One of most shocking news items that the media has been hyping up this past week has been the Sabarimala episode, where it has lately been “discovered” that a woman entered the sanctum sanctorum, thus causing a loss of divinity in Lord Ayyappa’s most sacred abode. I’m jotting down some observations on this.
1. The Kannada actress who has confessed that she touched the idol of the deity claims to have been pushed in by the crowd. I find this not credible. I have been to Sabarimala a few times. The innermost prakaaram has a very small entrance, not very high. Even the pujaris enter with caution. Second, there is a gap of at least 20 feet where the crowd — the first-est row — is cut off. Such a statement would have had takers if this had happened in say, Tirupati, where the prakaaram is cut off only by a human chain, and there is no entry door.
2. I fail to understand the “loss of divinity” angle. Who is man to define limits to the power of God? The same Mr. Panikkar drew much ire in Tamil Nadu when it was rumoured that he suggested that the idol of Lord Muruga at Palani be removed and a replica made of some other material be installed instead. The act was done, only to be reverted very soon. Playing foul with God?
3. The Government in Kerala stokes religious tensions from time to time by appointing women in administrative positions in Sabarimala. Why would anyone want to do so given that it can be unpalatable for many? Why not appoint men, at least in such positions?
4. The media has been hyping up the whole thing, and has given a most unwarranted feminist twist to the story. Sagarika Ghose asked on CNN-IBN, “Should faith be restricted to men alone?” Ms Ghose needs to undergo a course which teaches respect for traditions. I do not intend to begin another flame-war, but do men ever repent, “Oh, what treachery! Can we not bear babies too?” Yes, Ma’m, everyone is equal in the eyes of God, but let us also learn to realise that if a tradition has been put in place, it exists for some reason. Of course, Indian society has done with away quite a few “evil” practices, sati, for example. The customs and practices surrounding faith are better left alone. Especially in a state like Kerala where such customs are followed rather fanatically.
5. One of the guests on the same CNN-IBN show radiated ignorance by claiming that the reason women were not allowed in Sabarimala was that they cannot make the arduous journey. Pray tell me, how is a woman of 60 better placed than a 25-year old to handle the ardour?
6. Another angle thrown in by some self-confessed experts is that Sabarimala was a Buddhist monastery, which was later converted into a Hindu shrine, hence the restriction for women. These armchair theorists hold the same view about every single Hindu holy shrine. The Wikipedia article on Tirumala (Tirupati) states:
While some scholars accept the antiquity of the shrine they believe that the image of Venkateswara was not originally that of Vishnu but of a Buddhist deity, perhaps bodhisattva avalokiteswara. The region of Andhra in which Tirupati is located in was already known for the existence of ancient Buddhist sites of the Satavahana era, namely Nagarjunakonda and Amravati, thus scholars suggest that the ancient site of Tirupati was probably a Buddhist site prior to its transformation into a Hindu one after Buddhism saw its decline in the face of Guptan Hindu Rennaissance. Even up to the time of Ramanuja, the famous Vaishnava scholar of the 12th century, the identity of the deity was still disputed until Ramanuja confirmed it to be Vishnu.
There are also some who hold the view that Mecca is a Hindu shrine, which I find to be equally ridiculous. The study of history with the sole aim of disturbing social harmony is detestable.
It is the hobby of some to breathe new life into controversies surrounding religion and faith. They do not understand (or they understand it too well) that religion whips up people’s emotions. And the newsmen simple love it, they have a field day!
I’m reminded of the following lines from Leon Uris’ Exodus:
Ari Ben Canaan put the Bible down. “The gentleman of Whitehall had better study their claims further. I say the same thing to the Foreign Minister that a great man said to another oppressor three thousand years ago — LET MY PEOPLE GO.”
Leave my faith alone!
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