The facts and controversy of Sabarimala temple

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Dharma Sastha Temple at Sabarimala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa and generally managed by the General Secretary of Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam and the Nair Service Society. The deity in Sabarimala temple is in the form of a Yogi or a Bramchari according to the Thanthri of the temple.

 Sabarimala is one among 18 ‘malas’. The 18 malas are believed to be (1) Sabarimala, (2) Ponnambalamedu, (3) Goundal Mala, (4) Naga Mala, (5) Sundara Mala, (6) Chittambalamedu, (7) Ghalgi Mala, (8) Madanga Mala, (9) Mayiladummedu, (10) Sreepada Mala, (11) Devar Mala, (12) Neelakkal Mala, (13) Thalappara Mala, (14) Neeli Mala, (15) Kari Mala, (16) Puthusseri Mala, (17) Kalaketti Mala and (18) Inchipara Mala. Ponnambalamedu is the mountain that looms on the eastern side of sabarigiri. It can be distinctly seen along with other mountains, which from a cluster. The belief is that Sabarimala temple was founded by Parasurama. Sabarimala is even referred to in Ramayana. Lord Rama is believed to have gone to Pampa and the Ashramam of Sabari at Sabarimala.

It is believed that the Moolasthanam of Sabarimala temple is Ponnambalamedu. There was a temple at Ponnambalamedu in ancient days. The remnants of the temple including that of a ‘Sivalingom’ were seen there till recently. There was also a tank there.

 Ponnambalam means golden temple and Medu means Hill. The term Ponnambalamedu has come into use. in folk songs describing the mythological stories about Dharmasastha incarnated as Lord Ayyappa. There were also a cave and a terrain upon it which are even now visible. It is believed that Devas worshipped Lord Ayyappa after he liquidated Mahishasuri near Azhutha forest. Remnants of temples including stone carvings, idols etc. can be seen at some places in most of the hills around Sabarimala. Such temple remnants are seen in Kozhikanam, Nilackal, Palliyara Kavu, Edakunnam Forest near Laha, Kothukuthy Para, Aluvom Kudi etc. At Kothukuthy Para there are remnants of 18 steps leading to the Hill temple, which is even now visible. All these areas were having human inhabitation in former days. These places are described in Tamil literature also.

It is believed that for such worship water was taken from the riverlet flowing down Ambala Medu and joining Pamba. Hence it is considered as a holy river. It is evident that formerly there was regular poojas in the temple which was in existence at Ponnambalamedu. As time passed on, the temple fell into ruins. Even though the temple fell into ruins the Tribals living in the area continued the pooja ceremonies including Deeparadhana on Makara Sankranthi day which is the most important day. In course of time the tribals were evicted from the area, but still poojas on that day were continued by some of the tribals who stayed back due to their employment. This practice continued. At no point of time, the Board or its officials had claimed that the light seen at Ponnambalamedu on Makara Sankranthi day is divine or that it is made by super human agency. But the fact remains that the light is seen there on Makara Sankranthi day. ‘Makara Sankranthi’ is an auspicious day of great religious significance at Sabarimala and Ponnambalamedu, the moolasthanam of Lord Ayyappa. The Lord Ayyappa is believed to have been born on Makarasankranthi day. The Utharayanam commences on Makara Sankranthi day. The Deeparadhana at Sabarimala temple is at the time of Makarasankranthi. A star is seen in the horizon at the time. At the same moment formerly Deeparadhana was conducted at Ponnambalamedu also. Now in memory of that, a light is seen there at the time of Deeparadhana. It can be clearly seen from Sabarimala. The Deeparadhana at the Sabarimala temple, the appearance of the star at the north-eastern portion of the sky from Sabarimala and the sight of the ‘deepam’ at Ponnambalamedu synchronize and they surcharge the entire atmosphere at Sabarimala with religious fervor. These three events are being witnessed by devotees from time immemorial. If any one of these three events does not happen the devotees flocking at Sabarimala in large number will be terribly depressed. The deepom at Ponnambalamedu was being seen even before the formation of the Travancore Devaswom Board.

The poojas and ceremonies performed at the Sabarimala temple at the time of Makara Sankranthi which synatronises with the appearance of the Star (Makarajyothi) and the light at Ponnambalamedu has great religious impact on the devotees. All the three events above-mentioned have become integral parts of the worship at Sabarimala.

Historically, Ponnambalamedu was the abode of Kadars and Malayars belonging to Scheduled Tribes and these aborigines used to make fire at the hill top, at dusk, during the month of Makaram, to ward off wild animals and to overcome the extreme cold, however that, those aborigines has to flee into the dense forest after the inception of Pamba Irrigation Project. They had pleaded that Ponnambalamedu is at a height of 2500 ft. and 15 kMs. away from Sabarimala shrine and that after the temple was reconstructed when it was gutted by fire, lighting at Ponnambalamedu was taken over by the Devaswom Board and Electricity Board.Sabarimala Temple is a famous Temple of Lord Ayyappa. Every year, lakhs of pilgrims visit Sabarimala and Makaravilakku is considered to be one of the important rituals and everybody, who is present on that day, will not go back without seeing the Makaravilakku.

Religious decisions:

The members of the Thazhaman Illam are the hereditary Thanthries of the Sabarimala temple. The present Thanthri is Sri Neelakandaru and he is the final authority to take a decision on any issue with regard to the religious practices and customs as well as the rituals and poojas in Sabarimala temple. Preventing woman of the age group 10 to 50 from entering the Sabarimala Temple is a matter of religion. A religion can not only lay down a code of ethical rules, but it can also prescribe rituals, observances, ceremonies and modes of worship. These observances and rituals are also regarded as integral parts of religion. If the tenets of religion lay down that certain ceremonies are to be performed at certain times in a particular manner, those ceremonies are matters of religion and are to be enforced as a religious belief [Presently Supreme court of India banned this provision in a 4:1 judgment where Justice Indu Malhotra upheld the validity of the age-old  rituals .

Sadasyathilakan Sri T. K. Velu Pillai in his Travancore State Manual, Vol. I at p. 553 says :

“The essential characteristic of Hinduism is faith. Purity of character is ensured by rules which regulate the practice of the worshippers as well as that of the priests”.

At page 594 it is stated thus :

“We thus find that the worship in temples is regulated in strict accordance with the rules laid down in the Agama Sastras. Form is in religion the twin sister of faith and the temples in Travancore present a continuity of tradition which cannot fail to be a stimulus to a well-regulated religious life. The essentials of discipline are the same in private temples as well as those under the management of Government. The head of the Devaswom Department is responsible for the proper conduct of the temple affairs but his authority is confined to the administrative side; the spiritual questions being decided by the Thanthris and other man of religion. The: Thanthris are the arch-priests of Malabar temples. Ceremonies of exceptional impor- tancee, such as consecration of the idol,, are performed by them. The office is generally hereditary. The Thanthris are expected to have a correct knowledge of the details of worship, the performance of ceremonies and all kindred subjects. They have the authority to correct the mistakes of the priests. They are consulted in all matters connected with the Devaswoms so far as the spiritual side is concerned.” Be it remembered that a reasonable restriction and the entry in Sabarimala temple is prohibited only in respect of women of a particular age group and not the woman as a class.

Management :

The management of the Devaswoms, both incorporated and unincorporated, in the erstwhile area of Travancore vests in the Travancore Devaswom Board under the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950, Act 15/1950. All the Hindu religious endowments and properties and funds except the Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple, Sree Pandaravaka properties and all other properties and funds of the said temple had vested in that Devaswoms in the area of Travancore. S.31 of the Act enjoins aduty on the Board to arrange for the conduct of the daily worship and ceremonies and of the festivals in every temple according: to its usage; The temples in Travancore were thrown open to all Hindus without any restriction being imposed on any Hindu either due to birth, caste or community. That historical proclamation was made by the Maharaja of Travancore on 27th Thulam 1112 corresponding 12th of November, 1936. Twelve days thereafter the Maharaja issued another proclamation by which conditions were imposed in the matter of entry in temples. We are concerned with Rule 6(c) which provides that women at such times during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter temples shall not enter within the compound walls of a temple or its premises in case there is no compound wall. R. 14 stipulates that no one shall do any act which would tend to derogate the purity and cleanliness of the temple and its premises. After the integration of the Princely States of Travancore and Cochin, an ordinance was promulgated by the Rajapramukh as Ordinance 4/1124 in respect of the administration of the Padmanabhaswami temple and the Devaswoms, both incorporated and unincorporated. The Ordinance provides that the management of the Devaswom shall continue to be carried on as heretofore. Another ordinance was promulgated by the Rajapramukh on 1st day of August, 1949, which is called “The Hindu Religious Institutions Ordinance, 1124”. Section 31 of that Ordinance also directs the Devaswom Board to arrange for the conduct of the daily worship and ceremonies and festivals in every temple according to its usage. A duty in therefore cast on the Travancore Devaswom Board to arrange for the conduct of the daily worship and ceremonies in accordance with its usage. In other words, the Board has a statutory duty to enforce the usage prevalent in the temple. The Board has no right to alter or modify the same. The Travancore-Cochin Religious Endowments Act and its precursors had consistently enjoined this duty on the Travancore Devaswom Board.

TDB  is a trustee which holds the assets of the temples and their administration in trust. The administration of the different incorporated and unincorporated devaswoms and other institutions falling u/s 3 of that Act stands vested in it. It is also involved in managing the affairs of the temples. This includes appropriate trusteeship support for the rituals and practices in connection with the temples, under the guidance of those who are authorised by the religious tenets to provide advice in that regard. This brings in the requirement for identities like Thantries, Santhikars etc. apart from other advisors that the TDB may have. While the TDB exercises its authority and discharges duties and responsibilities as trustee, the resonance of faith and belief as recognized under the Constitution, particularly in Articles 25 and 26 thereof, cannot be obliterated by any mechanism of administration referable to the statutory provisions made under a secular Constitution.

The Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple at Sabarimala is one of the temples under the administration of the Board. The Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple is a very ancient temple and it is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples. It is situated at the slope of the western ghats. The Sree Dharma Sastha temple at Sabarimala is a world famous pilgrim centre. The temple attracts large number of pilgrims, not only from the southern States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh but also from other parts of the Country and from aboard. The unique feature of the temple is that it is open to people of all faiths and many non-Hindus also go on pilgrimage to this temple. The secular aspect of the temple is best exemplified by the existence of the ‘Vavar Thara’ in honour of Muslim saint in close proximity to the main ‘Ayyappa Swami’ temple. Ayyappa Cult gives much importance for secularism and communal harmony. The temple has turned out to be a model for the whole world. Another significant aspect about worship at the Sabarimala temple is that all pilgrims are equal before Lord Ayyappa, whether one is rich or poor, literate or illiterate, holding position or not, master or servant.

Court Cases [before Supreme Court Judgment]

Previously in  (1993) AIR(Kerala) 42-KERALA HIGH COURT S. MAHENDRAN Vs. THE SECRETARY, TRAVANCORE DEVASWOM BOARD, THIRUVANANTHAPURAM AND OTHERS-O.P. No. 9015 of 1990-Decided on : 05-04-1991 Kerala High Court directed the following, which was never challenged in Supreme Court(1993) AIR(Kerala) 42-KERALA HIGH COURT S. MAHENDRAN Vs. THE SECRETARY, TRAVANCORE DEVASWOM BOARD, THIRUVANANTHAPURAM AND OTHERS-O.P. No. 9015 of 1990-Decided on : 05-04-1991 Kerala High Court directed the following, which was never challenged in Supreme Court

“44. Our conclusions are as follows :

(1) The restriction imposed on women aged above 10 and below 50 from trekking the holy hills of Sabarimala and offering worship at Sabarimala Shrine is in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial.

(2) Such restriction imposed by the Devaswom Board is not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.

(3) Such restriction is also not violative of the provisions of Hindu Place of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 since there is no restriction between one section and another section or between one class and another class among the Hindus in the matter of entry to a temple whereas the prohibition is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class.

45. In the light of the aforesaid conclusions we direct the first respondent, the Travancore Devaswom Board, not to permit women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 to trek the holy hills of Sabarimala in connection with the pilgrimage to the Sabarimala temple and from offering worship at Sabarimala Shrine during any period of the year. We also direct the 3rd respondent, Government of Kerala, to render all necessary assistance inclusive of police and to see that the direction which we have issued to the Devaswom Board is implemented and complied with”.

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Wed Oct 17 , 2018
The restriction imposed on women aged above 10 and below 50 from trekking the holy hills of Sabarimala and offering worship at Sabarimala Shrine is in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial.Such restriction imposed by the Devaswom Board is not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. KERALA HIGH COURT DIVISION BENCH ( […]

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