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Posted at: Nov 4, 2018, 12:18 AM; last updated: Nov 8, 2018, 12:26 PM (IST)

Big gender divide

The ruling has triggered varied reactions. While there are many who are refusing to let go of the age-old practice, there are several others who are welcoming the verdict


It’s not as if all those supporting the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala are hardcore Communists and Marxists. Or feminichis, as goes a contemptuously coined Malayalam adaptation of ‘fractious feminists’. True, the general irreligiosity attributed to archetypal Left-leaning Keralites mirrors in their views about women’s entry to the hill-shrine, but theists and temple-goers, in general, also figure among those welcoming the judgment.

Literary critic M Leelavathy, 90, hails from a temple-allied community near the pilgrim town of Guruvayur. A hardcore believer known for her slightly right-of-centre political views, she wonders how any mortal woman can discomfit a lord’s vow of celibacy. “Nowhere do we have a custom that bans a brahmachari from looking at or interacting with women,” she adds.

According to historian KN Ganesh, Sabarimala administrators chose to highlight, if invent, legends once the Brahmins took control of the deity from lowly adivasis. 

“In the new age, Sabarimala faces competition from other (southern) temples such as Palani, Tirupati and Mookambika. So, ‘no females’ has been Ayyappa temple’s USP of sorts,” he shrugs.  To Professor Ganesh, the agitation against the Supreme Court verdict wouldn’t have gained strength had the women been educated about the enhanced status that the court has bestowed upon them.

Gita scholar Sandeepananda Giri claims the women ban in Sabarimala has no backing of the Agamas that are ancient scriptures of Hindu devotional schools. “In any case, the priests with such a temple have to be celibate themselves, but the tantris at Sabarimala have been family men,” adds the Chimanayananda Mission alumnus, now called ‘Communist Swami’ by Hindutva activists.

Lekshmy Rajeev, who has authored Attukal Amma that delves into a south Kerala deity for whom a women-only Pongala ceremony is organised annually, notes that a 1940 Travancore State Manual speaks of women and children making pilgrimage to Sabarimala. She further alleges that a certain Sabarimala tantri had offered her permission to enter the temple in her youthful days on a charge of Rs 5,000.

Writer S Saradakutty turns the angle towards ecology around the Sabarimala, noting that the region has its rich flora and fauna that merits conservation. “It is not young women who tend to pollute the Sabarimala. Neither women nor men  should make it a mass pilgrim centre,” she says. “It needs to regain and retain its one-time status as a forest shrine.”

Thinker-orator Sunil P Elayidom quotes a stanza by none other than medieval Malayalam poet Thunchath Ezhuthachan. “It begins with menstruating women in a list of those eligible for worship of god,” he notes, reciting it. Contemporary poet Girija Pathekkara emphasis that she is a believer like most Kerala women but hastens to say that menstrual blood carries nothing particularly impure for women to be kept away from a temple during her periods.

Scholar MV Narayanan wonders whether projecting “custom” as a keyword in the Sabarimala issue is an excuse to perpetuate a retrograde agenda. “Repeatedly asking whether ‘Will you do this to a Christian or a Muslim?’ is a ploy to spread the message of Hindus being victimised when all what is happening is the implementation of an apex court verdict,” he notes. Adds novelist M Mukundan: “Sati was once a practice; so was non-entry of ‘low caste’ people in temples. None of these hold legality today.” Fellow litterateur C Radhakrishnan suspects that the protest over Sabarimala are part of bids to divide the Hindu society. He regrets that people of the community seldom show indignation over symptoms of rot in the ancient religion.

The Sabarimala tantris and the erstwhile Pandalam royal family that has a historical connection with the temple are fighting tooth and nail to ensure sustenance of the men-only ‘tradition’. 


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