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Rediff.com  » News » Sabarimala: Divinity in doldrums

Sabarimala: Divinity in doldrums

July 02, 2006 17:18 IST
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Sabarimala, the abode of the Lord Ayyappa, is in the eye of a storm with controversies, after Kannada actress Jayamala sparked off a row saying she had entered the world famous hill shrine and touched the idol.

The whole controversy began after the actress claimed she had entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple way back in 1987 at the age of 27 and had touched the idol, questioning the tradition of the temple which bars entry to women who have attained puberty and not reached menopause.

According to the tradition, Lord Ayyappa was considered to be a 'brahmachari' and the age-old temple customs bars the entry of women between 10 and 50 years.

Strict vigil had been enforced to monitor the entry of women devotees, after a case came before the High Court regarding an actress entering the temple premises during a film shooting. On actress Jayamala's issue, Chief Priest Thantri Kantararu Maheshwararu had disputed Jayamala's claims saying that it was impossible for a young woman to fool the rest of worshippers and reach the sanctum sanctorum.

He also sought a probe into the 'mysterious developments,' which he termed as a 'controversy.'

The family members of Thantri Kantararu Maheswararu said, "Such a thing can never happen because even the Brahmin priests of the temple cannot enter the hallowed place and touch the deity. This is a baseless allegation raised to bring disrepute to the famed temple."

Taking the grave situation of the breach of the temple traditions, the temple authorities met the government and demanded a probe. Sources from The Travancore Devaswam Board (TDB), which governs the temple said, if the revelation was true, then it was defilement of the shrine and needed elaborate purification.

Some Hindu organisations have even demanded a judicial probe into the whole episode. They alleged that Jayamala's revelations were 'pre-planned,' aimed at 'hurting religious sentiments.'

However, the Kerala government said it will not interfere in the customs followed by the temple, including its entry ban on women.

Devaswom Minister G Sudhakaran told the state assembly that it was for the temple authorities and institutions like the TDB to decide on issues concerning customs followed by the temple for centuries and the government did not intend to interfere. The TDB said it would hold a meeting this week in the wake of the controversy.

The controversy began after a 'Devaprasnam' (assessing whether the deity is pleased with the way the temple affairs are carried out), in which the astrologer who performed it announced that the spiritual aura of the idol had been affected because of a young woman's presence in the sanctum sanctorum.

Following the 'Devaprasnam,' Jayamala came out with her startling revelation that she touched the idol of Lord Ayyappa when she visited Sabarimala along with her ailing husband.

In a letter to the astrologer, who conducted the ''Devaprasnam'', the actress claimed that she had touched the deity when she was pushed into the sanctum sanctorum by the crowd. Jayamala even claimed that no one stopped her from entering premises.

Soon after Jayamala's revelation, another South Indian actress Sudha Chandran reportedly told a television channel that she too had entered the Sabarimala shrine in the company of two other actresses during the shooting of a Tamil film.

Meanwhile, some feminist groups have questioned the age old tradition of barring women from entering the Sabarimala temple. They said, "When women are not outcasts in other Ayyappa temples in the state, why such a restriction is their in Sabarimala."

The controversy crossed the borders with the Karnataka assembly deciding to discuss the matter on Monday. Congress party members urged the government to intervene in the matter.

However, the revelations found few takers in the state, because in normal case there was no way that a 27-year-old woman would be allowed anywhere near the Sabarimala temple. And even if any woman managed to get within the precincts of the temple, it was impossible for her to touch the idol because it was placed well within the sanctum sanctorum.

Several doubts have also been raised about the conduct of the 'Devaprasnam.' The earlier 'Devaprasnams' conducted after 1987 had not pointed out the presence of a woman. The present priest of the temple, Kandararu Mohanaru Thantri, felt these were rumours spread by people who were out to malign the image of temple.

Even as the temple authorities move in for corrective measures, the claims have kicked off a controversy on the security and sanctity of the Sabarimala and also about the age-old tradition of keeping women devotees out temple.

Sabarimala, the most famous hill shrine, is situated amidst dense forest in the rugged terrains of the Western Ghats. Devotees have to trek the five km stretch of hills from Pamba, the stopover for the pilgrimage. No vehicle is allowed along the trekking track and the climbing of the hills on bare foot is also part of the ritual.

Sabarimala is also an abode of religious fraternity. During the main season, November to January, the temple attracts crore of devotees including actors, politicians and bureaucrats from the country and even abroad. The whole collection of offerings by the devotees in each season comes to about Rs 65 crore.

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Source: source