Archive for the ‘Temples’ Category

The Traditions of Sabarimala Ayyappa

November 7, 2018

Samiye Saranam Ayyappa

There is a whole chapter in the holy Tamil Text, TirukkuraL, titled as ‘Ikal’ (இகல் = Humiliation, Hostility). Herein the Saint Poet Tiruvalluvar in three couplets tells us about the harms of hostility and humiliation.

குறள் 857:

மிகல்மேவல் மெய்ப்பொருள் காணார் இகல்மேவல்
இன்னா அறிவி னவர்.

The real intent and meaning of victory will be lost, if the victor ever humiliates the vanquished with hostility

குறள் 858:

இகலிற்கு எதிர்சாய்தல் ஆக்கம் அதனை
மிகலூக்கின் ஊக்குமாம் கேடு.

Real victory is to be devoid of hostility and humiliation. Otherwise the victory will turn out to be harmful.

குறள் 859:

இகல்காணான் ஆக்கம் வருங்கால் அதனை
மிகல்காணும் கேடு தரற்கு.

The real winner will not humiliate the loser. If he does, winner will be the only loser.

This is exactly what happened in the case of Sabarimala verdictof gender equality by Supreme Court of India and the aftermath of the verdict. It was a just cause and a good victory by Indian Women Activists. Their celebrations are well justified. But where is the need to humiliate the system that existed earlier and its followers?

The Sabarimala devotees traditionally start their ritual penance for the pilgrimage, 41 days in advance. As such, when the verdict against the tradition came they were already half-way into the rituals. There is no way the activists, who hurried to celebrate their victory could have done this 41-day ritual. Most of the women, who dared to visit the shrine, did so in a way that humiliates the traditional devotees. It could have even been their aim, and not any true devotion or serene happiness. Unfortunately as said in the above verses of TirukkuraL:     a) Even the real winners lost the intent and meaning of their victory, b) their victory itself has come under suspicion, and c) and who knows, ultimately, they may even become the losers.

Without going into the merits of the verdict, we can easily conclude that SC has not specified any time limit for implementing their verdict of gender equality. The leftist (atheist) Govt of Kerala could have easily waited for a period of time, and could have used this time, to at least make preparations for the security and safety of first batch of women pilgrims and also more importantly, to secure the ritual value of the pilgrimage of thousands of devotees under penance. But the Govt in trying to celebrate the victory of atheists, chose to humiliate the devotion of the pilgrims. The visual, social and print media in their hurry to celebrate the victory of their ‘secular’ backgrounds, chose to send their women correspondents to the shrine along with the so-called women pilgrims. They never gave a thought for the humiliation it caused for the real devotees under penance. Almost all of the so-called women pilgrims with their media escorts were from non-Hindu communities. What were the intentions behind such a move, except that to humiliate the real devotees? It was really surprising that Supreme Court also did not take cognisance of its verdict, being sabotaged in this manner, let alone the fact, that they chose to remain unconcerned with the violent fallout of its verdict. In this process they allowed their verdict to be sabotaged openly.

I am not a Sabarimala devotee. I have never ever undertaken the penance and neither joined the pilgrimage. But I have great respects for those who go on such a pilgrimage. I have equal respect for the Haj Pilgrims also. It will be really nice, if women devotees of all ages are enabled to go on such pilgrimages. As we all know all pilgrimages have rules and regulations to be followed. Were there any such rules and regulations evolved for women by the Devasvom Board? Did Kerala Govt ask Devosvom Board for such set of rules as existing for male pilgrims? Any pilgrimage, (including for Haj), cannot be treated like a picnic by any new set of pilgrims. If they were real devotees, they themselves could have asked the Devasvom Board to evolve such rules, and could have given adequate time for them to do so. Supreme Court, in their hurry, or some would say, in their Judicial Activism, did not think of such a clause in their verdict also.

Amidst all these tussles within the Hindu Community, was there anybody interested in evolving a solution or a compromise; – neither victors, nor vanquished, nor the mediator and nor the media? Everyone was just following their agenda, political or otherwise. I have no agenda and I am totally apolitical. Being a Hindu, I am interested in safeguarding our gender equality and intrinsically secular culture, and hence I have evolved a solution which can be reviewed by all concerned. Activists can reserve their right to fight against such a solution if they find it not agreeable, either at the proposal stage or at the subsequent implementation.

In any South Indian temple, only the appointed priests are allowed inside the sanctum. They will do Abisheka, Alankara, Archana and Aradhana from inside the sanctum and will be in direct physical contact with the deity or murthy. The devotees will witness and participate only from outside. This is very much unlike temples in North India. Even in the case of Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala, devotees are allowed only up to the upper prakara of the temple above the traditional 18-steps. Of course they will have uninterrupted darshan of the deity, will have their offerings accepted and will receive their prashad. The 41-day penance they do is only to become eligible to go up these holy 18-steps. A few of the women activist have managed to reach the terrace just below the 18-steps, and that is where, they were violently, or otherwise, stopped by the devotees and the priests. When thousands of devotees voluntarily undertook penance to reach that stage, how can such activists with police protection be allowed, sans any such penance? Under this context, here comes my solution:

Women of ages between 10 years and 50 years, if they are menstruating, will not be able to observe 41-day penance for obvious biological reasons. Hence they could be specified some easier penance for say 18-days. After completing this easier penance, they can be admitted to take the pilgrimage, in a way not to distract or disturb the more severe penance of male devotees. These women devotees may be admitted up to the terrace below 18-steps. From then on, only those women who are below 10, or above 50 years, who have kept up their penance for 41-days will be allowed to mount the 18-steps and have a close darshan of the deity. All other women can have indirect darshan, say through a real time CCTV/screen, just outside the 18-steps, thus respecting the celibate status (Naishtika Brahmacharya) of Lord Aayyappa of Sabarimala. Offerings of the devotees may also be collected and made to the deity by the priests, who will then distribute the prashads to these devotees. In every Sabarimala season, the first day of opening of the shrine may be allotted only for women. All the male devotees may be stopped at Pamba base camp itself, till darshan by women devotes are completed and they have returned to the dedicated base camp at Pamba.

This solution or any other variations should be discussed with all devotees, priests, Devasvom Board, Pandalam Royalty and Kerala Govt. Such an agreed solution should be presented to the Supreme Court, during the ongoing review of the verdict, if possible. Otherwise, they should appeal to Supreme Court now itself, for sufficient time to implement any other solution based on the revised verdict they may pass on review.

Even if no party appeals for more time or if they show no intention of drafting a solution enabling the visit to the shrine by women devotees of all ages, Supreme Court on their own wisdom may direct the parties to form a committee and propose such a solution. In the end, there should not be any Victor or Vanquished and neither any scope for humiliation of any one.  Hope with the help of such a fair justice to be delivered by Supreme Court, with the cooperation of all Sabarimala (men and women) devotees and by the divine grace of Lord Ayyappa, we will all find an amicable solution with a win-win status.

Samiye Saranam Ayyappa