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Ban on entry of women: Facts, controversies about Kerala’s Sabarimala temple

The Supreme Court on Friday referred to its constitution bench the matter pertaining to the ban on entry of women at Sabarimala temple.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2017 12:56 IST
Ramesh Babu 
Ramesh Babu 
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Sabarimala temple,Sabarimala,Women pilgrims Sabarimala
Worshippers queue during a pilgrimage at the Sabarimala temple.(AP File Photo)

Kerala’s Sabarimala temple says on its website it allows people of all religions and castes to pray inside.

The temple has, however, been in the news for a case against restricting women’s entry inside the shrine.The Supreme Court on Friday referred to its constitution bench the matter pertaining to the ban on entry of women at Sabarimala.

Here are some facts and controversies about the historic temple:

* Sabarimala is the second largest seasonal pilgrimage after the Islamic holy site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. An estimated 3.5 crore pilgrims visited the shrine last year and the total revenue collection of the Lord Ayyappa temple for the 2016-17 festival season was Rs 243.69 crore, according to the government.

It is said that the pilgrims have to fast for 41 days to cleanse their minds before going to Sabarimala.

* The hill-top shrine is nestled in Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district, about 3000 feet above sea level. Devotees from across the country visit the hill shrine during the festival season between November and January every year.

The journey to the temple is arduous as vehicles can go only up to the Pampa hilltop.

* It is believed that Hindu God Ayyapa meditated in Sabarimala after killing the powerful demon Mahishi. Another mythology says that ‘Parasurama Maharshi’ uplifted Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe and installed the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala.

Sabarimala priests perform Kalalabhishekam in the temple. (PTI File Photo)

* There are restrictions on the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years in the shrine because the presiding deity Lord Ayyappa is considered to be a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (perennial celibate). The temple’s management had told SC that women of menstruating age can’t be allowed on account of “purity”.

Critics say the restriction violates women’s fundamental right to not be discriminated against. Sabarimala’s official website says it is “open to all, irrespective of caste, creed or religion”.

* A controversy began when Jayamala, a Kannada actor, claimed in 2006 that she had entered the sanctum sanctorum and touched the idol of the presiding deity in Sabarimala. With the incident leading to a storm, the Kerala government had then ordered a crime branch probe but the case was later dropped.

* The temple has witnessed two major stampedes that have claimed over 200 lives. On January 14, 1999, a stampede on the foothills of Sabarimala killed 53 and another 104 pilgrims died on Makara Jyothi Day at Sabarimala in 2011.

Ayyappa-devotees the climb Neelimala forest to pray in Sabarimala. (File Photo)

According to The Hindu, the twin tragedies prompted the temple management Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the state government to take a series of crowd control measures.

However, at least 20 Sabarimala pilgrims were injured in a “minor stampede” in December, 2016 due to a heavy rush of devotees.

First Published: Oct 13, 2017 12:33 IST