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"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an ag├Ęd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Male-storm and mayhem

One of most shocking news items that the media has been hyping up this past week has been the Sabarimala episode, where it has lately been "discovered" that a woman entered the sanctum sanctorum, thus causing a loss of divinity in Lord Ayyappa's most sacred abode. I'm jotting down some observations on this.

1. The Kannada actress who has confessed that she touched the idol of the deity claims to have been pushed in by the crowd. I find this not credible. I have been to Sabarimala a few times. The innermost prakaaram has a very small entrance, not very high. Even the pujaris enter with caution. Second, there is a gap of at least 20 feet where the crowd -- the first-est row -- is cut off. Such a statement would have had takers if this had happened in say, Tirupati, where the prakaaram is cut off only by a human chain, and there is no entry door.

2. I fail to understand the "loss of divinity" angle. Who is man to define limits to the power of God? The same Mr. Panikkar drew much ire in Tamil Nadu when it was rumoured that he suggested that the idol of Lord Muruga at Palani be removed and a replica made of some other material be installed instead. The act was done, only to be reverted very soon. Playing foul with God?

3. The Government in Kerala stokes religious tensions from time to time by appointing women in administrative positions in Sabarimala. Why would anyone want to do so given that it can be unpalatable for many? Why not appoint men, at least in such positions?

4. The media has been hyping up the whole thing, and has given a most unwarranted feminist twist to the story. Sagarika Ghose asked on CNN-IBN, "Should faith be restricted to men alone?" Ms Ghose needs to undergo a course which teaches respect for traditions. I do not intend to begin another flame-war, but do men ever repent, "Oh, what treachery! Can we not bear babies too?" Yes, Ma'm, everyone is equal in the eyes of God, but let us also learn to realise that if a tradition has been put in place, it exists for some reason. Of course, Indian society has done with away quite a few "evil" practices, sati, for example. The customs and practices surrounding faith are better left alone. Especially in a state like Kerala where such customs are followed rather fanatically.

5. One of the guests on the same CNN-IBN show radiated ignorance by claiming that the reason women were not allowed in Sabarimala was that they cannot make the arduous journey. Pray tell me, how is a woman of 60 better placed than a 25-year old to handle the ardour?

6. Another angle thrown in by some self-confessed experts is that Sabarimala was a Buddhist monastery, which was later converted into a Hindu shrine, hence the restriction for women. These armchair theorists hold the same view about every single Hindu holy shrine. The Wikipedia article on Tirumala (Tirupati) states:

While some scholars accept the antiquity of the shrine they believe that the image of Venkateswara was not originally that of Vishnu but of a Buddhist deity, perhaps bodhisattva avalokiteswara. The region of Andhra in which Tirupati is located in was already known for the existence of ancient Buddhist sites of the Satavahana era, namely Nagarjunakonda and Amravati, thus scholars suggest that the ancient site of Tirupati was probably a Buddhist site prior to its transformation into a Hindu one after Buddhism saw its decline in the face of Guptan Hindu Rennaissance. Even up to the time of Ramanuja, the famous Vaishnava scholar of the 12th century, the identity of the deity was still disputed until Ramanuja confirmed it to be Vishnu.
There are also some who hold the view that Mecca is a Hindu shrine, which I find to be equally ridiculous. The study of history with the sole aim of disturbing social harmony is detestable.

It is the hobby of some to breathe new life into controversies surrounding religion and faith. They do not understand (or they understand it too well) that religion whips up people's emotions. And the newsmen simple love it, they have a field day!

I'm reminded of the following lines from Leon Uris' Exodus:

Ari Ben Canaan put the Bible down. "The gentleman of Whitehall had better study their claims further. I say the same thing to the Foreign Minister that a great man said to another oppressor three thousand years ago -- LET MY PEOPLE GO."
Leave my faith alone!

12 Comments:

Blogger Suresh S SCJP1.4 said...

Sabrimala the hindu temple
is only for men not for women.
why?
simple reason
PERIODS (women)

but small girls up to age 10 yr can go to this temple.

7/02/2006 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Suresh S SCJP1.4 said...

i think u know abt vatican society secrets


there are secrets even in hindu religion.

actually lord vekateswara in tirupathi is real. he became as stone there. if u trace down a place in chennai called thirunnravur
thiru +ninra+ 00r - here thiru menas perumal ninra means standing in the sense "was there" in this place
and u can also see a temple of him
as a "sleeping beauty".if u move towards tiruvallur u find veeraraghava ayanjaneya . who is protecter of him . and again a temple for lord vishnu . chk oout. finally he became as stone in tirupathi.

7/02/2006 10:10:00 PM  
Blogger Aparna said...

Nice post, good points...and I am not going to comment on those too strongly, firstly because I found you pointing out the irraationality of such a sanction in some places, so swords are not drawn yet :) and secondly, because...well, you can read my new post and find out ('it's time to give up..'.
Actually, it is a never ending fight - this tradition vs. change, or in this case, the issue seems to be , 'Should traditions limit or exclude certain people?'. The fact that these 'certain people' are women in this case (ok, even if women in the age group 10-50), it causes the people protesting against it to be called 'feminists'. So, again, it has become traditions vs feminism.
In my opinion traditions cannot be rigid, but unfortunately, they are. As you pointed out, we have done away with quite a few harmful traditions like sati, etc...so am sure you agree that traditions can be done away with if they are harmful. However, I think, what you and I disagree on, in this case, is - whether this tradition is really harmful or not, whether it is worth fighting over or not. You say it is not, I say it is. I guess that's the only difference :)

@Suresh: Everyone knows the reason, what is irking some, and confusing others is: Why should puberty be taken as a reason to stop women from entering a temple?

7/02/2006 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger Gopps said...

I have a humble feeling that, these traditions would have been put in place by men of the highest decree. If God is divine and helpful, he would have had no bias against women. After all the history and tradition are the works of men rather the God himself. If you delve into the history like what Dan Brown did, you can unveil so many secrets.

Y'day i was seeing the CNN-IBN report on the issue. I heard one of the heads of the Sabarimala Devasom Board saying, "It would have been possible that the person concerned be able to come to the place. But touching the idol is quite impossible". It speaks of the loopholes in the system and the way money can bend the rules.

7/02/2006 11:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

@Aparna: Thanks for your restrained say-no-to-swords approach. Let me explain why this tradition has to remain.

In Hinduism, deities are associated with certain characteristics. Not binding, though. But we always associate Goddess Lakshmi with wealth, Lord Shiva with the destruction of evil and so on. Ayyappa and Hanuman are two deities, the worship practices associated with whom demands celibacy. Of course, any religious practice assumes celibacy as a given. But for these two deities, celibacy is emphasized.

Also, a piligrimage to Sabarimala is preceded by a 48-day period where the pilgrim is supposed to perform pujas at least twice everyday, and also perform such other activities which make one to focus on Lord Ayyappa, and the journey to His dwelling place.

Women, because of the menstrual constraints, cannot undertake the pilgrimage. That is the reason for excluding menstruating women from the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

Of course, with the passage of time, pilgrims have chosen to be more liberal, with generous infusions of smoke, liquor and, even, sex. Also, the 48-day ritual is shortened to suit one's convenience. This points to a general decadence in society's morals.

It can be argued that, since people are flimsy in not being rigid during the pilgrimage, why not make allowances for women too? I think that would be dangerous, because on the one hand you have lots of pilgrims who are flimsy; an infusion of women into this would only make matters worse. What if some inebriated felon committed an act of rape in Sabarimala?

So we can thank those who brought in this custom in the first place -- they knew about twenty-first century morals many centuries ago.

7/03/2006 01:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

@Suresh: I didn't know the mythology behind the temple at Tirumala. Thanks for the info.

@Gopps: Yes, I do not doubt the thinking / pedigree of the men who put these traditions in place. And yes, I doubt the claims of the actress. It would be next to impossible for anyone to touch the idol.

7/03/2006 01:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Hi said...

It has now become a fashion to call for change of tradations more particularly the ones practiced by Hindus. Sad - that too in a country predominantly inhabited by Hindus. Are we ready to tell our Muslim or Christian brethern not to bury their dead kith & kin but cremate like the Hindus do. Even a thought in that direction will spell disaster much less provoking a discussion on the subject. I don't think any individual or organisation has the right to interfere with established customs and practices. On the contrary - let us learn to respect them even if we can't contribute to nurturing them. In the case of Sabarimla, it is no ` male chuvanism ' and let these self proclaimed feminists not bring in their `women's lib ' business into this. Please. For Heaven's sake.

7/03/2006 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger Suresh S said...

Mr.hi said correctly . please dont use women's freedom in to this .
this is different let it be?

7/03/2006 06:10:00 AM  
Blogger narasi said...

VIjay,

Thanks for stopping by!

7/03/2006 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy to say this is one controversy that doesnt bother me, since I'm definitely not religious, and if they locked all temples and churches to my entrance, I wouldnt care.

However, that guy who was being interviewed also commented about the point that other Ayyappan temples elsewhere do not have such restrictions for women. So its not about celibacy, as you propose.

In the end, the reasons for such practices are lost with passage of time, and everyone is just guessing when trying to explain.

'Leave "my" faith alone' ??? when did faith become one person's property?

7/06/2006 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Vijay Krishna said...

@Anon: It's a fashion these days to claim "Look, I'm not religious. I can't bear to see people flop in front of a stone!"

It is about celibacy / abstinence. That it is not enforced in other temples indicates simply that they do not practise it; I would be a fool to conclude that since the other temples don't practise it, worship of Lord Ayyappa doesn't demand abstinence.

7/06/2006 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger KP said...

vijay!

How is it different from prohibiting the people once stamped as "Untouchables" .Will you still for that people from lower caste should not enter the temple? Its the same condition here.You cant declare somebody impure since u perceive them impure.Its between God,their faith and them.Your faith should not cost others.God dint say that people from lower caste should not enter my shrine and neither he says women should not enter the shrines.Its all the men in the past created.Its high time people change their attitudes and let others live..It may not be same as SATI to take another life..But it hurts..If you say U R impure and U should refrain from entering temples ..Wont it hurt them? What they did other than born as a woman to get refrained from visiting the glorious,most divine sabarimala temple.

regarding this

"
Ayyappa and Hanuman are two deities, the worship practices associated with whom demands celibacy. Of course, any religious practice assumes celibacy as a given. But for these two deities, celibacy is emphasized.

"

I agree that celibacy is emphasized.But y do u think women visit temple just to violate celibacy.Celibacy can still be restored in the presence of woman.

Some of the Goddess who are knowm for their celibacy were done poojas,abisheham everything by male poojaris..

"Of course, with the passage of time, pilgrims have chosen to be more liberal, with generous infusions of smoke, liquor and, even, sex. Also, the 48-day ritual is shortened to suit one's convenience. This points to a general decadence in society's morals."

You can accept those decadence as liberation taken by pilgrimas and allowing women as the time changes ,makes a big issue..I wonder why ?




"
It can be argued that, since people are flimsy in not being rigid during the pilgrimage, why not make allowances for women too? I think that would be dangerous, because on the one hand you have lots of pilgrims who are flimsy; an infusion of women into this would only make matters worse. What if some inebriated felon committed an act of rape in Sabarimala?

"


I wonder how can you make such a point.You are afraid that women may get raped by flimsy pilgrims who are men .So you dont want to prohibit those flimsy men but those may-be-raped women ?

7/11/2006 03:57:00 AM  

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