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In Sabarimala: To be or not to be?

Desecration is a matter of worry, not only of a place of worship but also of Constitutional institutions

In Sabarimala: To be or not to be?

Sometimes, innocuous and old-fashioned seeming words can shed an enormous understanding in analysing and unravelling the depths of many a seemingly dichotomous situation. Take the Sanskrit word Dharma Shasta. This is one of the many names of Ayyappa, the presiding deity at Sabarimala. It has two halves: Dharma, the first and Shasta, the second. In Sanskrit, these terms are extremely complicated and need lengthy elaborations and commentaries. Nevertheless, loosely translated for common comprehension, the term Shasta would perhaps approximately mean teacher or guide. Now, Dharma is a rather hotly contentious term to literally translate as easily. The first word of the holy Bhagavad Gita, about which so much has been said and written, yet, often, it is used in the sense of a "set of do's and don'ts". So, put together, the twosome would imply that "The One who guides or tells us what (why and how) we ought to and not do. That is what Dharmashasta, or Ayyappa as most of us better know him, precisely stands for.

Ironically, now in a secular sense, that exactly would be what the Supreme Court represents: that singular entity which is vested by our founding fathers with such a responsibility – of being a "Dharma Shasta", not just for some, but for one and all who are Indians. If "protecting" Sabarimala is the duty of Ayyappa's devotees, then so is the duty of each one of us to abide by the dictums of the SC. Desecration should be a worry, not only of a place of worship but also of Constitutional Institutions. Obscurantist, obstruction practices, be it at Sabarimala or anywhere else ought to be definitely relearnt and better understood in today's modern times.

The reason is simple. Our faith is which our Gods are worshipped through and it is this very faith with which "We the People" have given unto ourselves this Constitution. There are not two separate "faiths", there cannot be. There has been and there is, only one. The same power which resides in the Shrine in Sabarimala also vests in the Country's highest seat of Justice. There is only one Dharma Shasta.

Interesting here, is another word Sabari, one half of the word Sabarimala. Sabari, those who have not been well-versed in the Ramayana tradition, was an aged tribal woman who was also the most ardent and sincere devotee of Lord Rama. Wiki gives a very vivid description about her, worth quoting here verbatim: "Everyday Sabari would go out of her ashram, with the help of a walking stick and pluck berry fruits for Lord Rama. She would pluck a fruit, first taste it, and if it was sweet she would put it in her basket and discard the bitter ones. When Lord Rama (accompanied by brother Lakshmana) visited her, Sabari offered the fruits to Rama that she had meticulously collected. When Rama was tasting them, Lakshmana raised the concern that Sabari had already tasted them and was, therefore, unworthy of being eaten. To this, Rama said that of the many types of food he had tasted, "nothing could equal these berry fruits, offered with such devotion. You taste them, then alone will you know. Whomsoever offers a fruit, leaf, flower, or some water with love, I partake it with great joy." Lakshmana did not taste the fruits. He brought them to his mouth but threw them aside considering them as impure.

No doubt, Sabari's tale has many obvious morals. Our epics, not to talk of other sources, are peppered with many more such tales, which seek to reinforce them too. The point about "impurity" is worth noting here, as it is being bandied to stop a section of women from entering the Sabarimala precincts. The Lord is the best person, nay the only one, to know what is and what is not, pure or impure. Moreover, to claim that some, no matter who they are, are impure, and so will vitiate the sanctity of any place, leave alone a temple, is blatantly smacking a holier-than-thou attitude.

Surprisingly, it is the SC whose judgment has now sparked off widespread public protests from large crowds of women in Kerala, which was also the same forum from where years ago many of these women must have got most of their present rights. Strangely again, it is the women of this State of Kerala who has made us proud when they have been in the forefront of taking due advantage of the Constitutional rights, benefits and privileges, be it for education, employment or social mobility over the years. This has not only meant enormous financial gains for their families and children but as a result, women today are far better off than their counterparts elsewhere in the country. It is these very women who over the years proved true the dictum: adept are those who adopt and adapt.

This is also why the ongoing agitations seem incongruous. That too, these women appear even more out of place in an age when far-sweeping reforms over the world are in predominant favour of granting far more facilities and encouraging steps for the fairer sex.

What the protestors, however, do not understand, sadly, is that they are now inadvertently incurring the biggest sin: of preventing someone from visiting the Lord. This is in a way akin to what was done by the two dwara-palakas at Vaikuntha, for which they incurred the wrath of the Sapta Rishi, with their curse befalling them, their having then to leave Vaikuntha and become the Lord's sworn enemies. They should think that preventing, obstructing, and disturbing even a "fake" pilgrim entails loss of all the Punya which has painstakingly been accumulated by each such person with so many Vrathams and climbs up the 18 steps. Ironic indeed.

Perhaps, most ironical of all is that many of those who are now shouting from their rooftops, wanting to go to Sabarimala, are either hitherto sworn atheists or at least they were disinclined to undertake the highly arduous "vrata" and the associated rituals for the trip. To top it all, it has fallen upon the Communists to tell the world at large that it is they who were "safeguarding" the Shrine, not to mention its sanctity. Strange indeed are the ways of the Lord. As they say in Ayyappa temples: Sree Dharmasastha Paahi Maam (O Dharma Sastha, redeem me).

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

R. Sreenivasan

R. Sreenivasan

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