Practices of Hindu religion are polylithic in character – Unnikrishna Panicker

Srikovil at Sabarimala

Unnikrishna Panicker“It would be unfair to claim that what is practised in Sabarimala is misogynistic. The practice that exists in Sabarimala is not a practice that is followed by all temples. Neither is it a practice to be followed by women of all ages. The practices that exist are age-old. There is a certain continuity in these practices which should be respected, even if you don’t believe them. This continuity is acknowledged by all historians who discuss Indian history and is the cornerstone of Indian culture.” – Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker

Swami AyyappanIs the demand for women’s entry into Sabarimala Temple motivated by bhakti? Or is it motivated by the political beliefs of a few? Those who demand entry do so because they think that denying women entry is unfair and discriminatory. A majority of women Ayyappa devotees would accept the rituals and traditions of the temple as they are and thus, would not want to visit the temple. Thus, those women who seek entry do not need it, and the majority of those for whom it is sought do not want it. Besides, it is patronising to suggest how someone should practise their belief, which traditions one should follow and which temple to enter.

The beliefs and practices of Hindu religion are polylithic in nature. On the one side, menstruating women are banned from entering a temple like Sabarimala. On the other side, there are temples like Chengannur Mahadeva Temple where Goddess Parvathy’s menstruation is revered and worshipped. Menstruation is mentioned with reverence in Adi Sankaracharya’s Tripura Sundari Stotram:

Smaretpratamapushpineerudhirabinduneelaambaraam!,

says the sage. Similar passages can be seen in Soundarya Lahari too.

Temples in Kerala follow the practice called Tantra when it comes to rituals. Kerala has produced the most ancient works in Tantra like Prayogamañjari and Kriyaasaaram that prescribe the ritualistic practices to be followed in a temple. Tantra Samuchayam, one of the most authoritative scriptures among these, says:

Kshetremritirjjananamankanamandapaadou,
mootraasrugaadipathanampathithaadivesha […]
Ethaanitantrakathithaaninimithakaani,
Jneyaani guru laghavabhedavanthi.

Death or birth (of humans or animals), faeces, entry of animals and entry of someone who is unclean are some of the occasions that would make a temple impure. Each temple has its own set of rules and rituals.

Some of them control entry, some of them open up entry. For example, at daytime, women cannot enter the Rajarajeswara Temple of Taliparamba, one of the ancient temples in North Kerala. Similarly, once in a year, the Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple opens up for everyone and the Goddess is believed to appear as a commoner in a ritual called Kaavutheendal.

It would be unfair to claim that what is practised in Sabarimala is misogynistic. The practice that exists in Sabarimala is not a practice that is followed by all temples. Neither is it a practice to be followed by women of all ages. The practices that exist are age-old. There is a certain continuity in these practices Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varmawhich should be respected, even if you don’t believe them. This continuity is acknowledged by all historians who discuss Indian history and is the cornerstone of Indian culture.

The temple authorities in Kerala have historically been progressive and reformists in their approach. The revolutionary temple entry proclamation was announced by the King of Travancore 90 years ago, at a time when caste system was thought to be deep-rooted and unalterable.

However, this stand cannot be taken in all rituals and practices. There are also rituals and traditions where the continuity cannot be broken. That might seem illogical to some. But religion and spirituality are sometimes above logic and ordinary human understanding. – The New Indian Express, 22 January 2016

» Unnikrishna Panicker of Parappanangadi in Kerala is Jayalalithaa’s most trusted astrologer.

Chengannur Mahadeva Temple

7 Responses

  1. It is not clear that all bodily fluids are ritually or otherwise impure, and that includes menstrual fluid. Morarji Desai became famous/infamous for publicly acknowledging that he drank his own urine everyday for its health benefits. Now, we know that cow’s urine is beneficial and has been used in traditional medicine. But human urine is in a different category altogether.

    There may be a case (politics aside) for allowing women to Sabarimala. During a debate on Times Now Rahul Easwar put forward the argument that the deity at Sabarimala (Shastav) is a brahmachari and hence women should not be allowed !

    Rather bizarre argument since it presupposes that all the male devotees are automatically considered brahmacharis.
    Clearly that is not the case.

    There may be a law and order problem for the government since the bustle and jostling may affect women in a way it does not affect men. I need not labour the point.

    The argument from tradition is at best dubious since there is nothing in the Veda which prohibits women from participating in Vedic rites.

    Smriti is a different matter and can be opened up in a suitable manner. The caste system and the Dalit problem are an example of how smriti can be changed. And yes it should be changed.

    • Mrs Vijaya,
      Temples are not vaidika based but agama based. Each agama or tantra has its own way. So going to a temple is not the same as performing Vedic rites. We cant formulate such sweeping equivalencies. Also even in the vedas in the taittriya brahmana 3 ashataka 7 prashna called achidra kanda, there is a clear mention of a prayashchita when a women has periods during vedic rites. It is considered unclean and aashoucha. The same is discussed in the 2nd kanda(I forget which prashna but i am damn sure). So your statement is false.

      Also smriti’s cannot be neglected at a drop of a hat and it takes a rishi to do it.


      Ram continues …
      @Mrs Vijaya Rajiva,
      Temples are based on Agamas and not the Veda. You do not find even one word in the veda on temples. Each Aagama has its own approach. So if we accept the sanctity of a temple we should accept the aagama/tantra/sampradaya for it. So vedic rites and temples are not the same though vedic mantras are used.
      Also in the Veda especially in the Taittriya brahmana/samhita, there are discussions on what to do when a women is in her periods during vedic rites. It “Is impure” as per the vedic statements(Taittryiya brahmana 3rd ashataka 7th chapter called the acchidra kanda and in the 2nd kanda in the samhita forgot the prashna). So there are some regulations during periods and your blanket statement “There is nothing in the Veda which prohibits women from participating in Vedic rites” is utterly wrong. Please do check with vedic scholars who have learnt it in the traditional way and not from the “University vedic scholars with Phd’s”
      Also the smriti though subject to change as per times, cannot be changed at a drop of a hat as you propose.And temples are not part of the smriti discussions. They are part of agama as i told in the beginning.

    • All body fluids are indeed ritually impure. If you do not know this, then you do not know anything about Indian social practice or Hindu temple etiquette.

      Moaraji Desi was drinking his own urine, not yours or mine. That is the crucial difference. Had you offered him a glass of your own “shivambu”, he would have been outraged at the perceived insult.

      All male devotees who stand before Lord Ayyappan may be considered brahmacharis as it must be assumed they have followed the 41 day penance before making the pilgrimage. But that is not really the point. It is Lord Ayyappan’s brahmacharia that must be maintained, not that of his devotees. Male devotees, brahmacharis or not, do not threaten Lord Ayyappan’s penance, but fertile female devotees may do so (as we know from stories in the Puranas). The Lord Himself has requested that women do not visit him during their fertile life period. Is His request to be ignored or debated?

      Yes, there will be a law and order problem if women insist on invading a traditional male space. Why does the modern woman want to invade the male space anyway? Is it a show of power? Or of contempt? Or is she just looking for a good fuck? When men invade women’s traditional spaces, there is a great uproar and shouts of rape rape. But when women invade men’s traditional spaces, its all about women’s rights and human rights and equality of the sexes blah blah blah.

      The traditions of Sabarimala are tantric traditions following Lord Ayyappan’s instructions and thought out over the centuries. They have nothing to do with Vedic practices so why drag in an irrelevant reference.

      Madam has always maintained that she supports the traditional acharyas (the Sabarimala thantris are also traditional acharyas). And we can be very sure that the traditional acharyas support the current practices at Sabarimala which ban fertile women from entering Lord Ayyappan’s tapobhumi. So why is she cocking a snook at them here and taking an opposing view—unless it is some kind of dubious feminist politics.

      An aside

      Menstruating women are not impure in themselves but the menstrual fluid they discharge is an impurity for others and especially in a ritual circumstance.

      It is a great mistake that popular parlance has deemed menstruating women as impure. It has led to great misunderstanding.

      See this excellent article about menstruation from the Ayurvedic point of view.

  2. The purpose of this controversy is very clear.To divide Hindu opinion.Now the paid media and non-BJP politicians are trying to destroy Hindu belief and traditions to create controversy and tarnish Hindu supporting govt at the centre.Minority communities and selfish politicians fear Hindu unity. Of course the pity is Hindus are the main opponent of Hindu unity .Let God save this fast diminishing Hindu population.India will be a Bengla desh or a Pak or a Kasmir when Hindus vanishes.

  3. Every Hindu knows that body fluids of whatever nature are ritually unclean. (They are unclean socially too, for that matter.) Therefore a man with a wound or runny nose is also barred from the temple sanctum (which by its very nature and function must be kept ritually pure).

    The rituals in a temple were developed to assist the manifestation of the Deity in the image in the temple’s sanctum. When the Deity is known to be present, the priests are naturally very reluctant to change the rituals and procedures that have assisted in the divine manifestation. Only a fool or dedicated hostile person would want to do differently.

    Most traditional Hindus understand this matter very well. It is the legalistically-minded and self-centered ‘progressives’ who are alienated from their religious traditions, who are interested in causing controversy about temple entry of women.

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