Monday, January 18, 2016

Sabarimala case

The Supreme Court is hearing a case wherein the prohibition against women aged between 10 and 50 for entry in the temple is sought to be annulled. Is this prohibition a discrimination against women or is it a matter of religious custom that has Constitutional protection?

The High Court of Kerala had, as early as April 1991, pronounced a well-reasoned judgment refusing to interfere in the religious practice. It is believed by the devout that the deity is 'Naisthik Brahmachari' (a celibate for life and one who is always with his guru) and therefore entry of women of the age group mentioned was out of question.

Relevant excerpts from the High Court judgment are given below. It would be inappropriate for the apex court to decide otherwise.

"38. Is there any basis for this restriction? Is it only a blind belief handed down from generation to generation without any rationale behind that restriction? The counter affidavit filed by the Board makes mention of the reasons why young women were not permitted to worship at the temple. In olden days pilgrims to this holy temple had to carry with them their own provisions in headloads taken by them. Transport facilities improved recently as a result of which a pilgrim can now reach Sabarimala without trekking the original route followed by pilgrim of olden days. Even according to the counter affidavit of the Board, the distance to be trekked has now been redused to 5 kms. Pilgrims are expected to observe penance. Purity in thought, word and deed is insisted during the period of penance (Vratham). A pilgrim starts trekking the Sabarimala only after completing the penance for a period of 41 days. Women of the age group 10 to 50 will not be in a position to observe Vratham continuously for a period of 41 days due to physiological reasons. These appear to be the main reasons why females of a particular age group were not permitted to go on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. It has to be remembered that there is no distinction of caste, creed or colour in Sabarimala temple and there had not been any even in olden times. Even while a section of Hindus were forbidden to enter other temples in the State, there was no bar for any among them to go on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala or worship the deity there.
39. There is a vital reason for imposing this restriction on young women. It appears to be more fundamental. The Thanthri of the temple as well as some other witnesses have stated that the deity at Sabarimala is in the form of a Naisthik Brahmachari. "Brahma-chari" means a student who has to live in the house of his preceptor and study the Vedas living the life of utmost austerity and discipline. A student who accompanied his Guru wherever he goes and learns Vedas from him is a "Naisthikan". Four asramas were prescribed for all persons belonging to the twice born castes. The first is of a student or Bramchari, the second is of a householder after getting married, the third is the Vanaprastha or a life of reclues and the last is of an ascetic or Sanyasi. Sri B. K. Mukherjee, the fourth Chief Justice of India, in his Lordship's Tagore Law Lectures on the Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trust says at page 16 of the second addition thus :
"Ordinarily therefore a man after finishing his period of studentship would marry and become a house-holder, and compulsory celibacy was never encouraged or sanctioned by the Vedas. A man however who was not inclined to marry might remain what is called a Naisthik Brahmchari or perpetual student and might pursue his studies living the life of a bachelor all his days".
A Bramchari should control his senses. He has to observe certain rules of conduct which include refraining from indulging in gambling with dice, idle gossips, scandal, falsehood, embracing, and casting lustful eyes on females, and doing injury to others.
(vernacular matter omitted) Mann Smriti Chapter II, Sloka 179.
40. The deity in Sabarimala temple is in the form of a Yogi or a Bramchari according to the Thanthri of the temple. He stated that there are Sasta temples at Achankovil, Aryankavu and Kulathupuzha, but the deities there are in different forms. Puthumana Narayanan Namboodiri, a Thanthrimukhya recognised by the Travancore Devaswom Board, while examined as C.W. 1 stated that God in Sabarimala is in the form of aNaisthik Bramchari. That, according to him, is the reason why young women are not permitted to offer prayers in the temple.
41. Since the deity is in the form of a Naisthik Brahmachari, it is therefore believed that young women should not offer worship in the temple so that even the slightest deviation from celibacy and austerity observed by the deity is not caused by the presence of such women.
42. In this connection it has to be mentioned that Sabarimala temple is not the only temple in Kerala where there is restraint on the entry of women. Sri Malankal Krishna Pillai, a Malayalam post of repute and a former Regional Deputy Director of Education, after visiting all the important temples in the State, had published a book titled "Maha Khshetrangal kku Munpil" (in front of great temples). While writing about the Siva temple in Teliparambu in Eaunur District, he has mentioned about the custom there in not permitting women to enter the temple and offer prayers during day time. They are permitted to enter and worship only after the Athazhappja (the last pooja of the day) is over. The belief is that Lord Siva will be seated with his cjonsort Goddess Parvathy at that time and Lord Siva is in a happy mood to shower boons on the devotees. That is supposed to be the appropriate or auspicious time for women to pray before the God revered as Rajadhirajan (King of all Kings). This custom or usage is understood to have been in prevalence for the past several centuries.

44. Our conclusions are as follows :
(1) The restriction imposed on women aged above 10 and below 50 from trekking the holy hills of Sabarimala and offering worship at Sabarimala Shrine is in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial.
(2) Such restriction imposed by the Devaswom Board is not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.
(3) Such restriction is also not violative of the provisions of Hindu Place of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 since there is no restriction between one section and another section or between one class and another class among the Hindus in the matter of entry to a temple whereas the prohibition is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class."

Full text of the judgment is available at:

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