I am sure some of our friends reading this might be surprised. But it is true and it is the law of the land. The deity in a temple is a legal entity who is a perpetual minor, according to Indian law, the Constitution and dozens of Supreme Court verdicts.
The deity has rights like you and me. This is the legal point many people are overlooking. I was there in the Supreme Court hearing on Monday and our organisation, Ayyappa Dharma Sena, joined the case.
Our counsel VK Biju pointed out to the Supreme Court about the rights of the deity and the court has consented to listen to the argument in detail.
Sabarimala Ayyappa, Guruvayurappan and Tirupathi Venkateshwaran have the right to have bank accounts, do transactions and even have the right not to listen to a piece of music they don’t like. A very interesting debate happened regarding this in court whether Sri Padmanabha Swamy could be woken up by the sloka of another temple, Venkateshwara Suprahatham. This is the great Indian diversity, our secular and pluralistic ethos. Everyone is free to celebrate any faith in the way they choose. Many will be surprised to know that there is an Islamic shrine inside Sabarimala and on the way Ayyappa devotees pray at the Arthunkal church and Erumeli mosque. Indian culture and the Constitution celebrate this pluralism.
On a less legal and technical point, millions of women enter Sabarimala, and the current regulation is an age-related one. In India there are different age regulations for many things. For e.g. a girl who is 18 can marry, but a boy of the same age can’t. Is this discrimination?
There are sociological reasons for such regulations. Rather than seeing an issue in totality, it is very unfortunate that a section of the media is saying that “Sabarimala has banned women”. The age regulation is because the prathishta of the temple is called “naishtik brahmacharya”. Swami Vivekananda explains the concept in the book Raja Yoga (1896), which made him world-famous. This is one of the many paths and people who choose this path have a very difficult spiritual journey ahead. Vivekananda explains about the generation of “Ojas” in the brain, the practice of celibacy, etc. The Sabarimala temple system is designed to give devotees a glimpse of this Kundalini yoga practice and a peek into sanyas and super consciousness.
Now the most important point is you have every right not to believe in Sabarimala Ayyappa. You have every right not to come to Sabarimala. But do you have the right to impose your ideology on the temple? Article 25 and dozens of Supreme Court judgments protect the right to faith, temples and deities.
If you don’t like Sabarimala, please choose another temple. If you think Sabarimala is governed by patriarchy, please go to Ladies Sabarimala, Attukal or Chakkulathukavu. One of the greatest democratic principles is to live and let live. Many believers and non-believers co-exist peacefully. That is the great Indian pluralism and diversity we cherish.
Rahul Easwar is a social activist and president, Ayyappa Dharma Sena
The views expressed are personal