Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre located in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. It has around 100 million devotees visiting every year. The temple is situated amidst 18 hills on a hilltop at an altitude of 1260 m above mean sea level and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests.
The dense forest, around the temple is known as Poomkavanam. The poojas and rituals performed in the temple are in accordance with the Kerala tantra which is based on many texts like Tantrasamuchayam. Recently the temple has faced many controversies because of its tradition of not allowing women aged between 10 to 50 years to enter the temple which was criticized by certain intellectuals and journalists citing gender inequality.
Let us examine this practice at Sabarimala in a detailed manner, while answering certain questions which commonly arise in the minds of people on hearing about this practice.
What is tantra?
Tantra specifies the way in which a temple has to function. While the vedas specify the Hindu way of life along with the rituals/duties one has to perform in his/her life, tantras specify the various poojas and the manner in which they have to be performed in the temple. Tantrasamuchayam is the commonly used text for tantric way of worship in temples. The other shastras or agamas which specify the functioning of temples are vaikhanasa agama, pancharathra agama etc., While tantric way of worship is largely used in Kerala, the other agamas are used in different temples of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka etc.
Why women aged between 10-50 years are not allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple?
There are two reasons for this practice. One is the Ayyapan or Dharma sastha (deity) worshipped at Sabarimala temple is in the form of Naishtika Bramhachari, which keeps the women in their menstruating period away from the temple. This has also been conveyed at the Devaprashna (a practice in Kerala used to gain knowledge about the wishes of the Bhagwan worshipped in the temple) which was performed in 1985 when a similar case was running in the Kerala High Court. Another reason is that a pilgrimage to Sabarimala requires one to maintain a rigorous vratha (pious observances) for 41 days which would be impossible for menstruating women. Hence this practice of not allowing women aged between 10-50 years is being followed in this temple.
What are the practices to be followed during the vratha maintained before the visit to Sabarimala?
As collated from this blog and other sources, these are the essential practises followed during the vratha –
- Wear black clothes only. You can wear dark blue or orange once you complete few years of diskha and travel to Sabarimala. The reason being that Ayyappa having offered that his devotees will pay due respects to him and as well as to Sani Bhagawan during the diksha so that he would not trouble them. Wearing footwear is also avoided and washing feet before entering house or any place is required.
- Start and end the day by taking bath twice with head shower with cold water. Initially this would be difficult but being clean is next to godliness. Using fragrances is avoided and using home made products is recommended.
- Eating self cooked or clean cooked food in separate utensils has to be practiced. Food has to be vegetarian.
- Sleeping on the floor is a must and you can use bedsheets or blankets as needed.
- Follow Brahmacharya (celibacy) throughout this vratham.
- Tell saranu gosha (devotional song) or Ayyapa saranam vili everyday morning and evening.
- No indulging in arguments, vulgar talks or watching movies. Keep practicing devotional songs and attend Ayyapa bhajans as much as possible to keep the vratham in tact.
- Conduct Ayyapa puja at home atleast once and give annadhanam to poor during this pooja.
- First time travelers to Sabarimala are called ‘Kanniswamies’ and they ensure that they are driven by the saranu gosha and not with the help of sticks as they climb the forest hills to Sabarimala. Stop at Erumely (village on the way to Sabarimala) and play pettatuli (carnival dance) before proceeding to Sabarimala. The first arrow from Erumely to be placed in Saramkuthi alayam. There is a story that the year when there is no saramkuti from the first time traveler to sabarimala, that is when Lord Ayyappa will get married…..and the waiting continues but devotees don’t stop coming to Sabarimala.
- Do not indulge in any wrong doings, accepting bribes, indulging in violence or talking foul language. Do not drink or smoke.
- Keeping modest way of life is the way to perform this puja. Don’t indulge in showing wealth during bhajans or puja at home. In the eyes of Ayyappan, everyone is equal.
- Have all ingredients required for Irumudi and attend the irumudi function with poise. As the family puts rice in your bag as you start to Sabarimala, it means that you are actually leaving behind all your entanglements of life, including relationships and materialistic possessions.
- Keeping away from attending death ceremonies, funerals and family attachments is required during this time. In this vratham, one is far above all that and needs to remain free from any kind of emotional entanglements, and it is only to indicate that no one is above destiny and their own karma.
- Visiting any local temple once during the puja days is recommended.
- Following all puja norms for mala removal after the pilgrimage is also recommended, It is not right to remove the mala once visit is completed before the 41 days vratham is completed. And it has to be done with the help of guruswamy only in a temple when the pilgrimage is completed.
Why do you think there’s no gender discrimination in Sabarimala?
This is because there is no total restriction for women entry. Only women aged between 10-50 years are not allowed to visit this temple. The women below 10 years and above 50 years are allowed to have the darshan of Ayyappan.
Is there any temple belonging to tantra way of worship with similar rules for men?
Yes, the Attukal Bhagavathy temple near Thiruvananthapuram allows only women to peform pongala which will be given as prasadam during its festival without the participation of men. So, there is no substance to the argument of gender discrimination in this practice of Sabarimala.