When I was the Devaswom minister in the LDF government, five women from Andhra Pradesh, who were below 50 years of age, attempted to climb the Sabarimala hill. They were arrested. Actor Jayamala claimed she had been to Sabarimala at a young age. We registered a case against her. It had to be done in these cases because a 1991 High Court verdict had upheld a 1965 rule that barred women between the age of 10 and 50 from climbing Sabarimala.
But the Supreme Court in 2007 raised a query on that ban, just as it did recently. Could a progressive Left government say women cannot be allowed into Sabarimala? We submitted an affidavit before the Supreme Court saying our Constitution guarantees freedom to practice religion, equality before law, and freedom of conscience, therefore the government cannot say that women cannot climb the Sabarimala hill.
Moreover, Indian culture gives women an exalted place. For instance, Manu Smriti says, “yatr naryasto pojyantay, ramantay tatr devta” (Where women are treated with honour, the gods are pleased to reside there) Shankaracharya's Soundarya Lahiri says, "Shivah Shaktya yukto yadi bhavati Shaktah prabhavitum | Na chedevam devo na khalu kushalah spanditumapi (Joined with Shakti, Lord Shiva is capable of creating the Universe. Otherwise, the Lord will not even be able to stir).
Men or women, all are born of the womb of a woman. Is it logical to bar women? After all, many traditions have been changed at Sabarimala in the past 50 years. Earlier, Malikapuram was not worshipped, but now she is. Sarpakalam and Pathrakalam have been modified. Earlier, there was no Thulabharam, it has been introduced now, Kodiyettam, Apdipooja are recent phenomena. Even the Tantris who are running the show were not appointed by God, but by Tamil kings.
Why, in 1938 the temple actually issued a proclamation opening its doors to all. Indeed, Prof. A.R. Varma has recorded in his book that in 1939, the Travancore Regent, the amma maharani, had climbed Sabarimala along with the king, and she was 42 at the time. All this must be taken into consideration.
If the argument is, however, that women would not be able to observe the fast for 45 days, then perhaps they can be given a separate time annually that should not clash with the mandala-makaravilakku season. Preconditions should not be applied merely to prevent women from entering the hill shrine. If they are physically fit, both men and women can climb it.
There should be a discussion on these issues. Temples and rituals belong to all of the Hindu community, not to any particular group or vested interest. If required, let the government even hold a referendum on the issue. Of course, we have to maintain status quo until the Supreme Court decides on the matter, but let there be a debate across the nation. Remember Kumaran Asan’s lines: Mattuvin chattangale! Allenkil mattum, athukalee ningalethan!
(Reform, change the rules! Else those very rules will be your downfall!)
(G. Sudhakaran is a former Kerala minister)