Sabarimala and the “Tradition” Conundrum!

As soon as the Sabarimala verdict was out a few days back whereby, the court pronounced that women of all ages can now be allowed to visit the Sabarimala temple, a childhood friend of mine asked me for my reaction to the verdict. He posed the question to me because, I was basically from Kerala and having known that I have been visiting Sabarimala since childhood. My view on the verdict was that as times change, situations change, ground reality changes. Time for traditions, culture etc. etc. to keep evolving with the times. And hence I was for the verdict.   Of course this was a simplistic view of a complex case the verdict of which, is now threatening to disturb the pluralistic, multicultural and accommodative fabric of our Indian society.


My view on the verdict was based on the premise that the reasons, (though may be valid at one point in time) for not allowing women in the menstruating age to visit Sabarimala, may no longer be valid in this day and age. And hence this ban doesn’t make sense any more. And I was also of the view that any condition set by force is fundamentally against principles of freedom and is discriminatory. And more importantly, I felt that if my teenage daughter asks tomorrow why she cannot visit the Sabarimala temple, I thought I had no tenable answer.

My view, that the Hindu traditions, religious practices and beliefs have never been cast on stone and have always steered their way along conveniences of mankind, has been consistent with my reaction to the Jallikattu controversy or the more recent controversy around Carnatic singers singing Christian songs. In the Jallikattu issue, I opined that Jallikattu in its present form is certainly cruel to the animal and needs to be reformed. In the interests of preserving tradition and culture a total ban is uncalled for but, certainly safeguards need to be put in place to prevent unethical and unhealthy practices.

However, in the past few days post the verdict I have been seeing some arguments against the verdict, some making sense and some completely off the mark. And the sensible arguments have sort of made me change my mind on my reaction to the verdict.

In Kerala, a state with almost 100% literacy and social indices far ahead of the other states in India, the women have been leading the fight back against the verdict. One of the pieces I read against the verdict said that women don’t feel discriminated at all in being allowed to visit Sabarimala. And it is a question of respecting a tradition which has been in place for so many years.  This set me thinking and this piece is the result of the churn in my mind, I guess.

What sets Sabarimala to be different from other temples in Kerala or for that matter in India, is the process of visiting the temple itself. One cannot visit Sabarimala just like that, though these days it is much easier and is more accessible. First of all, the temple is not open 365 days for pilgrims.  Even in the present times of increased travel comforts, the journey is comparatively arduous and one needs to make the last 6 kms. of hilly stretch from the Pamba river base to Sannidhanam by walk.  (“Dolly service” to carry people up this stretch is available). And there has been the tradition which most men follow of observing a Vratham for 41 days before you travel observing certain practices including celibacy during the period. As part of the rituals, you carry what is known as Iru mudi kettu and carry that all along the trek. And till now, women in the menstruating age have not been allowed. So all these traditions are what that finally make Sabarimala different and what it is today. Of course the practices have gone through their own evolution as I mentioned before, in tune with the times and available technology!

Sans these traditions and beliefs, Sabarimala will be like another temple, where one can visit whenever. If the Government wants, it can lay motor able roads right up to the Sannidhanam so that one doesn’t have to do the physical labouring from Pamba.  So, that brings to the main issue. If the following of these traditions is what eventually makes Sabarimala special, why to tinker with them now? If majority of women in Kerala and outside have not been concerned about being discriminated and were #readytowait where is the issue?

Just like this practice in question in Sabarimala, if one digs in deep, there are countless such beliefs, traditions and practices being followed in many places of worship all over India. Some of it may push the borders of one’s freedom, may seem discriminatory and even downright hypocritical. But which make those places of worship unique and special in their own way. It is important for us to pick the right battles to fight which have larger social ramifications rather than pick on potentially harmless issues.

Therefore, I now tend to agree with the lone dissenting voice and ironically the lone lady voice in the Supreme Court Bench – Justice Indu Malhotra, who said that it is not for courts to determine which religious practices are to be struck down except in issues of social evil like ‘Sati’.

Having said that, I am not buying some of the other frivolous arguments against the verdict being bandied upon bringing in false equivalence around practices being followed in other religions like Islam,..  It’s up to those faiths to pick up their fights!

If India as a country is sort of unique in the world, it is because of our strong roots, culture rooted in traditions and our unwavering belief in “Faith”! So in matters of “Faith”, it will be ideal if the interested parties deliberate among themselves and bring in the reforms when needed rather than throwing the ball to the Courts which necessarily have to pronounce judgments keeping aside traditional beliefs and the underlying emotions involved. And as a society, I do believe that this judgement has opened up a Pandora’s Box and could set a precedent for many an issues involving “faith”, all of it may not have a peaceful pass as this one!

Kallum Mullum,.. – Kaalukku Methai,…” is one among the many slogans you raise to spur yourself while walking up the hill of Sabarimala barefoot. It means stones and thorns are like bed (of roses) to the feet. For an ardent Sabarimala devotee, the judgement though, is seen as a bed of stones and thorns in his hitherto peaceful journey! Having been conflicted on this one for a few days, I do believe that I have a plausible answer to give to my daughter on this “tradition” conundrum!

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0 thoughts on “Sabarimala and the “Tradition” Conundrum!”

  1. Anand – Nicely written piece. You were not rigid in your views and flexible enough to change your position acknowledging the reasons for the same. A great thing indeed 👏👏
    Without going into the core beliefs/practices around this, I feel it is important to stay consistent in these issues. Though one need not actually refer to other faiths, it is imperative things are looked at in a consistent manner in all similar situations/issues. BTW, who is the aggrieved party in this case from a legal standpoint ?

  2. It is a matter of faith and faith remains the same now ! Courts cannot decide on matters of faith, irrespective of religion. This verdict requires a relook in the lines of lady judge Ms Indu Malhotra.

  3. Palakkadu Sundaresan Kannan

    Well put across Anand..very practical &unbiased view…Respect of traditions is what makes such practices unique and satisfying..apart from giving a  sense of purpose and achievement to the believers!!From: anandkumarrs <>Sent: Sat, 06 Oct 2018 18:35:13To: kancoolkan@rediffmail.comSubject: [New post] Sabarimala and the “Tradition” Conundrum! anandkumarrs posted: "As soon as the Sabarimala verdict was out a few days back whereby, the court pronounced that women of all ages can now be allowed to visit the Sabarimala temple, a childhood friend of mine asked me for my reaction to the verdict. He posed the question to "

  4. S Ganesh Sharma

    A good read.

    However, the article is oblivious to the fact that the PIL was filed by one Naushad Ahmad Khan, a self-proclaimed president of Indian Young Lawyers’ Association, who is totally alien to Hindu faith and believes.

    It has been falsely made to look like a question of gender equality like in triple talaq or nikah halala in both of which women are treated just like dirt, far worse a phenomenon than gender discrimination! A person hailing from a religion which denies gender equality to its women and sitting in a glass house shouldn’t have even dreamt of raising the issue as a PIL. It’s the worst scenario of coal calling kettle black.

    The attitude of the SC in dealing with this case as one of gender discrimination and without paying any heed to age-old religious customs of a temple peculiar to itself, is unfortunate, to say the least!

    The ruling is music to the left , the Congress, the atheists, the pseudo secularists (all are synonyms to one another), the self-proclaimed intelligentsia, the muslims, the journos, especially the ladies with pop-cuts, speaking heavily accented English and completely off-guard to any value of institutions like family life and marriage, always asking ‘so what’, et al.

    A last ray of hope left now is only in the form of the new cji or an ordinance by the ruling BJP.

    Next comes the role of SC who

  5. Dear Author,

    You could tell these two stories to a kid who wants to know why women of certain age cannot or rather should not go:

    Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity was naishtika brahmachari (one practicing celibacy). A person who practices celibacy tries to avoid distractions by staying away from opposite sex. Only certain age groups are allowed because you don’t get attracted to them. At least in Hinduism young girls aged 9 or 7 are looked at as kids and not wives. It is considered as an evil task if you trick somebody into breaking his solemn promise or a vow(the celibacy vow). Maybe this is why the women in Kerala are protesting. There is a second story about this also; Lord Ayyappa was not suppose to marry until the last of the kanni swamis (first-time pilgrims) had visited him. So, the female who wanted to marry him had to wait for a long time, and the menstruating women themselves decided not to visit the temple out of respect for her love.

    Where did impurity come from? It was a tactic to defame temples and Hindu traditions.

    You could also tell a kid that there are different temples with different rules and always there is some story behind that. It is kid’s/seeker’s job to find that story. Hinduism is the only religion in the world that preaches its followers to be seekers rather than believers.

    Also, there are temples like Chakkulathukavu Temple where the male priests wash the feet of women devotees and the ritual is called “naari puja” or women worship. Just imagine the uproar feminists would have created if the genders were interchanged. The Bhagati Maa temple in Kanya Kumari, Kerala entertains only women. Men are prohibited there. Kamrup Kamakhya Temple in Assam permits only women to enter its premises during their menstrual cycle. Only female priests or sanyasis serve the temple where the menstrual cloth of Maa Sati is considered highly auspicious and is distributed to the devotees. There is a Lord Brahma temple at Pushkar in Rajasthan where married men are not allowed i.e. only unmarried men are allowed.

    The issue is politically motivated 2006 when the issue was highlighted it was election year for Kerala and now there are national election in less than 8 months.
    This verdict is going to be used in the cases like Ram Mandir and Uniform Civil Code.


  6. Pingback: The Convergence and Divergence of #MeToo and #ReadyToWait! – anandkumarrs

  7. Well written Anand. It’s a matter of faith and if the woman wants to go now or wait till she’s 50. It should be left to her and blowing this out of proportion is doing no one any good. And thanks for liking my post on ‘Sabarimala’.

  8. Reminds me of a quote that I read a while ago: In matters of religion, it’s better that reformation should come from with in.When external agencies such as a court of law try to bring an alteration to an existing tradition or custom, often it will be met with resistance, for change is but very difficult to accept. Guess that the state and it’s people have not yet transcended to a condition where they could accept equality in it’s full right or to approach an issue ignoring vote bank politics. Still, I do agree at one point:- Sabarimala would degenerate to yet another Tirupati if the state government is given it’s way. Whatever be the case, religion and traditions should evolve with time or else perish.

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