#ReadyToWait is a campaign initiated by a group of women devotees from Bharat, explaining their willingness to respect the traditions regarding entry to the renowned Sabarimala temple located in the state of Kerala. It started as a social media campaign, but soon it went viral and garnered support from various sections of people.
Shilpa Nair, who is currently the president of “People For Dharma”, is a Malayali entrepreneur based in Dubai. She is the Managing Director and CEO of Blue Bird Packaging Industries LLC. She is also a person who has tasted success in the field of arts, being a trained classical vocalist and dancer. Hindupost got the chance of interacting with her about the #ReadyToWait campaign and issues around it.
Q. When did you decide to launch the #ReadyToWait campaign? How did it start?
A: We started this campaign when a national TV news channel aired a debate asking for the entry of women in Sabarimala with the hashtag #RightToPray following the verdict of Bombay High Court allowing women to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. We felt that comparing these traditions is like comparing apples and oranges, for both are different worship systems stemming from totally different concepts of the divine.
Also, the traditional practice in Sabarimala does not ban women from entry totally but only restricts women belonging to a particular age group. This mistake was not only done by the ones opposing the tradition in that debate, but also ones like Rahul Easwar who supported it by distorting the history of Ayyappa using the characters like Vavar, Veluthachchan etc.
Hence we felt that instead of expecting others to protect our traditions, we women devotees who respect and act as per the wishes of our Lord must make our voices heard, and so we started this campaign by posting a photo with a placard saying “ReadyToWait” in the social media explaining the reason for our stand to respect the tradition followed at the temple.
Q. Why did the campaign receive support from women of different political affiliations?
A: Well, no one, irrespective of their political affiliations, will like to see their Lord being insulted with words like misogynist. Also, the common feeling was that the customs of the native civilization should only be left to the devotees of the temple. They didn’t like someone who was probably hearing about Sabarimala and Ayyappa for the first time addressing their Lord as misogynist and asking for the ban of a practice which has its roots in shaastraas and has been followed since time immemorial. The cultural attack here is directed towards the feelings of the devotees of Ayyappa who are not bound to any single political affiliation, and hence when we people described our stand, devotees of Ayyappa started supporting us leaving aside their political differences.
Q. Why do you think the age restriction is present in the Sabarimala temple, and why do you stand for continuing the tradition?
A: Deities in most temples are represented using different concepts. The tradition in Sabarimala is purely based on the fact that Shasta (Lord Ayyappa) of Sabarimala is in the form of a `Kumara’ observing Brahmacharya. One must understand here that Sabarimala Ayyappa is different from other Ayyappa temples. To understand this better, we must look at some of the other associated Shasta temples in the region. Sabarimala is the most prominent of these temples and Ayyappa is worshipped there as Dharma Shasta. But what is interesting is that the deity is the same in three other temples as well – in Kulathupuzha, Aryankavu, and Achankovil.
However, in these three temples, Dharma Shasta is in three different forms, namely Bala (child) in Kulathupuzha, Bharyasametha (with wife) in Achankovil and Tapasa (sanyasi) in Aryankavu. The four shrines are related to each other, but in only one of them is Ayyappa is Naishtika Brahmachari. These four temples denote the four stages of human life – childhood, years as student when one is expected to practice brahmacharya, family and ascetic. These four shrines have to be observed collectively to get the complete picture on Ayyappa. What many overlook is that, except in Sabarimala, where Ayyappa is in his `Brahmachari’ phase, there is no restriction on entry of women in the other three temples or in any other Ayyappa temple around the globe.
The reason behind the restriction on the entry of women of a particular age group into the Sabarimala temple is simple. Pilgrims to Sabarimala are expected to observe strict `Vrata’ of 41 days. It is called ‘Mandala Vrata’. For a woman, this may not be possible as her menstrual cycle, repeats every month and interferes with Vrata. Since, Ayyappa at Sabarimala is a Naishtika Brahmachari, the energy in the temple may create an imbalance in the natural creative energy present in women of reproductive age, if they are repeatedly exposed to those energies over long period. This may in turn prevent grihasta women from effectively doing their duties. Hence, only those who are yet to attain puberty or those who have already reached menopause undertake the pilgrimage.
Q. There is a notion that educated women should be rebellious to old practices, but the women in #ReadyToWait are urban, educated women. Don’t you see a paradox here?
A: No. Educated women must be rebellious to practices which suppress women and deny them their fundamental rights leading to discrimination. But the traditional practice followed here is more about preserving the diversity on which our Sanathana Dharma is based. Just because certain women, who don’t have knowledge about such exclusive traditions prevailing in temples of Kerala, ask for the end of such practices in order to maintain uniformity, we can’t leave our exclusive rights given to us by our Dharma.
The Chakkulaththukkavu Bhagavathy temple has “Naari pooja” performed in which women in large numbers exclusively participate every year. So should women advocate for the banning of such traditions where they are respected and celebrated? Any woman who has complete knowledge about such traditions existing in Kerala temples will not ask for the end of traditional practices where they enjoy special rights, just like men, without any discrimination.
Q. You have joined the Sabarimala case in the Supreme Court. Tell us more about it.
A: Once our online campaign became a hit with women devotees from different parts of the country showing their support, we decided to move forward and enter the case in order to make our voices heard in the Supreme Court. As a part of this process, we, the founders of the campaign, formed a registered society named “People For Dharma” in Chennai through our friends there, along with a few of our supporters. Argument Counsel Sri. Sai Deepak came forward to represent us in the Supreme Court and with his help we filed our application of intervention through Advocate on Record Sri. Suvidutt Sundaram.
We have mentioned in our petition that the devotees of Lord Ayyappa are the more important stakeholders in the debate over faith and not the atheist and agnostic feminists who through their “Happy To Bleed” and “Right To Pray” campaigns are preaching about the non-existing discrimination against women, and are fighting the case in the Supreme Court seeking the entry of women aged between 10 to 50 years in the temple.
Q. What is your advice to the Hindu community about resisting the undue interventions on the matters of religion by the secular state?
A: Today we Hindus are subjected to severe discriminations wherein only our places of worship in temples experience the intervention of the government. But this act of the government, as interpreted by many, is not constitutional and hence we have decided to enter this case currently running in the Supreme Court, for we believe in the constitution which treats everyone equally.
I would like to ask my fellow Hindus that if you feel that you are being subjected to discrimination, instead of waiting for someone to end it, we must act on our own through various means currently available to us. The secular state must act secular, and any act of discrimination against a particular community or its places of worship must be immediately questioned by the people who are attached to it.
Q. Did you face any opposition in standing firmly for culture and traditions?
A: Yes. We did face some harsh criticisms from many so called feminists who are also established intellectuals. Failing to oppose us with facts, some of them resorted to casteist slurs, where Nair caste was insulted with cartoons. The huge support garnered by this campaign was least expected by the intellectuals, who perceive established norms of modernity and progressiveness as the way forward for Hindu Dharma. Their frustration made them indulge in personal slanders. However, we don’t wish to engage with any naysayers because we have our faith in our Dharma and will move forward with our Karma.