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SC says women of all ages can enter Sabarimala temple: What is the controversy about

The Sabarimala temple bars entry of women aged 10 to 50 years because the temple says its presiding deity Lord Ayyappa is ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (perennial celibate).

india Updated: Sep 28, 2018 11:41 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
sabrimala temple case,sabrimala temple case verdict,sabrimala temple case judgement
Devotees queue up to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, Kerala. The Supreme Court said women have the constitutional right to enter the temple and pray like men without being discriminated against. (PTI File Photo)

The Sabarimala temple in Kerala has been in the eye of a storm over a ban on the entry of women into the temple which activists say amounts to discrimination and violates their fundamental rights under the Constitution.

Here is an explainer of the temple and the controversy that has roiled it.

The presiding deity of the temple

Legend has it that the childless King of Pandalam, found an abandoned baby (Lord Ayyappa) in the forest during a hunting expedition 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, Lord Ayyappa is believed to have meditated in Sabarimala. The King of Pandalam later built a temple in the memory of his foster son.

Where is Sabarimala

The hill-top shrine, 175 kms north of the state capital, is nestled in Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district, 3000 feet above sea level. Devotees from across the country throng the hill shrine during the festival season between November and January every year. Besides season, temple is opened on the first of month of the Malayalam calendar. The journey to the temple is arduous because vehicles can go only up to the base camp in Pambha after which devotees have to trek 5 km. The base camp was completely destroyed in recent floods after river Pambha changed its course.

Second largest seasonal pilgrim centre

After Mecca it is considered to be the largest seasonal pilgrim centre in the world. According to the custodian of the temple, Travancore Devasom Board, around 3-4 crore pilgrims visit the temple during the season. Besides Kerala, pilgrims from Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka Maharashtra and north India also visit the temple.

What is the controversy

There are restrictions on entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years in the shrine because the temple says presiding deity Lord Ayyappa is ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (perennial celibate). Traditionally, women of menstruating age are not allowed on grounds of “purity”.

Devotees will have to take a 41-day fast and abstain from all worldly pleasures before trekking to the temple. Since biologically it is not possible for women, they are not allowed but activists do say it was a ploy by a patriarchal society to keep them away.

A controversy erupted when Jayamala, a Kannada actor (now a minister in the Karnataka government), claimed in 2006 that she had entered the temple and touched the idol of presiding deity. The Kerala government had ordered a probe but the case was later dropped.

How Sabarimala is different

Though women of productive age are barred, all believers are welcome here. Lord Ayyappa’s favourite disciple Vavar Swami was a Muslim and devotes have to offer prayers at a mosque dedicated to him before proceeding to the hilltop. The Sabarimala temple and the pilgrimage are often cited as a symbol of secularism. Renowned singer K J Yesudas is an ardent devotee of Lord Ayyappa and is a regular here. Once a devotee wears the black cloth he’s known as ‘swami’ not by his name.

Major accidents

There has been two major around the temple that has claimed over 200 lives. On January 14, 1999, a stampede on the foothills of Sabarimala killed 53. On January 14, 2011, 104 pilgrims died on Makara Jyothi Day at Pullumedu near Sabarimala in another stampede.

First Published: Sep 28, 2018 11:24 IST