The legion of Ayyappa seekers would just grow stronger with women. Without them, his aura gets reduced to a cult obsession
One wonders if the two women in their early 40s, walking into the Sabarimala shrine in the wee hours of Wednesday to uphold the Supreme Court-held right for equality before God, really proved anything at all or were reduced to a tokenism. For soon after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed the development, the temple authorities shut down the shrine for a few hours, ostensibly to purify the premises as if the women had ‘defiled’ the lord by their prayers. It was like scratching the frontier that quickly re-sealed itself with layers of rigidity, desperately refusing to believe that faith needed to be dynamic. Women devotees have continued to be stopped despite the Supreme Court’s orders for genderless access to the celibate idol’s shrine which, its keepers believe, will be desecrated by the presence of women in their reproductive age. As news have been pouring in of patriarchal vigilantes stopping various women seekers marching to Lord Ayyappa for his blessings, the two women began the ascent from Pamba post midnight and avoided waiting pilgrims by entering from the staff gate.
Yes, there is the matter of faith where believers maintain that Lord Ayyappa had sworn not to marry till his earthly mission was fulfilled and women devotees who understand, even empathise with the goddess who still waits for him, supposedly on another hill. The Brahminical priests, in their muscular bid to retain primacy, had inferred that any woman of menstrual age visiting the shrine would imply that the lord corroborated family life. But Ayyappa is also the most democratic divinity there is. Devotees dress uniformly in black, symbolising a renunciation of worldly pleasures and donning a garb of equality beyond caste and other social hierarchies. A Dalit can lead the prayers if he is the group leader, and a Brahmin follower must touch his feet too. Nowhere in Hindu rituals is such liberalism on display. So lord Ayyappa himself would not turn away the genuine seeker, be it a woman or man. When will we understand this? By allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple sans restrictions, the Supreme Court had not only upheld the fundamental rights of a citizen but invoked our civilisational pride. One where Prakriti and Purush, the polarities and equal manifestations of creation, are equal and are meant to be treated so. Of course, Justice Indu Malhotra did dissent given the emotional fervour of the Sabarimala seekers, saying if secularism means respect for faith practices, then jurisprudence demanded that the court not intervene. But with a civilisational history enriched by the presence of women priests, scholars and sages and Pune now growing into one of the biggest women priest training centres in the country, there simply can be no trust deficit about the eligibility of women participating in temple rituals. And in Sabarimala, it is just about a darshan and the right to offer prayers. The issue ballooned out of proportion when political parties, the BJP and Congress, found an easy emotional plank to use for electoral dividends. But as the local body polls in Sabarimala prove, the BJP got only two of the 39 seats in its kitty. Perhaps that’s why BJP MP Udit Raj on Wednesday welcomed the women’s entry and “right to pray” and argued if honouring tradition also meant upholding sati and dowry practices, clearly out of sync with the times. Besides, men were born of the womb too, he argued. Perhaps the slight winds of change have also to do with the women’s wall, a silent protest where women held hands along 620 km from the northern tip to the southern end of Kerala, against religious conservatism. Albeit sponsored and condoned by the Leftist government, such a mass movement by women for claiming their rightful place is almost unprecedented in the history of independent India. The legion of Ayyappa seekers would just grow bigger and stronger with women. Without them, his aura gets reduced to a cult obsession.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer