Sabarimala traditions not an issue for a secular court to take up, says Swami Chidananda – Team PGurus

Swami Chidananda Puri

The Ready To Wait campaign has again been activated in order to let the honourable judges know that Hindu stakeholders do not want the Supreme Court to decide on their behalf.

This is a translation of Swami Chidananda Puri’s views on the issue. The Supreme Court would do well to take heed of the voices from the ordinary stakeholders contributing to the #ReadyToWait campaign as well as learned and respected exemplars from the tradition.

This is a translation of a recent talk given by Swamiji on the issue:

Sabarimala has helped Hindu society in no small measure to empower and unify them. It has been the reason in a very big way to prevent rampant conversions to other faiths. This is not all. Sabarimala is the one pilgrimage centre that attracts the most pilgrimage tourists. For a long time now, Sabarimala has been dragged from one controversy to another.

From rat’s tail (reference is to rat’s tail found in the aravana payasam prasad given there), Jayamala issue (actress who claimed she entered Sabarimala when she was 27, thereby violating the existing rules of the temple), the Mullaperiyar dam controversy (that it will burst soon), there have been numerous controversies besieging this temple. However, these controversies were only trying to dislodge small foundational stones (metaphorical) of the temple. Such incidents have not caused harm to the Hindu society so far and neither will they do so in the future.

However, these incidents have systematically and slowly interfered and tried to subvert an entire community’s temple’s belief and worship systems. These incidents have been amplified and very intelligently been taken forward to endanger the temple and its devotees.

As part of this campaign it is now being posited that not allowing women entry into the temple is a violation of their rights and hence that they should be allowed to enter. The pretext for this demand is that men and women are equal under the law. Since men and women are equal under the law and because worship is a fundamental right for both, women must be allowed to enter the temple. This is the issue at hand.

What is important to note here is whether this matter has been brought to the court by a temple devotee. To this, the answer is a resounding no. If one has to elaborate further, the person who petitioned the Supreme Court on this issue is an advocate who is a Muslim by faith. Then others also joined. But what I have to say is that it is only the Hindu’s way of worship and a temple’s worship rites and rituals that are subject to this scrutiny. In the name of fundamental rights, etc., only Hindus are targeted, and when a secular government and its secular judicial arm discusses only Hindu rites and rituals, it is pertinent to ask why ways of worship or rites and rituals from other faiths are not being questioned.

If this is a case of equal rights of women and of disrespect to them, there is only one Sabarimala. There is not a single Sunni mosque into which women are allowed entry. There are tens of thousands of Sunni mosques. There is no question of fundamental rights of the woman in this case and that is of course not an issue for the court to deliberate upon. In Mujahid mosques, yes women are allowed but into a small, segregated enclosure only. It is not a general right to enter anywhere and along with men on equal terms into the mosque. At religious discourses, men and women are not seated together. They sit behind a screened enclosure. There is obviously no fundamental right or equality issue in any of this. This is happening only in the case of the Sabarimala Temple, and is taken as an issue of Hindu temples.

This is very wrong. The people who have the right to talk about our ways of worship and the rituals to be followed in our temples, are experts in the vedas, tantra sastra and devotees. It is not the secular court. If the court has the right, then it must also discuss the ways of worship of other faiths too.

There is one more thing to be considered here. One of the observations of the respected court in this matter was to ask why a temple is not a public space. Let me state unambiguously and underline that a temple is not a public space. A temple is the aasthanam (abode) of the Hindu deity housed there. There are specific and particular rites and rituals for each temple and these have been coming down for generations. Each temple and the deity it is the abode of, has its own particular conceptions, beliefs and legends along with the rites and rituals, entangled together for generations. To honour those in letter and spirit is not just the right of Hindus but indeed also the obligation.

The reason I say this is because in an earlier judgement of the same respected Supreme Court, they had declared that whichever denomination had established whichever temple, that denomination (using the same word “denomination” as the SC did) had the right and authority to conduct the affairs of that particular temple according to the rites and rituals prescribed for their deity.

In that case, in the issue of traditional ways of worship, different deities with different gunas, are consecrated in specific human form with by the acharyas and priests and are being worshipped as centres of shakti through generations. Hence that speciality of the particular temple has to be protected. For example, a sanyasi is person who does not worship in a temple. However, it is considered to be very auspicious if a sanyasi enters a temple. However, there are temples which do not allow a sanyasi inside. There are temples which have to be subjected to a purification ritual if a sanyasi has entered it. There are temples in Kerala itself, for example, the Payyannur Subramanya Swami Temple. So what I am trying to say is that there are certain unassailable belief systems in every temple.

There are temples where only mothers do puja. Men are not the main pujaris in such temples, for example, in Mannarshala. As part of worship, there are temples where two sections of society are made to fight with each other as part of the ritualistic rites. The essence of all this is to emphasize that different temples have different ritualistic ways and these have to be respected and protected. In the case of Sabarimala, it is not that women cannot enter, the restriction is only on women in the reproductive age not entering. That has been the traditional way of the temple.

If you ask me whether that way should not be modified for the times, in my personal capacity I would say yes. However, who should change these? It definitely is not the secular government. It should be the tantris, the veda experts and the devotees who come to Sabarimala and in particular, the women devotees of Swami Ayyappa who all have to sit together to deliberate on the issue. This should be unambiguously and strongly asserted by Hindu society.

There is another important point to be considered finally. It is stated that right to worship is a fundamental right. If a person claims that the right to worship is his/her fundamental right, it is correct. If a person is chanting the name of his ishtadevata in the privacy of his/her home, surely, that is his/her fundamental right.

A temple is not only a centre for worship. We go there for a darshan of the deity also. In the case of a temple, it is darshan of the deity that is the primary reason for visiting a temple. Having darshan of the deity is not a fundamental right.

A person says it is his fundamental right to chant. Yes, that it is, as long as he does not cause a disturbance to others with his chanting. If he does not use a mike to chant and cause nuisance to others, he is certainly within his rights to call it his fundamental right. However, if he is causing disturbance to the general public at large by chanting using large mikes which transmit loudly, then the public is well within its right to restrain the person from doing so. However, darshan of a deity is not a fundamental right.

Suppose someone said that they wanted to see Swami Chidananda Puri, he cannot claim that as his fundamental right. This is because if the swami is engaged in other work and has other things to attend to when this person wants to see him, he cannot demand audience with the swami as his fundamental right. In the temple, the deity is consecrated as a human form. So, when it is in this form, it is associated with certain conditions. There are specific dos and don’ts. According to this, the temple deity has to be looked at within the ambit of those conditions. One cannot barge into a temple just like that and claim that it is a fundamental right.

It may be that the deity has been put to sleep for the day. Can a person claim that he still wants to have a darshan of the deity? Before waking up the deity, a person who is not someone who does the puja cannot go into the temple. There are definite rules. That is the reason why right to worship is a fundamental right but right to have darshan is not. The rules for darshan is particular to each temple deity and has to be respected.

When seen in this light, one has to take into account the significance of each sign and symbol of a temple’s ways and then only decisions should be taken.

To consolidate and summarise, let me state this. Firstly, this is not an issue for a secular court to take up. If it is, then let the court decide the ways for all religions. Only Hindu ways of worship becoming a subject for the court to deliberate upon, leaving aside worship ways of other faiths, is not acceptable. By saying this emphatically, I am not saying that things should not be changed. They can and should be changed because these are all issues of smriti (that which is remembered), not shruti (that which is heard). Shruti will never change, smriti will. However, that change is if it is the case of Islamic ways of worship—not societal norms—should be done by Muslim experts, if it is the ways of worship of Christians, it should be done by Christian experts and if it is the case of Hindus, then it is the Hindu experts who should take the decisions. In keeping with the changing times, Hindu smritis have to be updated and through this changed smritis only, the change has to come.

Going forward in any other sense is very harmful and especially, the observation of the court that the temple is a public space is very dangerous. Let me emphatically state that a temple is not a public space. A temple is a place where the faithful enter, respecting all the rites and rituals associated with the temple, to have a darshan of the deity inside. If it is decided that the temple is a public space that will be a very dangerous situation tomorrow for all of Hindu Dharma and Bharat. There is absolutely no doubt about that and hence we should emphatically and unambiguously state that a temple is not a public space. – PGurus, 24 July 2012

Elderly Swedish women pilgrims to Sabarimala


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2 Responses

  1. I totally agree with Swamiji, non Hindus have no right to discuss or suggest about Hindu way if worship, the petitioner being a Muslim has to clean up his back yard, tell his community to do away with loudspeakers, and public places creating nuisance to other religions faith, these guys are intuding into my personal life by loudly praying and being a nuisance to the public, It is high time the judiciary brought in strict action to these atrocities, enough is enough with these cockroaches who multiple by thousands having numerous wives.

  2. Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup pointed out decades ago in their writings, that a temple is not a public building like a church or mosque or museum or shopping mall. It is the consecrated house of a consecrated deity who is recognised as a legal person in the Indian courts.

    The Sabarimalai Temple belongs, first, to the Deity himself, and second, to the Hindu sect or sampradaya who built the temple and invited the Deity to take up residence there.

    Has the Supreme Court consulted the Deity of Sabarimala, through his designated spokesman, about his wishes regarding the visits of child-bearing women to his abode?

    If not, the Court has failed miserably in its duty of seeking justice—which is different from the application of law—for the Deity who, according to tradition, has requested that women of child-bearing age not visit him at his house in the Sabarimalai hills.

    It is very dangerous for Hindu leaders to to allow secular courts and so-called secular governments to meddle in their time honoured religious affairs. Secular authorities do not have the competence to decide on Hindu religious traditions and practices. We have numerous acharyas and religious scholars to decide these matters for us.

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