A short discussion on pertinent issues presented by the sabarimalA matter
It’s often argued that restrictive rules, in terms of temple entry or offering worship at one, impinge upon the “right to participate in religion” of those who are thus restricted. This stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of participation as intrinsically a positive act.
What do I mean by “positive act”? Most of us see would see participation as actually (and thus, positively) doing acts one generally does in a religious setting: such as entering a temple or performing a particular ritual.
However, this is not a realistic understanding of our dharma or any religion for that matter. When you participate in a religion, you do so, not only by doing what you are obligated to do, or doing something optional but allowed for you, but also by not doing what is prohibited.
You participate in the dharma when you abstain from meat on vrata/upavAsa days or enter a temple after removing footwear. That “negative acts” or abstentions were seen as participation is clear when one reads our texts. Let me elaborate.
Negative obligations are a core & critical component of participation. This is why “yama” (restraint) is one of the eight components of aSTANGga yoga. This is why various types of vrata-s are part of popular dharma as encapsulated in the purANa-s & other sources.
This is why yAmuNAcArya, the great shrIvaiSNava AcArya, holds in his AgamaprAmANya that, in truth, nobody is fully forbidden from “shrautam”. Why, because the shruti has general, restrictive injunctions like “Don’t injure creatures”, etc which every human is qualified to follow.
Similarly, when a woman, identified as having reproductive capabilities (for practical purposes, identified as a 10-50 age group), accepts the restriction pertaining to sabarimala with devotion, she is fully participating in the religion, in the worship of the deity.
This “negative” participation is, in no way, less profound and meaningful than the direct, “positive” participation of the men and women of the allowed age groups. One such example of such a participation can be seen in this wonderful music video here: https://t.co/8xDrA2wIHM
The core point at the centre of all this is that within any system, its followers truly participate only be adhering to both the positive obligations and negative injunctions (prohibitions) which define the very unique essence and identity of that system.
And this is not uniquely applicable to Hindu sects but will apply to any belief-practice system defined as a religion. You cannot be said to participate in a religion if you are not participating in the dietary, sexual or other restrictions laid down in that religion.
At this point, one may raise the argument that the restrictions in the case of sabarimala are not left to the conscience of the worshipper but enforced and thus, this would impinge upon the freedom of the individual worshipper to practice the religion as he or she sees fit.
The only real & truly honest response to this argument is that the temple is essentially the residence of the deity who is also the owner of the temple & is entitled to an absolute enjoyment of this property, as amply indicated by terms such as devasvam, devagRha, etc.
But, wait? A deity is no “real person”. How can he/she enjoy this property? Well, if the law can recognize the personhood of a body corporate (a company), its right to own property & transact in its own name, nothing ought to prevent a similar recognition in the case of temples.
There is a long, historical precedent (from both texts & inscriptions) allowing the recognition of a deity’s legal personhood, full ownership of its residence (& other properties) & freedom to decide how the residence ought to be accessed or enjoyed by other persons.
In accordance with what is the deity’s will executed & implemented by the priests and/or management who are both, verily, the deity’s trustees? The Agama-s or relevant tantra-s or paddhati-s known to govern the temple from very inception or simply known as last remembered usage.
Some idiot Hindus stated that the argument that shrI dharmashAstA in his form as ayyappa is observing naiSThika brahmacharya is not a sensible one as it suggests that ayyappa is “unable to see his women devotees in the 10-50 age group as sisters or mothers”.
Again and again, Hindus excel at showing mediocre quality of thought. Firstly, the mythos and rituals associated with a particular temple are not meant to be read as physical realities and anthropomorphic qualities are not be superimposed on the deity.
Our deities have transcendental and most subtle bodies. They do not “eat offerings” or “observe brahmacaryam” in the same way mortals would be seen in our mundane level of reality. Rituals and myths operate at a higher level of reality. What is the significance of this?
Well, this is the significance:
This is how our ritual spaces work and something I hope can be drilled into the heads of the judges who have no erudition about our religion. The deity’s nature (in Southern Agamika & tAntrika temples, this is based on the mantra-s installed in the deity’s icon/vigraha), location of deity’s shrine, nature of rituals done, type of priesthood, kind of food and flower offerings made to deity, nature of people who come to the temple, colors of garments worn by the deity, priests & devotees & many other factors all have to cohere with one another as far as possible.
All these factors come together to create a coherent “ritual reality”, which is the ultimate fruit a sincere worshiper truly yearns for. The deity’s presence becomes fully manifest and becomes a source of blessings for the worshipers and their families. Different Agama-s and tantra-s have their own versions of the “ritual reality” or “ritual universe” they are asking the priests and others to enact on this earth.
An example of this logic of ritual coherence: The shaiva Agama, kAmikAgama states that the fierce forms of both shiva & viSNu should be installed at village/town outskirts & not in the interior. Why so??
This choice of location (outskirts) matches with deity’s fierce nature, as that which is fierce & potentially dangerous must naturally be away from the dwellings of men. So, in the cases of temples & towns planned/designed in accordance with kAmikAgama, this will be the rule.
The idea of ritual coherence operates at sabarimala too. The mantra-s installed in that ayyappa mUrti in times of yore embody the naiSThika brahmacAryatvam (permanent celibacy) intrinsic to that deity. This is the essential nature of the deity; his “essential ritual reality”.
The “ritual reality” of a temple is harmed or even destroyed when the stipulated rules in place are not respected. In this case, the relevant rule would be the prohibition on the entry of women having reproductive abilities.
Such an entry alters & disrupts the “ritual reality” the temple seeks to manifest in this world. The concepts of “ritual reality” & “ritual coherence” lie behind our idea of “ritual space”. What may be appropriate in one sacred space may be completely inappropriate for another.
Example: In the shaivAgama-s, the presence of rudrakanyA-s. These young, pious virgin girls devoted to shiva perform dances in front of him & are even invited, along with the priests & king to be the very 1st recipients of the divine glance of a newly consecrated shiva!)
This would not be the case for the ritual space of ayyappa. The women would have to wait till certain biologically innate characteristics are gone with age, before seeking to visit ayyappa.
This is nothing to do with ayyappa’s “mind” as some idiots wrongly understand, Nothing can upset or agitate the mind of a transcendental being. But when the same transcendental being is installed in an icon with mantra-s, etc, certain formalities come into effect.