The entry of women in the Sabarimala temple -one of the holiest pilgrimage destinations in the country- has been a subject of controversy for several years now with the Supreme Court recently questioning the Travancore Devaswom Board on whether it had the constitutional right to ban entry of women of menstrual age (between the ages of 10 and 50) to the shrine.
As the debate on gender-discrimination rages and critics and supporters of the issue counter each other vehemently, it may come across as interesting for some to know that there are two temples in the state where women are much more than just devotees.
The Chakkulathu Kavu temple in southern Kerala has been worshipping women for several centuries now in an annual ritual called 'Naari Puja'.
According to a report in The Times of India, on the first Friday of Dhanu (December), male priests wash the feet of female devotees who have fasted for 10 days.
The report states, "This system takes root in the belief that female devotees visiting on this particular day are the incarnation of Chakkulathu Amma (goddess)."
The shrine, which is over 3000 years old, is visited by nearly 3 lakh devotees each year of which 75% are said to be women. It is only women who take part in the Pongala there which is a major festival in December.
The Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple -known for worshipping serpent gods- has the distinction of having a woman as chief priestess who heads the rituals.
According to the temple website, "Legends say that when the Muthassan left for the Cellar, he had given certain rights and instructions to his mother. He instructed that â€śMother herself must offer me worship.â€ť On certain special days men may be given a chance to worship. After Mother's time, the senior-most Brahmin lady in the family will have the status of the Mother. From the time the mother assumes this high position Mother should live as a brahmacharini and observe penance."
In fact, it is the chief priestess who conducts some of the most important rituals during the annual 'Ayilyam Mahotsavam'.
Both these temples uphold women as goddesses or priests in a state which is also home to Sabarimala where menstruating women would apparently disturb the celibate status of its reigning deity.
One just wonders whether Aham Brahmhaasmi Tatvamasi rings a bell somewhere?