Sabarimala temple women’s entry: Can tradition, theology and equality before law go hand in hand?

7 min readNov 18, 2020


Source: Google

This year’s Sabarimala pilgrimage is upon us, and the Kerala government has made its action plan and preparation for it in line with the Covid crisis.

As far as the Hindu community is concerned, the matter of restriction on women’s entry into the temple has been settled among themselves. The bad omens and tragedies the state has witnessed after the intervention of the government and activists in Sannidhanam were enough for Malayali Hindus to completely abandon the SC verdict.

I don’t know the veracity or verifiability of this correlation, but we believe that our deities protect us and bring abundance and good fortune to the land. This is a point I’ll get back to shortly. And when tragedies like floods, pandemics, and environmental hazards struck, also the political degradation of the Communist Party in power, people took it as a bad omen.

In my earlier articles, I argued that we must at least initiate a democratic dialogue regarding the restriction of women of menstruating age in the temple. And this dialogue should bring out a solution most beneficial for the “discriminated”- the women of the menstruating age.

I also argued that we have moved on from a traditional agriculture-based patriarchal society, and the archaic remnants of that system should be removed. For example, the notion that women are impure when they are menstruating, lack of mobility, and freedom of choice of women.

You can find these articles here.

Has my position changed?

Well, no. This position is never going to change for me. And I still believe that women should be allowed in Sabarimala. Or that archaic inequalities shouldn’t restrict them from their spiritual rights.

But then, this argument by J. Sai Deepak is quite compelling.

He argues that “the fundamental issue has been the inability to strike a distinction between diversity and discrimination, between uniformity and equality, between pluralism and standardization.

So, what are the points of divergence here?

  • The status of Lord Ayyappa as a Brahmachari in Sabarimala temple.
  • The upholding of the tradition of Hindus.
  • The impurity principle regarding women’s entry in temples, including Sabarimala.

I want to analyze these points one by one and put forth some arguments.

The status of Lord Ayyappa as a Brahmachari in Sabarimala temple.

Are Brahmacharis so fragile that they can’t tolerate the presence of their opposite sexes?

Anyone who says this doesn’t know anything about Vairagya or detachment, the central aspect of Sannyasa and Moksha.

Now, to contend the same about a deity who is a Brahmachari is even more problematic. Spiritual gurus, enlightened beings, and Sadhu-Sant belong to all sexes, and their disciples also belong to all sexes.

Such discrimination on the sexes is non-existent in the spiritual history of this sub-continent. Here, the assumption is that a deity is a Guru to the devotee, or the devotee considers the deity as enlightened, therefore worships and follows him.

Then again, all souls who have renunciation worldly life and follow the path of Brahmacharya and sannyasa don’t follow the norms of the worldly society. I’ve come to this realization that this is the same for Lord Ayyappa residing in Sabarimala as a Brahmachari.

If you don’t get my point, a Sanyasi doesn’t mingle with society, because he or she has renunciated it. If you see a sanyasi or an enlightened being working with society, it’s his/her own accord, and they do it without any attachment to their subject. In other words, they are wholly independent (liberated) beings and remain so within themselves.

That’s why people who go on pilgrimage to Sabarimala become swamis, and renounce all worldly comforts for the course of it. But why can’t women do the same? I’ll come to it in a bit.

But if Brahmachiris or swamis ascend the temple, it’s my solemn wish that Brahmachrinis, swaminis, and sannyasinis also be able to do it. Because, if a deity is a guiding light, an embodiment of Brahmacharya, that energy which acts as a beacon, a guru, then shouldn’t it be available to all who seek it, irrespective of gender?

As a person who lives according to the yogic tradition, I would appreciate (and worship) a deity that embodies all the qualities of a Yogi: Mahadeva or Adiyogi.

And that deity wouldn’t discriminate against me according to my gender. In the same way, I wish that Lord Ayyappa would be the beacon and blesser of all people who have taken sannyasa or Brahmacharya as their path to Moksha, regardless of gender.

The upholding of the tradition of Hindus.

Why can’t women take up intermittent sannyasa and go on the pilgrimage to Sabarimala as men do? Isn’t this the main point of debate?

To understand this further, we must look at the four Ashrama prescribed in the Hindu religion.

Brahmacharya: the ashrama of study and discipline.

Grihastha: ashrama of family life/ household duties.

Vanaprastha: beginning of reclined life and focus on spirituality.

Sannyasa: complete renunciation for Liberation upon death.

From Wikipedia

As we can see, only the women belonging to the Kaumara and Grihstashrama are restricted, ie, the ones who are active in household life or the ones who have to perform the duties of a wife, or the ones who are coming of that age.

In fact, Sabarimala is the seat of a renunciant who asked to never be disturbed. And men were graced with an entry, when I say men, it should be understood that these are men belonging to the Grihastashrama.

If you know traditional folklore, most married men and men in Grihastashrama observe the Vritham and set out on the pilgrimage as a yajna. Yajna is an offering or observance to gods to have their blessings in any endeavor in life or general well-being. Most often, this yajna of pilgrimage to Sabarimala is for health, fertility, marriage, and so on.

It’s similar to how Hindus pray to Lord Ganesh or Ganapathi for a good marriage and blessings of offsprings when the Lord himself is unmarried.

Women staying back home have equal participation as men who physically take the journey. Women also take the vritham; there is a wide range of rituals, ceremonies, feasts, and traditions that accompany the pilgrimage, mostly orchestrated by women in the household. If women were to go on the pilgrimage, I’m sure that men would have to stay behind for the rituals at home.

Once again, it’s debatable, why women have to stay behind? That’s where the argument of tradition comes into play.

It was done so for a long time, and it was favorable for everyone at that time. Favorable also because of the arduous journey, responsibilities at home, patriarchy, and so on.

So, if we now insist that women should leave home with men for the pilgrimage, we are essentially changing this tradition. One must analyze and understand every aspect of it carefully and then come to a decision: what are the actual costs and benefits of making this drastic change in our culture and tradition? I don’t think this was as diligently analyzed in the court as it should have been.

Indeed, a woman in any other Ashrama is allowed in Sabarimala.

The impurity principle regarding women’s entry in temples, including Sabarimala.

Despite all this (Apology), we can’t overlook the question of purity and impurity thrown about in women’s spiritual life, including the pilgrimage to Sabarimala.

No matter how much the scholar, religious experts claim otherwise, it’s the unfortunate reality on the ground that women’s impurity, her weakness, her menstruation are invoked in these matters, not excluding Sabarimala.

This inevitably leads to discrimination and restrictions on a woman’s mobility and freedom of choice.

If Hindus wish that the traditions are upheld in their right, then the conversation about it should be shaped in that way that it doesn’t infringe the rights of a woman. Otherwise, laws, reform, and restrictions will be forced upon the community from outside. After all, we live in a secular democracy (which is a good thing).

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I’m Vijay Vidhu. Author of novel “Life In A Ziplock Bag”. Creating blogs and vlogs on everything I’m passionate about: Nature, Psychology, and Culture.