The Almighty Hindu god Ayyappa of Sabarimala, the slayer of powerful demoness Mahishi, needs to be protected from the evil influence of women.
The god, who blesses millions of devotees with strength and courage, is himself so weak that his vow of Brahmcharya (celibacy) is under constant threat; his resolve is so brittle that it may break in the presence of women.
The god, whose blessings we seek for enlightenment and wisdom, is himself so naive that he speaks through astrologers.
The god, who we call Parampita Parmeshwar, the creator of the entire srishti (universe) is so discriminatory in nature that he doesn't like the very species he created.
Oh My Vulnerable God!
What you just read is the essence of the argument put forward by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the Sabarimala Temple, to justify the prevailing "usage" that disallows entry of women in the 10-50 age group in the premises.
If misogyny was not enough, the Board has resorted to the subterfuge of casting the resident deity into the mould of a vulnerable, weak-willed, wavering, superstitious entity who needs constant protection from the lure of women.
In their response to a public interest litigation questioning restrictions on the entry of women, the Board argues: "The deity in Sabarimala temple is in the form of a yogi or a Brahmachari. The god in Sabarimala is in the form of a Naisthik Brahmachari. This is the reason why young women are not permitted to offer prayers in the temple. Since, the deity is in the form of a Naisthik Brahmachari, it is therefore believed that young women should not offer worship in the temple so that even the slightest deviation from celibacy and austerity observed by the deity is not caused by the presence of such women."
Are we talking about Lord Ayyappa or Sunil Dutt in Mehmood's Padosan, a Brahmachari whose resolve disappeared the moment he saw Saira Bano?
What would these self-anointed servants of Yours not do to make You serve their own selfish interests!
What would they not do to turn the belief that God created man in his own image turn on its head!
What treachery will they not employ to convey vox astrologer is vox dei! And to insinuate that their misogyny is a reflection of the god's feelings.
Consider the argument the Board has proferred to say it is Lord Ayyappa's wish that young women do not enter the temple. "(During) Devaprasnam (a practice of asking the Lord his wish) it was revealed that young women should not be permitted to worship at the temple. The report of the Devaprasnam conducted in 1985 (from 5-4-1985 to 8-4-1985) reads as follows: 'It is seen that the deity does not like young ladies entering the precincts of the temple'."
There is, of course, the hokum of women being physiologically incapable of performing the penance required for entering the temple. "... the worshippers visit the temple only after observing penance for 41 days. Usually ladies between the age of 10 and 50 will not be physically capable of observing vratham for 41 days on physiological grounds," the Board argues, cleverly avoiding words like impurity or defining the physiological grounds.
ut it gives the game away later by advocating that every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to manage their religious affairs subject to public order, morality and health.
The canard of women being physiologically "incapable" (and we all know what is implied) has been demolished several times on scientific, medical and moral ground. Perhaps the Board should be worried more about mental purity of the penitents.
And, finally, there is the usual claim that only the Thanthris (priests) have the right to decide the laws related to the "usage" of the temple. "The member of the Thazhamon IIIam are hereditary Thanthri of the Sabarimala temple and the present Thanthri is Thazhamon Madathil Kandaru Neelakandaru and he is the final authority to take a decision in any controversial issues with regard to the religious practice and custom, as well as the rituals and poojas in Sabarimala temple,” the Board argues.
How was this "usage" decided? Apparently, it was passed on to the current Thanthri as an instruction from his predecessor. "The present Thanthri Sri Neelakandaru is doing tantrum in Sabarimala temple for the past 50 years. According to him, woman belonging to the age group of 10 to 50 were prohibited from entering the temple even before 1950. He deposed that the present deity (idol) was installed by his paternal uncle Kandaru Sankararu and the first pooja after the reinstallation was conducted by him as per the directions of his paternal uncle. The witness stated that his uncle had instructed him and the temple officials who were present on that occasion to follow the old customs and usages. According to him these customs and usages are to be followed for the welfare of the temple."
The SC has already blasted this argument. During the last hearing of the PIL, the court said: “Unless you have a constitutional right to prohibit women entry, you cannot prevent them from worshipping at the shrine. There is a difference between a temple meant for the public to worship and a mutt.”
The petition was filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association and five women lawyers seeking a direction to allow entry of women into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple without age restriction. The apex court had issued notice in the case way back in 2006.
The ban was enforced under Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 (women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship). The Kerala High Court had upheld the ban in 1991 and directed the Devaswom Board to implement it.
The Board will face the Supreme Court soon.
And, perhaps, Lord Ayyappa someday.