Reacting to the contention of physical hardship, austerity and days of celibacy male devotees endure to reach Swamy Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, the Supreme Court wryly on Friday asked the Kerala government and the Travancore Devaswom Board whether, according to them, spirituality is the exclusive domain of men and are women incapable of attaining the spiritual self.
A three-judge Bench led by Justices Dipak Misra left the State government and the temple board almost speechless when it said the Vedas, Upanishads and scriptures hardly discriminated between men and women.
“Is spirituality solely within the domain of men? Are you saying that women are incapable of attaining spirituality within the domain of religion?” Justice Misra asked.
“Can you deprive a mother” Justice Misra asked at one point during the hearing on the tradition followed in the temple of depriving women entry.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, intervening on behalf of an association of law students in a batch of petitions challenging the prohibition of entry to women of a certain age into the temple, said there were “women brahmacharis too in this world.”
He said, “Celibacy is not the exclusive privilege of men. Article 25 of our Constitution says ‘throw open’ the doors of public religious spaces to all human race. Are you saying that we are not part of the human race?”
Justice Misra said religion is different from cult culture.
“Cult culture has a core group. Entry is restricted to others considered as outsiders. Religion is wholistic – Sanathana Dharma – and includes one and all without discrimination of sex, caste and gender,”he observed.
Appearing for the State government, senior advocate V. Giri submitted that when a man prepares to go for Sabarimala, the entire family, including women and children, “cooperate.”
“Over centuries, this prohibition has been ingrained in the minds of devotees,” he submitted.
“The God is a celibate. The men who go there to worship him are called ‘swamy’,” senior advocate K.K. Venugopal said.
Justice Misra said, “So, is this tradition of prohibition bound to stay on despite the fundamental right of equality envisaged in the Constitution? If discrimination is not there in the Vedas, the Upanishads, tell us when this kind of distinction really started in history?”
Justice Misra said there should be a constitutional balance. “A temple is a public religious phenomenon and its functions should come within the constitutional parameters.”
The court granted Mr. Venugopal six weeks time to file an affidavit which, he said, would contain information on the traditions of the temple dating a 1000 years ago in support of the prohibition.
It said the case would require in-depth research on legal, constitutional and even spiritual questions. It appointed senior advocate Raju Ramachandran as amicus curiae.