Op-ed by A.N (Reader)
Sabarimala, one of the most ancient temples in our country, renowned for centuries for its sanctity. Once the seat of piousness and austerity now, it is the melting pot of chaos and controversy. The tension emanating from those foothills of Kerala are now sending ripples all across our country after a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, on September 28, announced their decision to allow entry of women into the temple.
Religious and political unrest ensues even as protest rallies rage across the country from the suburbs of Kerala all the way until our capital city Delhi. Cyber spaces being no exception, people from across the world are taking to their networking platforms to express their emotions ranging from absolute horror to utter disregard.
At these heated moments, it would do us all some good to just step back, calm down and understand the events for what they really are instead of just letting individual opinions cloud the air and complicate the situation further. For this, let us go back to the fundamentals.
Who is Lord Ayyappan? Legend has it that centuries ago the demoness Mahishi was wrecking havoc on the face of earth, after receiving a boon from Lord Brahma that no one except the son of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu could kill her. Thus was born Ayyappan/ Manikandan/ Sasta; the child of holy union when Lord Vishnu took female form to commune with Lord Shiva. As fate would have it eventually, Mahishi was destroyed. The temple is believed to stand on the place where Ayyappa meditated after killing the demoness and freeing the young men folk from her clutches.
The centuries old tradition. Women between the ages of 10-50 years were prohibited from entering the temple because it is believed that the demoness Mahishi would return to possess the woman’s body and continue to trouble the men folk. Moreover, Ayyappa being a Brahmachari, his devotees also had to keep purity of body and mind during the 41 day long Vrath period. This unfortunately means, steering clear of women, who by virtue of their biological standing in the reproductive circle, happen to be termed as “impure”. Then again, we live in a world where anything is deemed acceptable as long as it comes from the virtuous standpoint of a belief system.
Now that we understand the historical bearing on the current events, it is truly upto us to choose if we want to remain in the past or move ahead into the future. Progression is an undeniable occurrence. As the famous saying goes, ‘change is the only constant in life’; however, change is hard. And progressing into the future does not always entail communal harmony. As mature social creatures of the modern era, we have a moral obligation to the world we live in. But, the choice is ours. We can choose to get emotionally tangled every step of the way and face the fall or; we can choose to be patient, considerate of each others’ thoughts and values and move ahead as a community we fondly call- the humankind.
I conclude by saying that this is entirely a matter of personal choice. It is time we as a community started to make an effort to respect individuals and their choices. On the one hand, the conventional groups can respect the individuals who want to break age old barriers and worship their God in His own altar and on the other hand, the radicals can respect the others by nudging them gently for the change they want to see instead of pushing them off their balance. Mutual respect is after all the cornerstone of communal harmony.
Before signing off, a practical note to my fellow beings out there: For those of you who think this issue is a matter of equality, it is not. It is about accepting the differences. There is no talk of feminism or ant-feminism here. For those of you who think it is a matter of purity versus impurity, it is not. Purity is more a state of mind, than a credit to the body. And for those of you who do not understand the science of menstruation, you should probably know that it is indeed the natural mechanism of a woman’s body to cleanse itself. Now help me understand, what could be more ‘purifying’ than that! Even the all powerful Gods across history ranging from Jesus to Mohammed to Buddha and even Ayyappa had chosen to be carried in a woman’s womb. I suppose it’s safe to say that the Gods did not feel compelled to be brought forth into this world in ‘impure vessels’. Celibacy is merely a practice, a discipline; it is not the standard of purity. For those of you who think violent threats are the way to go, you need to step back and watch the path you are on because it is definitely not leading to any God. And the mass suicide threat is a joke! If you successfully act on it, it will still remain a joke, a sad one; sad because you will not be around to watch yourself being laughed at.
Lastly, the Government and the people in positions of power and mass influence need to slow down. You are not in a position to take stands. The moment you take that oath to uplift the society you live in, you no longer have an individual mind; rather, you have a collective conscience. You not just understand different perspectives, but also make perseverant endeavours to help the people you lead to understand these perspectives while making decisions on common ground. Even though we might be moving in the right direction, knowing when to take baby steps and when to make giant leaps would be wise governance!