Royal family, Sabarimala priest challenge SC order allowing women into temple
Several Hindu organisations in Kerala moved the Supreme Court on Monday with review petitions against its earlier verdict to open the doors of the Sabarimala temple to women of all ages as protests in the southern state mounted.
The Nair Service Society, Pandalam royal family, tantri or the chief priest of the hill shrine and National Ayyappa Devotees Association moved the top court challenging its September 28 verdict lifting the centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age from entering the temple.
“We still hope the court will review its verdict,” said the scion of the erstwhile Pandalam dynasty Sasikumar Verma.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have called a meeting in Kochi to chalk out their protest programmes.
Hundreds of devotees of Lord Ayyappa have protested in Kerala against the Supreme Court’s 4-1 verdict, saying it was upholding the rights to equality of worship. The worried government had called the tantri and royal family for talks but both turned down the invitations.
Mohanaru Kandarau, one of the three priests at the Sabarimala temple, said there was no point in talking with the government since it has already announced its plan to enforce the order. The tantri’s words are considered the last regarding rituals conducted in hilltop temple.
“Let the government first file a review plea in the Supreme Court. Then we can talk,” Kandarau said.
“Entry of women of productive age will affect temple customs and will destroy the divinity of the temple,” he adding deploying women police personnel will destroy the temple’s customs.
He was reacting to state police chief Loknath Behra’s comment that 600 women police personnel will be deployed in the temple.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Kerala government, which has accepted the top court’s verdict and is making safety arrangements for women devotees, reiterated its stand it will go ahead with the order after the ‘tantris’ (chief priests) backed out of the talks.
The Left Front government is being pushed onto the back foot after the Supreme Court verdict. The Congress has made it clear that it will stand with the believers, while the BJP alleged that the state government was trying to undermine the religious beliefs of devotees.
The government has blamed both the BJP and Congress for exploiting the sentiments of believers.
Demand from Telangana
The Temples Protection Movement, a Hyderabad-based committee fighting for the autonomy of temples, had on Friday appealed to the Centre to promulgate an ordinance imposing a ban on entry of menstruating women into the Sabarimala temple to protect the religious customs of the centuries-old temple.
The founder-chairman of the movement and head priest of famed Chilkur Balaji temple MV Soundara Rajan said in an open appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the Centre should invoke its powers under Article 254 of the Constitution, which provides it power to legislate on items in the concurrent list, to protect the custom, usage and tradition of the temple and its devotees.
He suggested the ordinance should define Ayyappa and his worshippers constituted a religious denomination and that his vow of Naishtika Brahmacharyam (voluntary celibacy) was protected, which was ignored by the larger bench of the Supreme Court in its recent judgement, allowing entry of women into the temple.
Soundara Rajan also called for the establishment of a Hindu religious endowments tribunal to prevent judicial interference in religious matters. The tribunal, he said, should comprise experts who could determine what constituted an essential practice and also address such questions as to who constituted a religious denomination.
“Such a tribunal was recommended by Hindu Religious Endowments Commission of 1962 headed by eminent jurist CP Ramaswamy Iyer. Various religious institutions like the Shri Ahobila Mutt had already recommended for such a tribunal,” he said.
Soundara Rajan criticised the Kerala government for influencing the Travancore Devasom Board, which runs the temple, not to file a review petition that would have allowed a rethink by the Supreme Court of its “flawed majority verdict”.
“Ayyappa devotees are not only in Kerala but are present in all the states of the country and therefore when the atheistic Kerala government has unilaterally decided not to file a review petition, the central government needs to perform its constitutional duty and act as per dharma,” he said.