There have been precursors to Sabarimala where Hindu traditions were also attacked.
On September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court of India, in a 4-1 majority decision, overturned the ban on the entry of women of reproductive age into the Garbhagriha of the Sabarimala shrine. Chief Justice Dipak Misra, stated that the selective ban on women was not an “essential part” of Hinduism, rather, it was of a form of “religious patriarchy”. Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud stated that the ban “stigmatises” and “stereotypes” women, while “placing the burden of men’s celibacy” on them.
Lord Ayyappa devotees have on a large scale all over Kerala, and also in other southern states of India – Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka – protested against the entry of women of the reproductive age in Sabarimala. Many people who participated in the protest were women devotees themselves. On 26th December 2018, devotees conducted ‘Ayyappa Jyothi’ – lighting diyas in support of the age-old tradition of the temple as millions joined in. On January 1, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interview to ANI expressed his solidarity with the people of Kerala who were protesting against the judgment of the Supreme Court. The next morning, two women, in defiance of the sentiments of the devotees, entered the shrine with the help of the state administration.
This is not a one-off incident as the seeds of such abuse of power were sown long back dating back to the Nehruvian era. In 1955, a group of 10 men from a so-called Scheduled Caste went inside the temple of Kashi Vishwanath and told the priest that they wanted to touch the Shivlinga. The priest did not allow them to do so. Two years later with the help of the state administration, these people barged into the temple and touched the Shivalinga, destroying the sanctity of a millennia-old-tradition.
Now, a superficial view would hold such inane acts of rebellion as progressive and egalitarian. But let us dive deep and carefully decipher the portend of these carefully planned assaults on the tradition. A temple is the house of the deity. Each temple has its own rules and regulations and its own scriptural basis. The murti or vigraha placed in the Sanctum Sanctorum is not just a stone but the deity himself, who decides to reside there after the priest carries out the elaborate ritual of Prana-pratishtha.
Sabarimala is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa who has taken the form of a naisthik brahmacharya i.e. eternal celibate. As a mark of respect, women of reproductive age do not enter the temple and wait for decades to get a glimpse of their beloved Lord. Unlike the men, who take undertake tapasya for forty days, women do even more by waiting for nearly forty years to enter the shrine. Now the question arises that if you are a devotee of Ayyappa, why will you violate this voluntary code of penance? And if you are hell-bent on breaking the tradition, then certainly you are not his devotee. And if you are not a devotee, then why would you go to the temple. It is not a museum that everyone should see. It is a place where a bhakt submits himself to his ishta as prescribed in the holy texts.
Now let us come to the Kashi Vishwanath incident. Kashi Vishwanath is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples. Everyone is allowed to enter the temple and there is no restriction but no one is permitted to touch the Shivalinga, not even the king of Kashi with the only exception being the priest of the temple. The priest was supposed to ensure that daily rituals were conducted in accordance with the shastras. So, one day when a group of people along with the police entered the temple with the request to pray, they were welcomed with garlands and were led to the place from where everyone was supposed to pray. Then they requested that they would like to touch the Shivalingam. The priest politely declined. The priest is responsible for making sure that the Rudra Abhishek is done properly. Secondly, no other person neither a mighty king nor any great sage is supposed to do the rituals as that person hasn’t dedicated his life in the service of that specific temple deity.
At that point of time a great saint named Swami Hariharanada Saraswati, popularly known as Karpatri Swami or Abhinava Shankara advised them to respect the tradition and have darshan from where everyone did. But Swami Karpatriji was arrested for not allowing them to touch the Shivalingam. Later, in 1957, a larger group of people accompanied by a city magistrate and a number of policemen barged into the temple, broke the gates and entered the sanctum sanctorum without even removing their shoes and destroyed the tradition of the temple.
I know some people from even within the Hindu fold will see it as the success of a caste-free society by antagonising Brahmins which according to them is the best thing to do. But let me remind you that no matter how great a Brahmin or any other person thinks of himself, he still cannot touch the Lingam at Somnath, Murti of Krishna at Banke Bihari or Sita Ram at Janakpur. It is not a case of discrimination on the basis of caste. The temple deity and its chief priest has a special relationship as the deity communicates through the priest.
Secondly, this was the same Karpatri Swami who went to Naokholi post the massacre of Hindus and did a lot of work to rehabilitate the victims (irrespective of caste). Also, he led them to the japa of Ram Naam in order to reduce their trauma, told them that their forced conversion stands invalid and that they are still Hindus. But the trauma was such that they asked him to conduct shuddhi for them to destigmatise their minds, which Karpatri Ji agreed to by conducting a yajna.
Swami Karpatri Ji argued that in the name of progressiveness, Hindu traditions can’t be altered forcibly and Hindus must be given the freedom to practice their religion in a way that is prescribed in the Vedas without the interference of the government or any external force.
Contrary to propaganda promoted by forces inimical to Hindu society, the Hindu religion does not promote any discrimination based on caste or gender.
सब नर करही परस्पर प्रीति चलही स्वधर्म निरत श्रुति नीति।
The tradition was lost in Kashi in the 1950s but we are still fighting to protect it in Sabarimala in 2019. The good thing is that today our voices have more strength and we must not give up just as our ancestors didn’t.
Remember यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः॥