Background: The renowned Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala was going through a lot of trials and tribulations. A deva prashnam(astrological inquiry) was done to find out the problem. The astrologers declared that a woman had entered the temple precincts, which was a violation of the temple rules that had resulted in this current state of affairs. Kannada actress, Jayamala, then admitted that she had entered the temple in the late 1980s, praying for her ailing husband.
Poor bachelor Lord Ayyappa is now in the midst of a controversy as to whether a woman visited him or not. The world is aghast as to how could a fertile woman go to Sabarimala and touch the feet of the Lord - a place where one requires undergoing about 40 days of purity before travelling. There are 2 angles to this issue - One, as to how a woman could have gone to the place and touched the idol when women in the age group of 10-50 are not allowed there and two, the larger issue of whether there should be any such discrimination/tradition (depending on which side you represent) in terms of the entry of women into religious places.
Clearly, there are mischief mongers in the background willing to pounce on an opportunity to defame the temple, otherwise why would Karnataka State Assembly get involved in an issue which is of no concern to them. There’s a clearly known rule in Sabarimala that women before menopause are not to be allowed inside the shrine and if Kannada actress, Jayamala had entered it, as she claims, it probably needs to be probed. How could a woman enter the temple and return unnoticed when there would have been so many devotees who would have witnessed this? The head priest claims that even he does not touch the idol during the daily worship and so it is impossible for Jayamala to have done so. The first observations suggest that Jayamala is probably lying but then one wonders what could be the motive to make any such claim, that too after about 15 odd years. This would need to be investigated further to check the veracity of the matter.
However, the larger question that begs discussion is should women be stopped from entering the shrine. I have been arguing with people on this and one explanation given to me is that a woman in menstruation is impure and should not be allowed to desecrate the place. Some others have suggested that people come to pray in temples and that the presence of women could be a major distraction while others have used the familiar excuse of sticking to temple traditions and that the Lord was a bachelor and so women must not be allowed.
Correct me if I am wrong, but does this not affect other places of worship? Is it that only Sabarimala needs to protect itself from the vice called "women”? How can we refer to women as "impure" or "unclean" when we meet the same women in offices, in educational places and other religious places? Men cannot push the blame of lusting at women on women themselves; they need to take responsibility for their actions and not blame them for everything. One wonders why India's most socially forward state is trying to hide male chauvinism in the garb of religious traditions and rituals and shying away from making a potentially significant statement on gender equality.
A religious institution should not be run on the grounds of any discrimination like religion, sex, caste etc. After all, God has no form or features that we discriminate this way. Traditions come into existence due to certain existing social norms and these need to change as times change. Obviously, these cannot change overnight but we need to create an atmosphere where they must be debated. I am thankful that this incident, whatever the merits or demerits, has resulted in focussing the spotlight on the larger picture - Role of Women in Religion.
We may disagree with each other when it comes to this but it’s, nevertheless, important to deliberate on it. But it's important not to mix a genuine gender issue with a religious issue. Attempts have been made to paint this as a Hindu religious problem (like how it happened in the Shah Bano case) but that would communalize the issue and deviate from the true focus required.
P.S. As I write this article, I hear that one of the tantris (priests) in Sabarimala has been suspended for sexual misdemeanours with a prostitute. So much for women desecrating temple sanctity!!!!!