Saturday, November 17, 2018

Is Sabarimala a secular temple?

Earlier published in Vijayvaani

Indian secularism has always been at odds with the commonly accepted meaning of the word secularism. It made a new record when the Kerala government claimed in an affidavit submitted to the High Court that Sabarimala is a secular temple “where entry of devotees is not restricted on the ground of any caste or religion”. As justification, the importance of Vavar mosque was highlighted in the pilgrim tour of some Ayyappa devotees. Given the kind of ‘secular’ atmosphere in the country, days are not far off to get a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court take up on a priority basis and validate the ‘secular’ nature of the Hindu temples! But there is no need for it.

If acceptance of devotees from any caste or religion is the criteria for secularism of the temple, then Hindu temples are definitely secular. Ranking high in the list are the two big temples of India, namely Srirangam and Tirupati. Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam and Lord Venkateśvara at Tirupati have accepted the devotion of women from Muslim community and even married them. These women have been given separate shrines within their temples. The marriage festival of these deities with the Muslim women is celebrated every year in their temples.

The God at Srirangam had gone a step higher in secularism, by partaking Roti, the food of his Muslim wife, everyday for his breakfast. He had been such an indulgent husband, that he takes Roti after it is offered to his Muslim wife, Surathani.

Similar episode of marriage with a Muslim devotee is reported in the temple at Melkote in Karnataka. Here the Muslim woman was said to have merged with the image of Lakshmi at the feet of the Lord. Local people worship her before conducting marriage in their families.

All these devotees of other religion are accepted and have been given a place within the temples. They are worshipped in the temples of the Hindu Gods and not outside. Can the same be said about Vavar of Vavar mosque? If the legend of friendship of Vavar with Lord Ayyappa was true, either Ayyappa would have given a place for him within his temple or ordained that he be enshrined in a temple and not in a mosque as the legend goes. If there is any truth in the Vavar legend, there should exist some presentation of honour to Ayyappa by Vavar mosque. In the absence of any visible or token connection with the lord at Sabarimala, one is forced to conclude that the vulnerability of the devotees have been exploited by some vested interests. Only Ayyappa devotees are going to the mosque and no Muslim is coming to the temple of Ayyappa.

If a Muslim or Christian comes to the temple, he can no longer be a Muslim or Christian but only a Hindu. If someone claims that he undertook the vrat (penance) and scaled Sabarimala to worship Lord Ayyappa but went back to his parent religion, then he can be said to be secular, but this is not what the Hindu deity demands. The basic idea of worship in Hinduism is surrender to the god. Whatever be the background of the person, the one who surrenders to the lord in an attitude of a lover or a friend or a devotee, would eventually be Hinduised and cannot retain the earlier identity as a Muslim or Christian. If he does then he is disloyal to both religions. Such persons need not put on the garb of a religion or devotion. They can as well tow the line of the Marx that religion is the opium of the people.

Every religion demands perfect allegiance to its God and tenets. Hinduism is no exception but it differs from other religions in the kind of relationship that a devotee comes to hold with the God. The relationship is something personal that Krishna indicates in his sermon to Arjuna. Whatever one gives, one must give it as an offering to God. It could be a leaf or flower or fruit or just water. But it must be given with utmost devotion and an attitude that it belongs to Him and not to oneself. Even when actions and motives are done with that attitude, it becomes a Yajna or oblation to God. The one who gives in that attitude gets freed from one’s karmic bondage. This attitude is consciously cultivated in Ayyappa worship atleast for a limited period vrat of 41 days.

Interestingly, a Rig Vedic practice of worship is also found in the worship of Lord Ayyappa. Verses 25-28 of Rig Jyothisha and 32-35 of Yajusha Jyothisha list down the names of deities of the 27 asterisms and state that the one who does the yajna must substitute his name with the deity- name and conduct the yajna as though the deity in him is doing it. This means the person born in an asterism gets embodied with the deity of the asterism and does the yajana in an attitude that the deity is performing the yajna.

Oneness with God is the ultimate purpose of this attitude and the Ayyappa devotee does the same during the period of vrat. He gets embodied with Ayyappa Himself and lives like Ayyappa by taking up the celibacy vow of Ayyappa. Anyone who is seen in that attitude is recognised as an embodiment of Ayyappa and worshiped as ‘Swamy’. The one who continues this vrat year after year is bound to develop that attitude into an attribute. That takes one closer to Liberation and ultimate merger with Ayyappa Himself. Those who cannot undertake the vrat are no way lagging behind as it is the attitude that matters. They wait till such a time they can undertake the vrat in all earnestness.

The one Universal God with whom several individuals can develop exclusive personal relationship is best visible in Ayyappa vrat. That individual can be from any background or any religion, but only a sustained relationship can help him attain merger with Him as how Ayyappa Himself attained that status at Sabarimala. Let the Marxist government rest assured that Ayyappa would never swerve from ‘secular’ path. He accepts one and all that come with the attitude expected of them. Our secular governments and secular courts need not worry at all.   

From my comments to the same article in on Menstruation and other issues in Sabarimala row. 

(1) None of the traditional temples of South India allow people of other religions. Only those who sign an undertaking that they believe in Hinduism can enter the temples. Singer Yesudas did that and had gone to Sabarimala with his wife by following the vrat.

Hindus and Hindu Gurus had wholeheartedly embraced such persons. Let me point out one such person, D.A.Joseph who has been honoured by various matadhipathis. He has given discourses in the famous Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane, Chennai. Browse his website to know more

2 (a). Vedas do not talk about menstruation. They are basically in praise of Gods. To quote Paramacharya (Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal), Rig Veda is a compilation of stotras in Mantra form. Yajur is the practical application of them in worship. Saman calms down the mind. These are main texts. How to conduct them in action is told in smritis. Dharma sastras are derived form smritis. They recommend that woman during her menses must be away from religious rituals. There is no basis to the claim that “there was historically no bar against menstruating women”. Daupadi was in her periods when she was summoned to the court after the dice game. She lamented that she had to appear before the elders in such a condition.

(b) Impurity issue: Texts like Angirasa smriti do speak about purity as a necessary condition to conduct any religious austerity. As per this text impurity (Ashaucha) arises both in birth and death, but there is no untouchability in birth related impurity. In death related impurity all rites have to be stopped and Vedas cannot be recited. Menstruation is impurity in this sense. It is not difficult to understand why. What come out are dead tissues, deoxygenated blood and dead ovum. Modern science had identified apoptosis (programmed cell death) in them. There are body cells which are destroyed within the body and regenerated. Some are resorbed too. But none of the menstruated substances are accepted back by the body. That itself is proof of impurity.

Emergency closure of temple happens on one occasion – when a person living in the vicinity of the temple dies. Till the body is taken out, the temple would not be opened. Once it is opened purification ceremony has to be done. The same applies to a menstruating woman who enters the temple. No menstruating woman enters the temple in South India where this is common knowledge.

(c) Prana prathishta happens in two ways – done through rituals and when the atman of a person merges with the idol. Andal merged with Namperumal in Srirangam. Ayyappa merged with the Sasta that he earlier re-consecrated at Sabarimala.

(d) 'Is it hard to know deity's wishes?':-
There are many references in Silappadhikaram of how deities talk and convey their mind. Many paranormal things are happening even now, which look as though some deities or departed ones are speaking through someone. I have seen this in the heart of Chennai in the initiation ceremony of ‘Kaavadi’ ritual for Muruga. In Sabarimala, the mind of Ayyappa is deduced from Deva prasnam. As an astrologer I know the basis of that and other types of prasnam and have even managed to deduce the rationale in some of them. All these cannot be explained in one sitting.

(e) Deities giving boons and withdrawing boons are not so simple and straight forward and do not always mean literally. Everything must be analysed case by case and on purport.

(f) Why Ayyappan “cannot stand the sight of a woman of a certain age”?
The reason is as explained in 2(b). The celibacy vrat calls for the complete seclusion of Ayyappa(s) away from women of a particular age. This is comparable to the Brahmacharya asrama of a boy in olden days. Once the upanayanam is done the boy leaves for Guru’s abode and stays there with no connection with / sight of women throughout the period of this asrama. He returns only at the time of his marriage. That kind of tradition continuing in Sabarimala deserves protection, not destruction. Sabarimala deserves to be called as Heritage Site.

(g) Women were never allowed in Sabarimala in the past. The article on Swarajyamag vouchsafes that.

(i) No woman who is a worshiper of Ayyappa would dare to defy this tradition. Why Kerala, in Tamilnadu too, a survey taken by a magazine (Thanthi) showed that more than 80% were against defying this tradition. 


Reproducing a comment by Dr Maya Bharat posted for the same blog in

Modernity needs to find ways to adapt to the tradition rather than breaking the tradition. If in the name of modernity we keep diluting the tradition, then the temple is going to be a piece of architecture and the idols will be just a stone. The entire concept of temple will become moot. Instead believe that there is a logic for these traditions and search for the reasons rather than dismissing them in the name of modernity.

From my experiences with the different facets of astrology, the ways to converse with gods through prasna has been laid down by the 'enlightened rishis' which have been handed down to us and followed by tantris. So there is a well laid rule and also to identify false queries and answers. That is what is followed by tantris. It is not a seance where veracity cannot be verified and highly evolved mind power is needed. Knowing the limitations of human mind in kaliyyuga the rishis have laid down the rules which is followed. The same seems to be the concept of temples. For people who don't have evolved minds to connect with god, temples where godly energy is consecrated is necessary. For people who want specific boons, specific god's with specific worship rules have been given. Rules have also been laid down how to protect this energy. That's why we have systems where menstruating women do not go to temples, some temples have gender preference. If one wants to dismiss this in the name of modernity, then sadly one has not understood the basis of the god and temple concept due to limitation of their knowledge. Modernity and science have not explored the tenets of our religion. Yet they gain precedence over ancient wisdom. This is how a civilisation disappears.

I know there is a lot of debate on impurity of menstrual blood. But as a healthy woman and seeing many female patients in my medical practice, I have found that physically the energy levels are low with many physical complaints like pain, headaches, extreme sensitivity to lights and sounds, lethargy etc. Many patients refuse even out-patient procedures during this time due to general weakness. Today if women take pills and control these symptoms it doesn't mean they have overcome the hurdles of physical suffering. The cause remains. The materialistic needs of today's world have pushed women out of the comfort zone to take meds and work during the menses time. They don't realise they are abusing their body. But the traditional seclusion has given the much deserved rest. Somewhere this has gotten distorted. Modernity has caused more problems as one can see in the rise of new diseases.

If inspite of physical discomfort during menses, a woman wants to go to temple. I would say to the woman "please understand the concept of temple. Do not interfere with the energies of the temple as the ancient rules state. You are not desecrating temple. You are depriving a community from reaping the benefits of the temple by interfering with the energies that don't sync with ur energy during the menses. You can always connect to god through meditation for the four days. " Hinduism proposes multiple ways to connect to god. Hence let temples be let to function in its own way and there are ways to reach to god in those four days. That's the beauty of this wonderful religion.

With lots of debates on “purity” of menstrual blood, I gather it is the ‘cellular nature’ that determines the pure/ impure nature. Menstrual blood contains the dead cells that formed the lining of the uterus as a preparation for pregnancy. As no fertilization took place, the hormones causes constriction of vessels in the uterus cutting off the blood supply to this uterine lining which gets sloughed off. Also a programmed cell death occurs causing the tissues to detach from the uterine wall. So what comes out is the tissues that are no longer useful for “procreation” with the deoxygenated blood. Tissues (including blood) without oxygen is “dead” similar to a human body without oxygen is a “corpse”. So now there is a raw area in the uterus which has to heal. The healing takes place by these “stem cells” present in the uterine blood. Why were they present? To help in the growth of embryo if fertilization occurs. Since it didn’t, the stem cells are used for the repair of the uterine lining and the excess pushed out with the menstrual blood.

a. These stem cells are “procreative” but why did body eject them from the body? Even the umbilical cord is a rich source of stem cells. Why do we cut it off and removed from the baby as well as the mother? Their function is over and they are devoid of oxygen and are considered “dead” and dangerous to the human body. Hence they are ejected out.

b. If the human body considered it pure, then it would have been recycled. We have the “deoxygenated blood” in the veins which is sent to heart and the lungs. The red blood cells are recycled in the spleen. There are many such examples of the human body having an excellent recycling mechanism. So why is menstrual blood not recycled? That is a point to ponder.

c. Now “modern medicine” has seen a potential use of the stem cells from menstrual fluid. One of the reason for this is because the stem cells can be obtained from menstrual blood in a non-invasive manner. There are stem cells in our blood, bone marrow. But to extract it from these sources requires invasion of the human body and the morbidity associated with such procedures. But obtaining stem cells from menstrual blood is not as easy as it sounds. One needs fresh blood collected in menstrual cups placed inside the vagina (not sanitary blood or tampons) for not more than 2-3 hours and immediately freeze-stored to maintain the viability (the so called pure nature) of the cells. Is it actually possible for a menstruating woman to continuously maintain the purity in the above said method? Because according to medical science these “stem cells” have a couple of hours to stay “pure” after which they get “deoxygenated” and are “dead”.

Modern medicine may find ways to make use of the expelled biological end products from the human body to treat diseases which are man-made in literal sense as well as karmic. Faeces (poop) is an end product of the digestive metabolism which the human body no more requires. But it is only the “good bacteria” that is processed from the “fresh” faeces” that is used to treat diseases like C. difficile colitis (man-made disease mostly due to improper use of antibiotics) and Inflammatory bowel disease (autoimmune disease and I call these type of diseases ‘Karmic diseases’). Likewise urine is an end product of protein metabolism and they cannot remain in the human body because there are many diseases linked to retention of ammonia, urea or uric acid. Again a very novice research field of extracting gonadotropin from post-menopausal “fresh” urine is for “karmic diseases” like infertility.

It is my strong contention that one must respect the functioning of human body. Yes, it is the dead cells which are not needed by the body that is ejected out. Take an example of the vessel containing putrefied milk. The vessel which is the carrier of milk is not impure; it is the milk which is impure. So we drain the milk and wash the vessel and use it again. Similarly, the menstrual blood is impure and it takes a few days to empty it and cleanse the vessel (the uterus). How one does not carry a vessel of putrefied milk everywhere they go (because it smells? Or it cannot be consumed?), the carrier of the putrefied blood is refrained only from temples (there is a whole another dimension of energy type in a normal person, ailing person, menstruating person and the energy lodged in a temple which I am not going to elaborate on).

Looking at today’s situation regarding this issue, I can see temples becoming an architectural art and a storehouse of idols (almost like a museum or ancient ruins of temples we hear/ see in different parts of the world), thanks to the liberals and the feminists who want to break the wisdom of the ancient in the name of modernity just because modernity has no answers to the ancient wisdom.

Dr. Maya Bharat
November 26, 2018

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