It's none other than the famous Sabarimala, an iconic temple in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India. Every year, over 30 to 40 million devotees visit this sacred shrine to offer their prayers and catch a glimpse of Lord Ayyappan's statue.
This huge crowd encompasses mostly men who observe the compulsory 41 days of religious penance before making the difficult 40km pilgrimage to the temple. Interestingly, Sabarimala is one of the very few temples in India that transcends beyond the caste system. Irrespective of any caste, everyone is equal in front of Lord Ayyappan and the devotees wear black in unison during their pilgrimage, signifying the letting go of all worldly pleasures.
So, why are women banned from the temple then? The statement itself is incorrect as not all women are banned, only those who are actively menstruating which have been set to women aged in between 10 to 50. Does that mean, menstruation is seen as unholy and dirty and hence, women are not allowed to step into the temple? Absolutely not! Unlike the claims of the uninformed public, this is not the real reason!
There are a few beliefs as to why women were restricted from going to the temple:
The Love StoryIt's believed that Lord Ayyappan was born as Hariharan Puthiran to vanquish a female demon who can only be destroyed by a child born from Lord Shiva and Vishnu (as one of his avatar Mohini). Apparently, when Ayyappan killed the demon, a beautiful woman emerged. She was cursed by the demon and now free from the curse. She fell in love with Ayyappan and requested to get married.
However, Ayyappan refused, saying that he wishes to fulfill the prayers of his devotees who visit the Sabarimala and only when 'kanni swamis' stop coming to his shrine. Waiting for Him, the woman still resides at a nearby temple as Malikapurathamma.
Respecting her long wait and unconditional love, many women are said to have avoided coming to the temple completely. It's their way of showing empathy for a woman who waits for her loved one for eternity.
Renouncing All PleasuresAnother account tells that Lord Ayyappan practices celibacy as part of his renunciation of all worldly pleasures in order to completely focus on fulfilling the prayers of all his devotees. Thus, he is said to not have any form of contact with women, respecting his sacrifice, women are not allowed to enter the temple.
Judging from the beliefs, entering the Sabarimala temple will be equivalent to disrespecting Lord Ayyappan and Malikapurathamma. Which is why, the Ayyappan devotees argue that the ban was put in place by Lord Ayyappan himself and the court's inability to respect their beliefs is unacceptable.
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Kindly note that this article doesn't reflect Astro Ulagam's stand on this issue.
Source: The First Post, BBC, Free Malaysia Today
Photo Credit: News18, Lord Ayyappa Temple, God HD Wallpapers