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'Sabarimala temple is not discriminatory at all'

October 19, 2018 12:41 IST

'It is wrong to assume that it is only after 1991 that we started following this ritual.'
'Ayyappan himself instructed where the temple had to be built, the rituals that had to followed and the route that had to be taken by devotees to the temple.'

IMAGE: Sabarimala temple head priest (thantri) Kandararu Rajeevaru addresses devotees staging a protest against the Supreme Court verdict on the entry of women of all ages into the shrine. Photograph: PTI Photo

As the Sabaramila issue rages on, Sashikumar Varma, president, Pandalam Palace coordination committee, has spoken about how the Supreme Court verdict has affected the family.

Legend has it that Lord Ayyappa was born in the Pandalam Palace.

"We have been praying 'Ayyappa rakshikane (Ayyappa, please take care of us).' Now, we are praying 'Ayyappane rakshikane (please take care of Ayyappa)'," Varma, below, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.

As the president of the Pandalam Palace coordination committee, you were part of many protests against the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala.

I feel the judges were not aware of the rituals and traditions of the temples in Kerala, especially that of Sabarimala.

The rituals and traditions followed by Sabarimala are different from the other Ayyappa temples in Kerala. They should have tried to understand the background and the reasons behind such rituals.

We were eagerly following the judgment and when they said 'We are not worried about the rituals of the temple; we are only worried about the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country', we knew the verdict was going to be against what was being followed in the temple.

 

Do you feel the lawyers may not have presented the case well enough for the judges to understand?

It is not a question of not understanding the Sabarimala temple. They were only worried about fundamental rights.

They would not feel strongly about the traditions or rituals of a Kerala temple like we, who live in Kerala and who have been associated with the temple, would feel.

As you know, the Sabarimala temple is very different from other Kerala temples.

What I feel is they could not understand this fundamental difference. Or they were not interested in understanding. Or they might have had an opinion earlier itself.

The verdict had 400-odd pages, but nowhere it talks about the arguments put forward by our side.

You say the judges looked at only the aspect of fundamental rights. But the criticism is that the rituals followed at the Sabarimala temple are discriminatory because it does not allow women of certain ages there.

The Sabarimala temple is not discriminatory at all. It is misunderstood.

See, only women belonging to a certain age are not allowed at the temple. There is a reason for that.

It is not that these men do not understand the reason. All these men are born to women and none of them are swayambhu (created by their own accord). We had submitted all these details and the history behind the temple. I was also associated with preparing it with our lawyer.

It was in 1991 that a case was filed at the high court here. At that time, the high court judge had called all the people associated with the traditions and rituals for the hearing so that he could have a comprehensive idea about what was happening in the temple.

He had called the senior-most person from the Pandalam Palace too. His verdict was that women between the ages of 10 to 50 would not be allowed in the temple.

If the Supreme Court also had followed such a process, they would have had a better knowledge of the situation at Sabarimala.

Many people say before that high court verdict in 1991, women of all ages could pray at the Sabarimala temple...

This is one hundred percent false. You must have heard a retired bureaucrat proclaiming on all the TV channels that his choroonu was performed at Sabarimala and his mother who was 27 also was there.

I am sorry to say many people believed him and now people think that this particular tradition was not there earlier. This is not true.

If you look at the Indian survey conducted by the British, it very clearly mentioned that such a ritual was followed at Sabarimala.

Even the book Temples of India, published by the Government of India, talks about this particular ritual at Sabarimala.

It is wrong to assume that it is only after 1991 that we started following this; it has been there for decades, ever since the temple was built.

What was the reason for this?

Traditions and rituals followed by each temple are different.

In the case of Sabarimala, it was Ayyappan himself who instructed where the temple had to be built, the rituals that had to followed and the route that had to be taken by devotees to the temple.

There is a special section in Kumudanada Geetham, Ayyappa Geetham, which is part of his dialogue to his father when he asks Ayyappa not to go to the forest.

It is in this Geetham that he asks devotees to take a vratam of 41 days and why he wants them to do so.

How does the Pandalam royal family, to which Ayyappan belongs, look at the verdict which is against Ayyappa Geetham?

It has been extremely painful, maybe something more than pain.

We are in a situation where we cannot do anything. We feel so helpless and orphaned.

We have been praying 'Ayyappa rakshikane (Ayyappa, please take care of us).' Now, we are praying 'Ayyappane rakshikane (please take care of Ayyappa).'

If a small change happens in the rituals followed at Sabarimala, we feel it.

The first protest rally against the verdict was in Pandalam which was followed by rallies in many places. Did it surprise you that thousands of women participated in it saying they did not want to go now and that they were willing to wait?

Yes, this is an extraordinary uprising of women, a new phenomenon.

I was behind the first protest rally in Pandalam and there was no huge announcement about it; only word of mouth and through WhatsApp.

We had expected a crowd of 2,000 to 3,000, but to our surprise 65,000 people gathered for the protest rally.

It was only the beginning. After that, I must have attended at least 30 such rallies and everywhere around 25,000 to 50,000 people gathered. This is unprecedented.

A criticism against these protests is that it is an upper caste movement and that Hindu society in Kerala is divided on caste lines. Do you agree?

I won't even call it criticism. This is a concerted effort, propaganda, by a certain group of people to divide the believers who have come out to protest against the verdict.

There is no division among us and this is not an upper caste movement.

The criticism is because only the Pandalam family, the priests and the Nair Service Society are together, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam has not joined the protests...

Didn't they see that the political party led by the son of the SNDP leader (Thushar Vellapally) was leading most of the protest rallies?

It is true that some vested interests are trying to divide Hindu society. They are telling the socially backward people that what is happening is against them and in no time, they would not be allowed inside temples.

I would say there is a political agenda behind this campaign.

When unity among the believers in the Hindu religion occurred, it created jitters among some political parties.

Let me reiterate that there is no caste division in this uprising. In fact, so many believers from other religions have participated in the protest rallies.

Some political parties are trying the divide and rule policy here. It will not work.

What do you think will happen, both politically and socially?

The political party that is in power is very keen to implement this court order, but I feel this will become a major issue in future. This will result in Hindu consolidation.

Till now, a majority of Hindu votes had been going to the LDF (CPI-M- led Left Democratic Front) while the UDF (Congress-led United Democratic Front) had the support of a majority of Christians.

There will be a shift in this pattern. There is a feeling among Hindus that the government is moving against the traditions and rituals followed by Hindus.

At the same time, there is an effort by them to divide Hindus.

Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com