I will only focus on factually presenting the conspiracy against Sabarimala and make the point that the attack on Sabarimala is systematic and sustained.
The Communist Government
The Communist government in Kerala is taking cover behind the ruse that they are merely implementing the Supreme Court judgement. However, the manner in which they have forced women into the temple reveals their anti-Hindu stance:
- They have desecrated the temple using deceit and deception. Do elected governments use deceit against their own people?
- The kind of women they have conscripted to violate the temple are, by no stretch of imagination, devotees
- They have used Muslim and Christian women and mandated that female government employees participate in the farcical government sponsored wall. I hope the irony of burqa clad Muslim women protesting Brahminical Patriarchy is not lost even on the most cynical. Do governments sponsor walls to hurt their own people?
- They have picked on the Hindus for forceful implementation of a court judgement while sparing the Christians on a very similar issue: In the long standing dispute between the two factions of the Malankara church – Orthodox Syrian Church and Jacobite Syrian Church, the Supreme court ruling on July 3rd 2017, gave the Orthodox Church control over Jacobite churches. When the Jacobites prevented the Orthodox from entering their churches, a petition was filed by the Orthodox Church in a Kerala Court seeking police protection. The judge came down heavily on the administration and noted that they had a duty to implement the Supreme Court judgement. A review petition filed by the Jacobite Church was rejected by the Supreme Court on November 14th the same year. This makes the government equally duty bound to implement the court order. But this is what the Times of India reported about the government stance: “The government has said it is trying for an amicable solution as there has been continued escalation of tension between the two factions … resulting in law and order problem.” Can someone explain the difference between the case of Sabarimala and Malankara church as far is the need for ‘amicable solution’ and prevention of ‘law and order problem’ is concerned? Being kind to the Jacobites but using brute force, deception and non-devotees to desecrate Sabarimala, at the very least, reveals an attitude to assert superiority over Hinduism. It is no different from the attitude of invaders of the past.
On June 14th 1950, a temple employee found that the main temple, hall and store room of Sabarimala were gutted. Since the temple was closed after the pilgrimage season on May 20th 1950, it was not immediately known when the fire occurred. A police investigation later put the date of arson to 26-27th May. The incident was investigated by DIG, Special BranchKesava Menon. The investigation report is in the public domain. The report concluded:
- There were violent cut marks on the door of the temple, the moorti had been decapitated and its left palm cut by an axe. The axe was recovered from the scene of crime. Since no valuables were missing, it was concluded that robbery was not the motive.
- The investigation ruled out the role of any Hindu group since it was Christians that lived at the base of the Sabarimala hill and no outside group could have entered without being noticed.
- Circumstantial evidence strongly pointed to local Christians.
- The probable reasons were:
- a) To intimidate the Hindus who considered the surrounding forest holy and objected to Christians hunting wild animals there.
- b) Sabarimala did not discriminate on caste and this came in the way of the Christian plan to convert lower caste Hindus.
- Congress minister C. Keshawan is on record saying that one temple down means so much of reduction in superstition.
Nilackal is on the route to Sabarimala and considered holy by the Hindus. In March 1983, the church claimed that they had found a 2000 year old wooden cross in Nilackal. They claimed it to be a St Thomas relic. They demanded and were given a land grant to build a church there. The Hindus led by K Rajashekharan, the present governor of Mizoram, protested. After six months of strong protest the land grant given by the Congress government was cancelled. However, 58 acres of reserved forest land was granted at a distance of 4 km from Nilackal. A church stands there today. It may be added, that when A.S.I. demanded that the cross be handed over to them for examination, the church refused, thus suggesting that the planting of the cross was a ploy.
In the year 2000 a lizard was found in a can of the holy Aravan Payasam. The matter was investigated by the High Court. Its report is clear that it was impossible for a lizard to come through the narrow tube from which the payasam is poured into cans. It concluded that it was a deliberate act and the church spread the canard to erode the sanctity of the Aravan Payasam.
In 2006, the Tanthri was abducted by Bechu Rahman, Shobha John and Biju Peters. Rahman belongs to the D company and Shobha is a sex worker. Obscene pictures were taken of him in Shobha’s house. Rahul Eshwar has exposed this joint Muslim-Christian conspiracy to defame Sabarimala.
We have seen how the government has favoured the Jacobites by not implementing the Supreme Court judgement. To return the favour, the Jacobite church instructed 100,000 of its women to join the government sponsored wall in January 2019. Fr. Varghese Kallappara is on record saying “It is the policy of Jacobite Church to lend support to those who help us in crisis.” At the flimsiest pretext the Christians shout persecution but have no qualms in hurting the sentiments of Hindus on an issue that has nothing to do with them.
The Christian objective is to break the monopoly of Hindus in one of their biggest pilgrimage centers, to establish a church near Sabarimala and ensure that the area becomes a center for Christianity.
The Muslim Angle
A narrative is being created that because of Vavar mosque, Muslims too have a claim to this place. Vavar was a friend of the prince of Pandalum. He became a devotee of Ayyappa and requested that he build a mosque for Ayyappa pilgrims to visit. In the spirit of Hindu inclusiveness, the prince agreed. Little did he know that centuries later the mosque will be used to claim Muslim rights to the area.
The Jihadist angle came to light when 360 kgs of explosives were found in the forest close to the temple in December 2016. The plan was to blow up the temple on 6th December, anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition. Alert forest guards discovered this and saved the temple.
Sabarimala is not a random case. It has been carefully chosen to hit the Hindus where it hurts the most. The next likely target is Khumb Mela, the largest gathering of Hindus with an unbroken tradition going back 8000 years. Rajiv Malhotra has investigated the Harvard Khumb Mela Project led by Diana Eck. Her real agenda was given away when she remarked that she missed seeing feminist NGOs at the Mela. The attack on Khumb Mela will be on expected lines. Demographic studies will map caste wise participation to look at inequality of facilities with an aim to create inter caste conflict. Feminists will write against Khumb Mela being a male bastion and highlight exploitation of women. Environmentalists will weigh in with the narrative of rituals causing pollution. Public Health experts will declare Khumb Mela a health hazard and Christian missionaries will infiltrate in the guise of providing food and water.
This is what Hindus are up against. Colonial era laws persist and are being used against them. In many instances, the state is against them, as can be seen from the history of Sabarimala. The monotheists and Marxists are not going to back down. The media is against Hindus too and will be the first to run down and even misrepresent their traditions as they are doing in the case of Sabarimala. Hindus will be provoked and, when they react, they will be labeled Hindu Taliban. This is just the way it is. Hindus need to unite behind issues like the assault on Sabarimala. To change a system that discriminates against the majority will take some doing. In a democracy this, will not happen unless the constituency backing these changes is large, united and consistent.
The communist government must have thought they could get away with their plan to break the Hindu hold over the Sabarimala geography and tradition and to turn a most holy place into a tourist jamboree. But they misread the rise of Hindu consciousness and have landed themselves in a huge mess. The blueprint on which a Hindu renaissance can be structured is a thing of great beauty and a tested system for everything the liberals yearn for. Liberals and Hindu revivalists can be allies, all they need is to talk to each other.
- Sabarimala Temple Case Parts 1 & 2- News X discussion with J Sai Deepak, Iqbal Ansari and Tarun Nagpal, YouTube
- Sabarimala Temple Arson Case- Enquiry Report by Shri K. Kesavan Menon, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Special Branch, C.I.D (On Special Duty)
- Chiranjeevi Bhat, Is there a Christian conspiracy against Sabarimala, Indiafacts.org
- Radhakrishna Kuthoor, Commissioner Suspects Foul Play, The Hindu, Dec 15, 2000
- Mahir Haneef, Control over Orthodox Church: Will Try For Amicable Settlement, Government Tells HC, Times of India, July 18, 2018
- T A Ameerudheen, A Century Old Church Dispute in Kerala Comes Up Again as Supreme Court Rejects Plea on Leadership, Scroll, Nov 19, 2018
- Rajiv Malhotra, Why Khumb Mela is at Risk, Infinity Foundation
Featured Image: The Hindu
Disclaimer: The 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.
Atul Sinha founded and runs a leading Strategic Brand Design Company. His interest in Indic culture and history led him to pursue a PhD program at SVYASA, Bangalore. He writes on Vedanta and Indic Culture.