My trip to Sabarimala temple – Apex Court now permits female entry to temple
In this temple, where females of age group of 11 to 50 years were not permitted, as per Court decision shall now be allowed to enter the temple and offer prayer to lord Ayyappa. The decision of apex court is bound to have impact on other religious places and shrines where entry of the female is debarred or restricted
The month of September, 2018 shall be remembered in legal arena as Supreme Court of India has decided some disputes and issues, such as privacy as guaranteed by constitution of India, religion, sex and faith.
While, the atmosphere is hot on the political pitch as voters of three states of Central and Western India namely Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are slated to exercise their franchise later this year, the lime light is stolen by recent verdicts pronounced by Hon’ble Supreme Court.
The major verdicts pronounced includes issue related to Aadhar Card; legal sanction to gay sex and whether mosque is essential part of Islam.
As far as much debated issue related to Constitutional validity of Aadhaar Card on September 26 a five-judge constitutional bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra decided the petitions challenging the validity of Aadhaar and held that it will continue but with certain conditions and limitations. Among other things, the bench declared that the requirement to link phone numbers and bank accounts to Aadhaar is not required.
In another land mark judgement the Hon’ble SC held that adultery is not an offence. The Apex Court in its ruling on September 27 struck down Section 497 of Indian Penal Code, the Section which criminalized adultery.
On 28th September, 2018 in yet another path breaking judgement, the Apex Court permitted women of all age to visit the famous Sabarimala temple of Kerala, thus breaking around 800 years old tradition, where women in age group of 11 to 50 years were not permitted to enter the temple. The decisions has been welcomed by liberals but the certain sections has described the decision of the top court as disappointing. However, the administration is bound to implement the Order of top court.
Sabarimala temple, dedicated to lord Ayyappa is located in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. The district is blessed with beautiful hills and greenery. The temple is located on the hilltop of a hill named Sabarimala.
The temple is open to all without caste or creed based discrimination. However, entry to females over age of 10 years is prohibited unless the age of 50 years is attained. The unique feature is that temple is not open for whole of the year but it opens nearly over a month before Utrayan or Makar Sankratri. The devotees from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerela and other parts of the country pour in thousands during the period.
It is customary to observe celibacy for 41 days before under taking the holy pilgrimage to Sabarimala. There is a traditional forest route for Pilgrims but there is another short route where one can commence journey on foot from the bank of river Pamba, which is an easier route with minimal physical strain to reach the temple.
Pamba river bank, where office of Kerela Devasthan Board is also located is the base to commence journey for Sabarimala. This river and district of Pathanamthitta district suffered heavily in recent flood in Kerala.
My Tour to Sabarimala
I recall my days in Air Force. I used to often hear about Sabarimala and temple of Lord Ayyappa from my colleague from Kerela, when they used to return after their annual leave. Very often during sixty days long annual leave to their native Kerela the most preferred destination for their pilgrimage used to be Lord Padmanabhan temple of Thiruvananthapuram, Guruvayur (Lord Krishna) temple in Thrissur district and Lord Ayyappa temple of Sabarimala. I kept it on record that as and when I shall tour South India one of my destinations shall be Sabarimala. In my first tour I could not accommodate Sabarimala since the destinations were limited to Tamilnadu with the inclusion of Thiruvananthapuram.
However, before my retirement in March, 2016 I just planned the holy darshan of Lord Ayyappa and planned this pilgrimage at a short notice, the decision was over-whelming for me and my wife was to accompany me, who was now eligible for pilgrimage being over 50 years of age now.
I under took journey by air to Kochi, where I stayed at the residence of James, a retired BSF officer. James had been visiting Ahmedabad, where he stayed for few years after his BSF job and his son Willis is settled at Ahmedabad. He insisted that I must undertake a journey to Kerala and stay with him for few days.
A taxi was arranged from Kochin to Pamba and I left on 2 March, 2016 for Pamba. The way to Pamba was so fascinating with lush green forests and serpentine roads that one would love to travel. I raised a number of question to my taxi driver Thomas, who said that he undertook a number of trips to Sabarimala but he never went to the hilltop and expressed his desire to accompany me to the temple. After reaching Pamba, Thomas took us to the river bank of Pamba river and informed me that we need to take bath in the river before undertaking journey on foot to hilltop.
He replied to one of my questions and said that there are eighteen step stairs, which leads to the golden temple of Lord Ayyappa. One has to go through all these eighteen steps which are recognizing different path of knowledge one can achieve. Lord Ayyappa is the son of Vishnu (Mohini) and Siva. Also the temple is not like other normal temples of Kerala.
The pilgrimage season begins in the Malayali month of Vrishchikam (i.e. November-December period) when the worshipping of Lord Ayyappa is permitted. Besides this period, for 5 days every month Idol worship is permitted. I visited in March and as per Kerala tithi calendar the temple was open.
There are certain rituals and traditions which are to be followed for this holy pilgrimage. As per customary requirement I took a black lungi (a peice cloth slightly longer than a towel, which is used to cover the part below the waist) and holy mala (beaded string) and reached Ganesh temple located on the bank of river Pamba. The temple priest provided me a travel kit consisting of coconuts, which is to be carried over head as the devotees are not allowed to climb the 18 golden steps of Ayyappa temple without this pooja kit.
The pooja kit has twin pockets. Pooja articles and offerings to Lord Ayyappa are placed in this kit. This consists of three coconuts. The first coconut is to be offered at the Pampa Ganapati temple itself, the second before stepping on the staircase leading to the holy temple of lord Ayyappa. The third coconut is used to fill ghee, in which a hole is made on one of two eyes of the coconut and water contains in it is drained out and Ghee is filled inside this coconut.
After performing the pooja at Ganapati temple, Pamba, the journey started. The path of around six kilometers from bank of river Pamba to Sabarimala is not so tough. It resembled a hike with mild wind blowing, surrounded with lush green forests, where sunlight sometimes touches your path. Simply magical and freshening all the way. With fellow pilgrims chanting restlessly “Swamy Sharnam Ayyappa”.
After reaching the hill top, I had to wait for two hours as the temple opened at 4.00PM after pooja performed by the priest. Devotees rushed towards stair case, to pass through 18 steps to enter into the temple. The arrangements were adequate and devotees entry into temple though swift but was in orderly manner. After climbing the 18 steps we offered our prayer.
This was an amazing experience for me a holy journey to be cherished all my life.
In this temple, where females of age group of 11 to 50 years were not permitted, as per Court decision shall now be allowed to enter the temple and offer prayer to lord Ayyappa. The decision of apex court is bound to have impact on other religious places and shrines where entry of the female is debarred or restricted.Author Mahendra Kothari is Honorary Correspondent, UdaipurTimes @ Ahmedabad