The news has leaked from several sources that Govt is planning to set up the place as a tourist spot with an international airport at Erumeli whence the Sabarimala temple is easily accessible.
Sabarimala has been a pilgrim centre since ages and every year the number of pilgrims is increasing and over five crores of devotees visit the holy shrine each year. The population of the State is just three crores. Obviously, pilgrims are coming from the entire southern region and from North India too.
Really speaking there is no common in the precincts of the shrine. The regimen for darsan and to step over the 18 steps is that the devotee should assiduously undergo a period of devoutness (Vrata) for 41 days, imbibing food only once a day, do the chanting of “Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa” during the Sandhyas, wear a chain bearing the insignia of the Lord, walk barefoot during the journey, wear black or blue cloths and for adults and married observe celibacy and abstain from indulgence such as alcoholic drinks and consumption of non-vegetarian food and take a head load of offerings called the ‘Irumudi Kettu’. Most devotees observe the vow steadfastly. In this simple requirement women, who after attaining puberty, could not observe the vow as the period of menstruation would impede the process. It was, therefore, the custom to keep off women in the intervening period of attainment of puberty and menopause in consonance with the Lord’s posture of a strict celibate asquat in ‘Yoga Bandha Pattasanam’.
The temples are consecrated according to the posture of the deity, his status or ‘avastha’.
Why should the devotees practice celibacy? This is extolled in the ‘Meemamsa Darsan’ of Sage Patanjali that the observance of celibacy should be regarded as a ‘Yagna’ because it instils a sense of ‘Veerya Labham’ which means preserving the life-sustaining energy not only to withstand the rigours of the journey but also generate extraordinary memory power and sharpen the intellect. The Atharva Veda gives a detailed explanation of this subject and celibacy is recommended in all enterprises similar to the trek of Sabarimala.
The temples are consecrated according to the posture of the deity, his status or ‘avastha’. It is said in the Ramayana by Saga Bharadwaja when he hosted the entourage of Sri Rama at Prayag on his return from his peregrination in the southern regions of the sub-continent with the evident goal of slaying Ravana that the status of the individual is worshipped and not the body. “O Rama while going to the south you were just a prince and now you are an emperor having vanquished the mighty Ravana and therefore I have made all the arrangements to host your party befitting your status”.
Since the verdict has been issued, feminine activists had repeatedly tried to storm the temple only to be beaten back by the impenetrable wall of devotees.
The status is determined by the posture of the deity, his or her insignias just as the weapons in hands, the ornaments, attire etc. which are explained in the dhyana sloka. This, in a nutshell, is the concept of the observances and there is no discrimination of gender. The insouciance of the local Government in trying to dilute the observances has sinister forebodings as news has leaked from several sources that Govt is planning to set up the place as a tourist spot with an international airport at Erumeli whence the temple is easily accessible. Tourists will come in all ages thereby setting at naught the age-old tradition of rites. Such a step will not only topple the very sanctity of the shrine but pollute the pristine purity of the place. Moreover, huge acres of prime forest land will be gobbled up to develop this scheme having a tremendous impact on the ecosystem which will engender either drought or a deluge of unmanageable proportions which will put into the shade even the tsunamic floods witnessed recently due to the untimely opening of the dams.
Perhaps it was this nebulous idea that prompted the local Govt to make a volte-face from the earlier stand of restriction imposed on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50. Confidential news leaked says that a memorandum of understanding has been reached.
Even with the nod from the Apex Court permitting the entry of women of all ages, not a single woman from any household has evinced interest in trekking to the shrine except a few activists. Every year huge sums are collected at the shrine by way of donations, offerings, and sale of the prasadam across the counters. The prasadams are not actually offerings but are manufactured in factories for which tenders are invited. Every year the turnover exceeds 50 to 60 thousand crores and only a paltry sum is spent on temple maintenance and furnishing facilities to the pilgrims.
Apart from sales promotional value at the cost of ecology and sanctimonious impiety engendered by the entry of women of all ages, such a step will wound the psyche of the devotees whose contribution alone is responsible for such huge receipts at the shrine. Since the verdict has been issued, feminine activists had repeatedly tried to storm the temple only to be beaten back by the impenetrable wall of devotees. Thus the whole episode has degenerated into a ‘tamasha’ creating a poor mismanaged and incompetent local administration. The best solution would be to delink religious institutions from the control of administration and set up individual Devaswoms for important shrines to put an end to such devastating denouement by over-zealous administration.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.