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Women protest Sabarimala verdict, justify centuries-old custom

A Draft Correspondent | Mumbai

A surge of Lord Ayyappa devotees converged to Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on 13 October 2018 in a symbolic protest of the Supreme Court’s verdict permitting entry of women of ‘menstruating age’ into the precincts of Sabarimala temple. And, once again, it was the phenomenal number of women at the venue protesting the judgement that spoke reams of the angst caused.

Woman power on display in full strength at Azad Maidan protesting the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala

The South Mumbai protest was organised by the Sabarimala Achara Samrakhshana Samiti that had carried out an agitation march (Namajapayatra) earlier in Navi Mumbai on 12 October 2018 when thousands of devotees, including a sizeable number of women, walked in a show of solidarity to the protest from Vashi Railway Station to Kerala House to convey their ‘hurt sentiments’ and grievances to the Kerala government. The Sabarimala Achara Samrakhshana Samiti comprises the Ayyappa Temple authorities and more than 200 organisations across Maharashtra.

The programme started with the chanting of the Ayyappa Namam followed by firm and unequivocal protests against the government and the Supreme Court for having interfered in centuries-old temple traditions and religious customs that deny entry of women of menstruating age into the temple.
When the Supreme Court passed the judgement on 28 September 2018, it observed “the customs banning women are violative of Article 25 Clause 1 and Rule 3-b of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship.” The ruling has upset millions across the nation who feel a sense of outrage at the ‘selective interference’ of the Apex Court that could trigger a ripple effect across India and other religious denominations.

Child performers chanting the Ayyappa Namam at the start of the programme

In Sabarimala, Lord Ayyappa is worshipped in the form of Naishtika Brahmachari (permanent celibate) and in deep meditative state. The famous Sabarimala pilgrimage is one of the largest gatherings of Hindu devotees in the world. The event is a 41-day long strict penance period when the devout avoids all material comforts of life that includes maintaining strict celibacy. The devout are supposed to lead “pure and simple” lives during this period that is marked with chanting of the name of Lord Ayyappa and singing bhajans in his reverence.

Across the nation, Lord Ayyappa’s devotees believe the Supreme Court verdict allowing entry of women of all ages into the temple is against the express will of Lord Ayyappa as revealed in the sacred text Bhoota Nathopakhyanam.

Leaders from various walks of life spoke on the occasion. Madhathipadi Ramadasa Mission’s Swami Krishnananda Saraswathi addressed the gathering along with VHP National Spokesperson Shriraj Nair and All India Pravasi Balagokulam President Harindran Masha.

Protestors at the Save Sabarimala rally

The demands made included Kerala government issue an ordinance to protect the age-old rituals in Sabarimala temple to respect the sentiments of the devotees. The devotees also demanded the Kerala government and the Devaswom Board file review petitions in the Supreme Court in order to explain the centuries-old traditions of the Sabarimala temple and convey the religious justification behind the practice: Brahmacharya is the main factor at Sabarimala and the period of penance is not possible for a select women owing to their intermittent menstruation cycle and it is only during these women – of menstruating age - who are prevented from entering the temple.

A memorandum listing the demands of the devotees is expected to be submitted to the Kerala government and the President of India through Maharashtra Governor Vidyasagar Rao. An online portal to collect one crore signatures in support of the protest too was launched at the venue by Swami Krishnanand Saraswati.

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