Sabarimala Temple, situated in Western Ghats of Kerala, draws millions of devotees every year. The holy shrine of Lord Ayyappa is famous for its unique traditions and customary rituals. Despite its tradition of ‘barring women’, lakhs of women pilgrims are pouring into Sabarimala every year. How? Here, the restriction is only confined to the women of menstrual age group (10-50).
The tradition has been observed as a part of the temple’s history since time immemorial. It is primarily based on the unique idol concept of the temple; the deity is assumed as a celibate in the state of Samadhi. For the same reason, the temple is open for worship only during Mandalapooja (November-December) and some other auspicious days. The devotees are strictly instructed to undergo 41 days of ascetic life prior to the pilgrimage.
According to the legends, Lord Ayyappa is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. After killing Mahishi, a demonic power, he entered into a state of deep meditation at the place where the present temple was erected or re-erected centuries ago. As a visible testimony, the idol in the sanctum sanctorum is seated in a yogic posture. Located in the dense forest and surrounded by 18 hills, the temple was very difficult to access until a few decades ago. Earlier, it required several days-long painstaking journey on foot through traditional forest routes to reach the hilltop, 1,260m above the sea level where the abode of Lord Ayyappa situated. The traditional routes are still prone to attacks of wild animals.
A PIL, seeking entry for all women in the Sabarimala Temple, was filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association (IYLA) ten years ago. Obviously, no believers have been involved in the case. In response to the president of IYLA Naushad Ahmed Khan’s appeal, the Supreme Court observed that denying the entry to women is unconstitutional. Countering the arguments of the petitioner, the temple authority asserted that the women, who have not attained menopause, cannot preserve the purity during the religious journey to the temple which usually spans 41 days. The court will consider the petition again for detailed hearing on February 8.