In a statement sure to kick up more controversy, Kerala Devaswom Minister G Sudhakaran said on Friday, the state government has no problem in allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple.
"We are very clear, if the Supreme Court asks the Kerala government point blank whether the government would allow entry of women to the Sabarimala temple, our answer would be 'yes'. If they do not ask us a straight question, we will not have a straight answer," the minister told a TV channel in an interview in Thiruvananthapuram.
He was referring to the show cause notice that the Supreme Court has served on the Kerala government, the Travancore Devaswom Board (the custodian of the Sabarimala temple), the chief thantri (priest) of the temple and the district magistrate of Pathanamthitta, where the temple is situated, after it was approached by the Indian Women Lawyers' Forum demanding that women be allowed entry.
The sudden change in the minister's thinking has come as a surprise. He had stated at a press conference here on August 3 that the Sabarimala temple would continue to remain out of bounds for women in the menstruating age.
"There will be no change in the religious practices being followed in Sabarimala for centuries," Sudhakaran had then told reporters after a special meeting of the temple officials.
The Devaswom minister is in charge of the four Devaswom Boards in the state, including the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB).
According to G Raman Nair, president of TDB, what the minister had said was his own opinion. "We follow the division bench verdict of the Kerala High Court in 1991 which clearly stated that women between the age of 10 and 50 should not be allowed. Please understand that these are customs and rituals being followed. We will give our opinion that there should be no change in the customs of the Sabarimala temple," Nair said.
Kantararu Maheshwara, the chief thantri of Sabarimala, said he did not agree with the views expressed by the minister. "The temple customs are clear that anyone who comes to the Sabarimala temple has to observe a 41-day penance (during which men are expected to observe cleanliness). Can menstruating women observe the 41-day penance? I am very clear that such women should not be allowed entry into the temple," he said.
The Sabarimala temple has been rocked by controversy ever since astrologer P Unnikrishna Panicker's claim in late June that through a devaprasanam ritual he had found out that the temple has been 'defiled'.
After he went public with his claim, Kannada actress Jaimala in a letter to him, claimed that she had touched the idol in 1987 when she was young, thereby violating the temple traditions.
Now, the minister's latest statement is certain to see the issue again attracting attention.