With the first day of Mandalam season beginning on Saturday, spirituality was seen at its peak in New Delhi’s Ayyappa temples at Saket and R.K. Puram. The latter, thronged by hundreds of ardent Ayyappa devotees on a daily basis, saw a little more than the usual rush given that many were to also mark their visit to Sabarimala – the shrine that has been in the centre of controversy between the Centre, Kerala state government, devotees, and activists over the recent Supreme Court ruling of allowing women entry into the shrine.
In order to gauge the mood surrounding the protests and fervent calls of peace made by Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, News18.com visited the temples in the capital’s south-west region. At 5:50 AM, the temple in Saket bore a sleepy look with only a handful of people. Cut to 6:45 AM, I had to jostle for parking space in RK Puram. RK Puram temple is also one of most well-renowned Ayyappa temples in India – with my earliest memory being visiting the temple as a kid since the early 90s.
Well-aware of how things were unfolding on Ground Zero, I was under the impression that maybe things are a little different amongst Ayyappa devotees up north.
Speaking about the controversy that has been brewing in Kerala, Somalal, manager of the Ayyappa temple in Saket said, “There is a uniqueness about Sabarimala. Lord Ayyappa is known to have taken his position of celibacy and tend to his devotees first. What I am unable to understand is that why are people adamant on changing the tradition that is being followed for ages.”
It was also informed that there were handful of people who had protested at both the temples against the Supreme Court’s ruling in New Delhi.
At RK Puram temple, emotions and spirituality were seen running high as most of the devotees came to the temple dressed in black; as a mark of respect to the deity and the season. Devotees who were about to embark on the yearly ritual of visiting Sabarimala were seen getting prepared to carry the ‘erumudi’ whose first stage is wearing the ‘chandana-mala’.
A devotee, Ananta Lakshmi Chawla, Assistant physiotherapist at a West Delhi-based hospital, who was on the verge of tears, told News18.com, “This decision taken by the women who are maybe anti-activists or are paid to do this by the political leaders, this is wrong. Spiritually, since so many years, this tradition has been going on that before 10 years and after 55 years and after stopping your ‘physical hassles’ and family hassles, only then one can go to Sabarimala, which will give one peace of mind. But now, it has come to me that it is going to be a resort or a public place. It is going to spoil the whole scenario and the devotion of devotees going to Sabarimala, which is totally wrong.” She further added that she has been to the shrine six times but chose to skip it this time because of the controversy.
The millennials, however, had a different opinion.
Santosh Karat, a resident of New Delhi who works with a private events firm said, “If women are allowed in the RK Puram temple, why not at the main shrine?” while asserting his displeasure on spirituality shrouded in the garb of activism – case in point Trupti Desai and Rahul Easwar. His wife, Sushmita Menon, working with a state-run broadcast channel said, “Women should be allowed to go to Sabarimala only if it is true devotion on their mind.”
While we will have to wait until 22nd January 2019 when the Supreme Court hears the matter next, it is largely being seen that this issue will polarise the Hindu voters in Kerala.