Ground report: At Sabarimala, devotees say they have ‘lost the feeling of spirituality’

Even as many devotees felt that the entry of women shouldn't have been allowed, some say that rituals should change with time.
Ground report: At Sabarimala, devotees say they have ‘lost the feeling of spirituality’
Ground report: At Sabarimala, devotees say they have ‘lost the feeling of spirituality’
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An old KSRTC bus zooms past a number of hairpin bends along the scenic Pathanamthitta-Pamba route during the early hours of Thursday. Inside the bus are devotees from different parts of the country on their way to the famous Sabarimala Temple. Along with them are a few journalists, frantically hoping that they do not see a repeat of Wednesday's events.

The one to break the silence on the bus was Rajan, a devotee. “This time around, I don't feel the spirituality or a sense of happiness in visiting the temple.” Even as Rajan was muttering to himself, another devotee sitting behind him joined in. "What have they (women who want to enter Sabarimala) gained out of all this? Nothing!”

This set the tone for the rest of the conversation, as following this statement, the rest of the devotees joined in on the conversation that continued till the end of the journey.

After the Supreme Court of India verdict lifted the ban on entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 into the Sabarimala temple, several Hindu organisations and devotees (including women) took to the streets to protest against the verdict.

The temple opened its gates for the first time on Wednesday following the historic verdict. Scenes that unfolded on that day proved that the protesters of the verdict meant every word that they had said during the protests — women between the age 10 and 50 would not be allowed to enter the temple.

“The verdict is an injustice to the culture and beliefs of the religion,’ Shaji, an official at the Sabarimala Sannidhanam Hospital, told TNM.

“It should have been the way it was. Because of this, many devotees are complaining that they have already started feeling that they have lost the feeling of spirituality,” said Shaji.

“Women will have to face their own problems if they come to Sabarimala. There are no proper toilets, and nor are there security facilities available for women at the temple,” he added.

Many of the male devotees visiting the temple feel that the lack of facilities for women is the only reason the entry for women should be banned. Ironically, the real reason for not allowing women to enter is to "uphold the chastity of Lord Ayyappa."

Irna, a devotee hailing from Bagalkot in Karnataka tells TNM that "if women come here (Sabarimala), they won't survive here because of all the kinds of atrocities that happen here.”

When asked about what kind of atrocities happen in Sabarimala, he refused to comment. “If they are willing to follow the rituals, let them come,” he said.

As he waits for the gates of the Sabarimala temple to be opened once again at 5 pm on Thursday, Santosh Shetty, another devotee from Karnataka said, “If Muslim women cannot enter mosques to pray, why is it that Hindu women want to enter this temple? There are other temples which women can enter.”

"I don't know why there is a huge issue for this temple?" he asked.

When asked as to whether they support the violence that was meted out to women journalists who were just doing their job, a devotee who did not wish to be named said that the organisations should have known that “such incidents” would happen.

But amidst all the opinion that goes against the Supreme Court verdict, there were also voices in support of women entry.

Arun, a devotee from Chennai said that he is a staunch believer of Lord Ayyappa, but he also feels that rituals should change with time.

"It's not like the SC has made it mandatory that all Hindu women must enter the temple. But those who wish to enter should be allowed to enter the temple," Arun said, as he walks down the stairs of the Sabarimala temple with his daughter holding his hand.

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