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Saturday, Dec 07, 2019

Sabarimala explained: Supreme Court verdict, protests and controversy

On September 38, 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry of women at the temple and held that the practice illegal and unconstitutional.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2019 14:45 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Devotees from across the country throng the Sabarimala temple during the festival season between November and January every year.
Devotees from across the country throng the Sabarimala temple during the festival season between November and January every year.(HT File )
         

At the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, there was a restriction on entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years. Temple authorities claim that the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is a celibate and women of menstruating age can’t be allowed on account of “purity”.

On September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry of women at the temple and held that the practice illegal and unconstitutional.

The court will decide on Thursday on a bunch of petitions seeking review of its order.

Where is Sabarimala

The hill shrine is nestled in Western Ghats in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district. Situated about 3,000 feet above sea level, Sabarimala temple is around 175 km north from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

Devotees from across the country throng the temple during the festival season between November and January every year. The journey to the temple is arduous because vehicles can go only up to Pamba base camp. Devotees have to trek 5 kms through forests.

Seasonal rush

After Mecca, Sabarimala is considered to be the second largest seasonal pilgrim centre in the world. Custodian of the temple, Travancore Devasom Board says around 3-4 crore pilgrims visit the temple during the season.

Presiding deity

The King of Pandalam during a hunt reportedly found an abandoned baby in the forest and took him to the palace. He grew up in the court as his son. It is believed that Lord Ayyappa is son of Hari (Vishnu) who took the form of Mohini and Hara (Lord Siva). After killing the powerful demon Mahishi, he is believed to have meditated in Sabarimala. Later, a temple was built in his memory by the King of Pandalam.

How is Sabarimala different

Though women of a certain age group were barred, believers of other religions are welcome. Lord Ayyappa’s favourite disciple Vavar Swami was a Muslim and devotes have to offer prayers at his mosque before proceeding to the hilltop.

Renowned singer K J Yesudas is an ardent devotee and a regular visitor. Once a devotee dons bead and wears the black cloth, he’s known as ‘Swami’ and not by his name.

Timeline

1990: Ban on women in Sabarimala was first challenged in Kerala High Court which in 1991 ruled that restriction was part of an age-old tradition. Upheld restriction on women between 10-50 age group.

2006: Indian Young Lawyers’ Association filed a PIL in Supreme Court challenging the temple’s practice saying it was discriminatory and against gender justice.

2008: The issue was referred to a three-judge bench. Then Congress-led state government favoured status quo.

2016: The plea came up for hearing after eight years.

2017: A constitution bench was formed to hear the plea. The CPI(M)-led state government supported entry of women

2018: A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter the temple.

2019: The SC takes up 60-odd review peitions