Open Letter to the Chief Justice of Supreme Court: Sabarimala Issue Has Created Terror in Kerala
There is evidence that women of all age groups were allowed in the Sabarimala temple in the past.
A five-judge constitution bench had lifted the ban on entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine (News18 Creative by Mir Suhail)
Though the historical judgment of the Supreme Court has upheld the right of women of all ages to worship at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala, women in the menstruating age group are still being denied entry into the shrine. After the verdict, a vicious and violent campaign organised by conservatives, certain political parties, and other vested interests has intensified.
The claim that the deity of Sabarimala is Naishtika Brahmachari or an eternal celibate is a story created by vested interests quite recently. On the contrary, there is enough evidence to prove that the deity is not bound by a vow of celibacy. The mantra for Dhyana, beginning with "Snigdhaaraala..." used in Sabarimala is addressed to Dharma Sastha, who is worshipped along with his wife and son. If the idol is of a sanyasi who is Naishtika Brahmachari, then the deity should be of saatvika character. Alluring flowers like jasmine, pichchi etc., should be forbidden there. But in Sabarimala, such flowers are offered. Paanakam, which is offered to fierce deities (ugra murthis), is used in the Athaazha Puja (Night’s last ritual). The vehicle of the married deity Sastha, the "vaajivaahana" is depicted on the Sabarimala flagstaff. The vehicles of the same Dharma Sastha, the tiger and the elephant, are seen on either side of the 18 steps. The Seeveli idol in Sabarimala is also that of Sastha with wives. In the Thiruvaabharana (sacred ornaments) box, there is the Poorna Pushkala idol of Sastha, accompanied by his wives, Poorna and Pushkala. At dusk, on Makara Samkramanam, that too is placed before Ayyappan's idol. Also, Malikapurathamma, a woman of menstruating age, is enshrined as a deity within the temple complex.
The spokespersons of the Mala Araya tribe have asserted, with proof, that, originally, the Sabarimala temple belonged to them. The Sabarimala deity originated from the Mala Araya tribe. According to the Mala Arayans, the first priest of Ayyappa was Karimala Arayan, the second Thalanani Arayan and the third one was Korman Arayan. The rights of this tribe over the temple were denied and the current priesthood took over only in the early 20th century.
There is evidence that women of all age groups were allowed in the Sabarimala temple in the past. Women in the 10-50 age group used to go there when the temple opened, during the beginning of a Malayalam month, though they avoided the crowded Mandala Puja and Makaravilakku festivals. The ban on a particular age group of women was introduced only after a High Court verdict in the 1990s. The High Court order itself observed that there was no such strict restriction in the past. Even after 1991, women of all ages from influential sections were going to the temple secretly with the silent support of the priests. So the chance of this deity having any special rights to avoid even the sight of women of menstrual age does not arise. It is also sacrilege to say that the mere sight of women of menstrual age would disrupt the celibacy of an all-powerful God, not to mention insulting to womanhood.
The argument of some obscurantists that the Supreme Court judgment disregards the variety in Hindu modes of worship and imposes uniformity, is not applicable in this case, in the light of the above-mentioned facts. In fact, it is the revolting religious fundamentalists who are trying to impose a non-existent uniformity with the false narrative about a celibate deity in Sabarimala, who is, in reality, not celibate at all, by denying the multidimensional nature and history of the deity.
Review petitions against the Supreme Court order have been filed. But rather than respecting India’s apex court and the Constitution, by waiting for the fate of these petitions, self-styled religious leaders and some politicians are committing contempt of the Supreme Court by instigating violent protests against the order. Inflammatory statements denigrating the Supreme Court and the judges of the constitutional bench are repeated every day, as reported with clear evidence by newspapers, television channels, and online media.
Rahul Easwar, who poses as a champion of outdated temple customs found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, even questioned the honesty of the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, during a TV debate. His constant calls for protests imitating the Jallikkattu agitation in Tamil Nadu were deliberately designed to spread fanatic religious terrorism.
Women journalists, writers and social activists, who have asked for the implementation of the Supreme Court order, have been facing death and rape threats, and aggressive verbal abuse through social media. Women of the hitherto banned age group, who came to the temple to exercise the freedom of worship granted to them by the Supreme Court, were forcibly turned back when the temple opened. Media professionals were attacked brutally and their vehicles destroyed. Goons, disguised as devotees, have fought pitched battles against the police. A hartal called by an organisation claiming to represent devotees, and supported by a political party, was violent.
When a 52-year-old woman was trying to enter the temple, the protesting devotees screamed, 'Kill her!' She was injured in the clashes and was able to enter the temple only with police protection. This is a matter of deep anguish.
The protestors paraded some women in front of their processions and claimed that all Hindu women devotees are against the entry of menstruating age women in Sabarimala. This is not true. An atmosphere of psychological terror is now prevailing in the state of Kerala and it is worsening day by day. It is because of this fear psychosis of facing bodily harm that the silent majority of Hindu women devotees are not daring to go the Sabarimala temple to worship Ayyappa.
Blatant disrespect and serious violation of a judgment delivered by the highest Court of the country will cause severe damage to the dignity and power of the Indian constitution and the legal system itself as a whole. If baseless pronouncements of the priesthood of religions are placed above the law of the land, it will encourage the fundamentalist elements of all religions to denounce the courts and constitution, leading to lawlessness. Such a situation will result in untold damage to the secular and democratic character of the nation. Fanatics of all colours will become emboldened to take the law into their hands, enabling them to indulge in gross human rights violations.
I humbly appeal to the Supreme Court/Prime Minister for urgent action on the following:
- Stringent legal measures against all those who have defied the Supreme Court judgment by inciting riots, disparaging the court and constitution, and also committing heinous acts of violence.
- Enforcing compliance of the court order by providing security to the women of menstruating age, who wish to visit and pray at the Sabarimala temple.
It is hoped that the faith of the average Indian citizen in justice, democracy, human rights, and religious freedom continues to be preserved.
(The writer is the author of Attukal Amma: The Goddess of Millions, published by Harper Collins India. Views expressed are personal)
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