Two-minute read. Written by a grade 8 student.
The Sabarimala temple is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Pathanamthitta district in Kerala. It is the temple of Lord Ayyappa and is one of the largest annual pilgrimage sites in the world – between 17 million and 50 million devotees visit this temple every year!
And, that not easy to do. The pilgrims have to walk through dense forest and steep hills to seek the blessings of Ayyappa on the 14th day of January, known as Makar Sankranti or Pongal. Forty one days before visiting the temple, the devotees have to follow a strict lifestyle – which includes celibacy, vegetarianism, avoiding the cutting of nails and hair and sleeping on the floor.
So, what’s the controversy?
Ok, so here’s the main issue. Since 1951, women of menstruating age (between 10 years and 50 years) have not been allowed entry into the Sabarimala temple. This notification was made legally binding in 1965 and was upheld by the Kerala High Court in 1991.The reason? Because Lord Ayyappa was celibate and the ban was said to have respected that fact (there are a few more versions of why women were not allowed, read on to know..)
In September 2018, a judgement of the Supreme Court of India ruled that all pilgrims regardless of gender, including women in the menstruating age group, should be allowed entrance to Sabarimala.
A lot of people opposed this verdict. Massive protests broke out. Protesters were said to have assaulted women activists, journalists, and other women who were trying to enter the temple. Many women tried to enter Sabarimala despite threat, but they could not reach it. Finally two women managed to enter the temple in January 2019 with the help of the police. The temple was then closed for purification.
On the 13th of November, as a response to petitions filed against the previous judgement, the Supreme Court was supposed to announce its verdict again. However, the Court has decided to leave the issue of access of women to the Temple open. The five-judge bench of the apex court, led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, has now referred issues to a larger bench.
This is just a few days before the gates of the temple are scheduled to open for the annual Mandala pilgrimage.
Who is Lord Ayyappa?
Lord Ayyappan is a celibate Hindu God. He is believed to be the son of Shiva and Mohini – the feminine incarnation of Vishnu. As the legend goes, Lord Ayyappa was placed on the banks of the Pampa river as a baby. Here King Rajashekhara – the childless monarch of Pandalam – found baby Ayyappa and accepted him as a divine gift, adopting him as his own son.
According to mythology, Sabarimala is the place is where Lord Ayyappa killed the demon Mahishi. Mahishi was the sister of Mahishasura, the demon who was earlier killed by goddess Durga.
Why Women Were Barred?
There are two different versions as to why menstruating women were not allowed inside the shrine. According to one legend, this was in honour of Malikapurathamma – a lady-demon who was defeated by the Lord after which she proposed marriage to him. The Lord had set the condition that he would marry her the day devotees stop visiting him at Sabarimala.
The other version has to do with his celibacy. Lord Ayyappa was supposed to have given up all worldly desires including contact with women, hence women are not allowed.