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Friday, 5 August 2016

Women? Good Lord!

Either the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has read my blogpost or better sense has prevailed. A new sense of purpose maybe. Among the many complaints mentioned in my earlier post I am happy to report substantial changes, for the better that I witnessed during my recent visit to the Sabari Hills. The washrooms/restrooms earlier resting on man made lakes and the other attended shortcomings have been renovated. No more water logging. No more running around to fetch water. And clean! Well done TDB.

Plastic! Where art thou? The Sabarimalai and its entire trekking stretch and the Sannidhanam is plastic free now. No polybags, no pet bottles. NO PLASTIC! Kudos! However Dear TDB here are a few suggestions which can make this step even more devotee friendly. While ban on pet bottles is a very welcome step, you must also ensure presence of far more numbers of fresh drinking water kiosks. I for one was left mostly thirsty as I did not carry any water storing unit and had to discard the pet bottle at a garbage bin at the start of the trek at Pampa. You must also encourage the water/water substitute brands to possibly sell their liquids in recyclable glass bottles which will not only ensure conserving the environment around the holy hills but also give people a chance to buy and carry liquids to quench their thirst. Well done TDB for converting a nitpicker into a suggestion maker!

At the starting point of the trek up the Sabarimalai there is a police check point. Not only looking out for pickpockets or unruly devotees but also to check the age certificate of the women devotees who they suspect might be over 10 or under 50 years of age. For those who came in late, the rules at Sabarimalai bar girls/women in the above age bracket from entering the temple premises because of an age old tradition which believes their presence will defile a temple where the resident god, Lord Ayyappan has taken a vow of permanent celibacy. You would also be aware of the recent movements from various quarters to stop what is described as a regressive practice which is not only patriarchal but is also unconstitutional. While the matter is still in the courts and various parties are jockeying to take position for and against any change in this tradition, I for one am all for the rules be amended and the women, all women be allowed to have a darshan of our maker. You may call me gender neutral on this issue. Just as Hindu rituals/practices have either evolved for the better through internal reforms or by the stroke in the law books. If Sati can be abolished, if widow remarriage permitted, if right to property be allowed for the girl child, then why not an innocuous temple entry?

Shani Shingnapur - Trailer for Sabarimalai?

I can already read your mind. “Hinduism under attack! Our rituals and our tradition!” Say the fundamentalists. “Why only us Hindus? Why not the other religions married to the book?” Say the champions of Uniform Civil Code. I will take up your queries, one at a time.

I have already touched upon Sati and other ‘traditions’. For those who are unaware, a visit to Sabarimalai demands a 41 day period of penance which entails celibacy, no vices, black attire, no shaving/hair cutting etc. In short lead a life of a yogi/hermit. That is the tradition. Today however many if not most do not undergo the penance. I have seen people even during the penance indulge in activities not permitted. And one can see many a trekker smoking away to glory. These traditions are expendable of course for it is the men who indulge in it you see. Double standards if there was one and so much for Hinduism under attack. Be a sport. Be true. And let the ladies in. I am sure they are far more pious and serious than most men are!

“Why only us Hindus? Why not the Abrahamic religions? You don’t have guts to touch their religious practices!” Sadly I too have to agree with you here. A combination of ‘why disturb the beehive’ mentality and lopsided lust for 'minority votes’ by a section of our political class has led to a substantial number of our citizen remaining in perennial darkness of regressive practices. Appeasement is what it is called commonly. And it must change. Change soon. This country owes it to some of its most backward and oppressed citizenry in the name of following 7th Century laws. And I am willing to go the whole way on this point. I have what I think only one question for you. Must I too regress or stagnate or stop evolving for the better just because others don’t? Will you for example stop giving attention to your work or your business or studies because some others in the company or marketplace or classrooms are unwilling to or unable to or are not permitted to? I am sure you will agree with me that you won’t! That is the crux of my argument. I will continue to strive and improve and continue to set a positive example. And will keep doing it for my benefit. And I am sure one day it will rub off on the others. I as in Hindus and others as in those who are still suppressed by the dogma arising out of the pulpit.

MalikapuratthuAmma. Waiting for the wait to end!

There is an interesting sidelight to the Celibate Yogi in Sabarimalai. A lady, much in love with Lord Ayyappan, Malikapuratthu Amma, whose shrine too is one among the many in the Ponnambalam is waiting for the day when the Lord will break his vows. The condition imposed by the Lord to accept her is that he would do so the day when there is not a single ‘debutant’, christened Kanni Swamy, among the devotees who visit the temple! The other legend about Ayyappan is that he is a much married man. He has two wives. Purna and Pushkala. SO! The Lord has not forsaken the womenfolk. It is as good a time as any for men to stop forsaking them too!

Purna Pushkala sametha Ayyappa Swamiyeiiii!

PS: The lady of my house says she will never visit Sabarimalai till she attains the age prescribed by the traditions. It will be a deiva kuttram she says. I too won’t insist. The lady knows what she wants and I leave it at that. I am sure most men will agree with me.


Dharshan : Holy glimpse of the Idol of the god/goddess in Hindu temples.
Ponnambalam : Golden Temple
Kanni Swamy : First time visitor/devotee at Sabarimalai.
Deiva Kuttram : Blasphemy
Sannidhanam: Sanctum Sanctorum  
Sati: Practice of a widow joining/forced into the funeral pyres of her husband. Abolished by law during British India days after a sustained campaign against it by Reformist Raja Ram Mohun Roy.


  1. Very good write up about Sabarimala and the related issues.
    It is good to hear that Sabarimala is now progressing towards
    Eco friendly zone. I wish all the devotees of Iyyappa strive to achieve
    the goal and sustain it with all discipline.
    I whole heartedly welcome your view on women entry at Sabarimala temple
    It is a surprise for me as I consider you as a person sitting at the
    Edge of fundamentalism, may be due to your political views.
    Your arguments in favour of women entry at the temple
    Contain very valid points.
    My appreciation to your for this good and thought provoking write up.

  2. Sir,
    Thank you for your comments. I have at various times been branded in twitter parlance alternatively a Sanghi or a Congi, a Bhakt or a AdarshLiberal. Guess I can't be both. I presume or at least try to be as objective as possible in my own views. I also take special pleasure in calling out hypocrisy of people of all hues. However I respect you for your views/opinion like a true supporter of FoE! Regards.