There is a restriction on the entry of women into Sabarimala Temple of Swami Ayyappa. This restriction has been in place for centuries since the temple was built. Women in the menstrual age group, i.e. between ages of 10 – 50 years, are not allowed to enter the temple. Women are allowed to enter the temple only when they are young, i.e. before the age of 10 years, or when they have stopped menstruating i.e. after age of 50 years.
Many people think that this restriction on the entry of women in the age group 10 – 50 years is gender discrimination. Recently, the Honourable Supreme Court of India has passed a judgement quashing this ancient tradition and allowing the entry of women of all age groups into Sabarimala as the judges have felt that this tradition is based only on gender discrimination.
But, is the restriction on the entry of women in this age group really gender discrimination? Did the judges of the Honourable Supreme Court of India look at all angles of the issue before passing their judgement? Or, could the restriction on the entry of women into the temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala actually be for the benefit of women in this age group?
In Sanatan Dharma(सनातन धर्म, commonly known as Hinduism), there is a scientific reason behind many traditions. Our ancestors, who created the tradition of not allowing the women in the menstrual age group into Sabarimala Temple, had certain reasons for establishing this tradition. Unfortunately, the exact reasons of establishing this tradition are not known to everyone. In this article, I am giving my opinion on what could be the reason for establishing such a tradition.
First of all, it is important to understand that Sanatan Dharma is one of the only surviving main religions in the world which gives a lot of importance to women and recognises women as an aspect of the Divine. The Divine Feminine is given respect on an equal footing to the Divine Masculine. Divine Feminine is recognized as the Divine Mother, as Aadhi Shakthi(आदि शक्ति, or the primordial power). The primary form of the Divine Feminine is Devi Durga(देवी दुर्गा) and the various forms of Devi Durga are worshipped as Divine Mother in temples all over India.
Secondly, Kerala is a state where women have always been given a special place in society. Most of the lineages in Kerala were Matriarchal lineages.
In such a situation, why would there be a restriction on the entry of women into the temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala?
The temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala is not one of the ordinary temples where people can enter at any point of time in their life, doing whatever they are doing as a part of their normal daily routine. There is a specific custom which has to be followed by any devotee who desires to enter the temple of Swami Ayyappa and receive the blessings of the Lord. A devotee who decides to enter the temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala, has to take a vow to undertake a penance for a period of 41 days. During this period, the devotee should become celibate and avoid sexual contact even if they are married, abstain from non-vegetarian food and intoxicants like alcohol, and follow other restrictions. The devotee should also call every person they meet, even their spouse, as Swami.
All of this penance will change the energy of the devotee. It is my understanding that such a period of penance could cause problems in a woman’s menstrual cycle and could thus be detrimental to her health. If a woman’s menstrual cycle gets affected, then it could hamper her fertility and her ability to bear children. If the fertility of women is hampered, then it becomes difficult to sustain the lineage as a woman will not be able to give birth to descendants to continue the lineage. Even if a woman chooses not to have children (a woman has the choice whether to have children or not, and her choice should be respected), a disturbance in her menstrual cycle can affect her general physical and mental health. This appears to be the main reason why women in the menstrual age group are not allowed to enter the temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala.
Another fact to consider is that in Sanatan Dharma, a temple is the residence of the particular deity – whether male or female deity – who is worshipped there. The main idol which is worshipped in a temple is not an ordinary idol. During the time of the installation of the idol, a special procedure known as Prana Pratishta(प्राण प्रतिष्टा) is performed. The idol is consecrated with a specific energy for the temple.
Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala is a Naistik Bramhachari(नैस्तिक ब्रम्हचारी) i.e. a Celibate. Swami Ayyappa has chosen to avoid the physical contact of women in the menstrual age group. When we go to a person’s house, we enter their house only with the permission of the owner of the house. We don’t enter their house without their permission. Similarly, if Swami Ayyappa, desires to avoid the contact of women who are in the menstrual age group, then His wishes should be respected.
So, in conclusion, in my opinion, the restriction on the entry of women into the temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala is not gender discrimination, but is for the protection of women. Also, the wishes of Swami Ayyappa, who is residing at Sabarimala, and who desires to avoid contact with women in the menstrual age group, should be respected.
स्वामिये शरणम् अय्यप्पा!