Sabarimala annual pilgrimage ends: Not Lord Ayyappa's celibacy, but Supreme Court's verdict made headlines

Of the many eventful things that had happened in 2018 was the Supreme Court's verdict on 28 September allowing women of menstruating age to enter the iconic Lord Ayyappa temple in Kerala. The top court's judgment, in the 27-year-old case, was to decide whether women aged 10 to 50 (the typical duration of time when a woman menstruates) should be allowed to enter the temple of the deity who has been 'celibate'.

The 4:1 ruling, by a bench headed by former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, had said that rules put in place by the temple administration violated Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution. Within days, protests from various corners ensued and the verdict soon got embroiled in a political slugfest, with parties making hard-hitting remarks on the judgment as well as at each other. After witnessing unprecedented protests over the entry of menstruating women inside the temple the shrine was closed on Sunday, marking the culmination of the over two-month-long stormy annual pilgrimage season. But amidst these protests, debates and explainers, it is Lord Ayyappa who seems to have taken the back seat.

Sabarimala annual pilgrimage ends: Not Lord Ayyappas celibacy, but Supreme Courts verdict made headlines

Protests erupted after two women entered the temple on Wednesday. PTI

Who is Lord Ayyappa?

As a piece in The Times of India noted, attempts have been made to understand who the 'real' Ayyappa is. Mythology says that he is a syncretic deity, the son of Shiva and Mohini — the female avatar of Vishnu. But Ayyappa was 'most likely' also the guardian deity of the forests before being made part of the Hindu pantheon and given a pedigree by Brahmins. At the Achankovil Sastha temple in Kerala, Ayyappa has two consorts seated on either side and he is focused on mundane matters. He is also a healer of snakebites there.

Similarly, there are other legends which say that Lord Ayyappa does not receive any menstruating women because he had given his word to marry a female-demon, Malikapurathamma, who he had defeated in a battle. The woman today is worshipped at a neighbouring temple, reported the India Today.

The saying also goes that local women chose not to visit Lord Ayyappa for it would be an insult to Malikapurathamma's love and sacrifice.

Legends and sayings such as these have hardly been discussed as protesters and supporters grabbed each other by the neck over the Supreme Court's verdict. A closer look at mythology and rereading of historical fiction would have perhaps cast more light on changing religious ethos and rational thinking.

Review petitions, violence et al

On 9 October, the Supreme Court had declined an urgent hearing of the review plea filed by the National Ayyappa Devotees Association, which had contended that the five-judge constitution bench's verdict lifting the ban was "absolutely untenable and irrational".

The top court verdict had triggered violent protests at the base camps near the Sabarimala hill shrine, as devotees and several Hindu outfits had blocked women from entering the temple when it opened for monthly prayers in October.

The sole dissenting voice in the apex court bench was that of Justice Indu Malhotra who had noted that "notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by courts."

When respondents had earlier argued that the practice of not allowing women of menstruating age to enter the temple is based on the celibate nature of the deity, Justice Chandrachud, on the other hand, said: "The assumption in such a claim is that a deviation from the celibacy and austerity observed by the followers would be caused by the presence of women. Such a claim cannot be sustained as a constitutionally sustainable argument."

Later, on 13 November, 2018, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a batch of 48 review petitions seeking a recall of its verdict on 22 January. The bench comprised Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court also took suo motu cognisance of the violence during the Sabarimala protests and initiated proceedings based on the Kerala Police's report on the incidents. It sought an explanation from the Travancore Dewaswom Board (TDB), that manages the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala.

 

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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2019 19:51:17 IST

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