The famous Sabrimala temple located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Pattanamthitta district of Kerala will now be known as the Sabrimala Sree Ayyappa Swamy temple.
The temple’s name, Sree Dharma Sastha temple, has been changed following a decision by the Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the Sabarimala temple.
The temple was renamed as the board maintained that Lord Ayyappa and Dharma Sastha were two different gods, as opposed to the common belief that they are the same.
A few have however questioned the decision to suddenly rename a temple that has existed for more than 4,000 years (according to popular belief).
According to devotees, Sri Dharma Sastha was a Brahmachari, but in previous avatars, Sastha lived with two consorts Poorna and Pushkala. Therefore, Manikantha (a lifelong celibate) is distinct from Dharma Sastha.
A few media reports from Kerala suggest that the decision to change the temple’s name was due to the ongoing case in the Supreme Court challenging the restriction of entry for menstruating women into the temple.
Some reports say that with the litigants questioning why women could not be allowed to Dharma Sastha’s temple as he had two consorts, the Devasom Board believed this was the apt time to change the name.
Travancore Devaswom Board President Prayar Gopalakrishnan however refuted these theories and told The News Minute that the move was long overdue and it was a well-intentioned one.
Elaborating on the circumstances under which the board renamed the temple, Prayar Gopalakrishnan explained that it was purely an attempt to provide clarity over concerns about Lord Ayyappa being addressed as Dharma Sastha.
“Dharma Sastha and Ayyappa Swamy belong to two different eras. It is after Ayyappa Swamy attained oneness with Dharma Sastha over 700 years back, that the idol of Dharma Sastha in Sabarimala was dismantled and the idol of Ayyappa Swamy was reinstated. However, the temple continued to be known as Dharma Sastha temple,” Prayar said.
Though the decision was taken in a board meeting held in October, the board is yet to begin the process of changing the name in its official records.
He asserts that though the temple administration had been upset about devotees mistaking Ayyappa for Dharma Sastha, none of Parayar’s predecessors took the initiative to rename the temple.
“This is not a sudden decision. As the current President of the board, it is my responsibility to dispel misconceptions about Lord Ayyappa and the temple. What’s wrong with it?” Prayar asks.
"Most Hindus who are devotees still continue to address Lord Ayyappa as Dharma Sastha. It is time that such a misconception gets rectified. People can say whatever they want," he notes.
Political analysts believe that the name change is not likely to affect the case of entry of women in any manner.
"If the board's intention is that, then it will have little effect in the court. Substantiating religious literature to prove an argument in court is not a good approach...the literature may be interpreted in many different ways, with the facts often changing in different versions," opines BRP Bhaskar, senior political analyst and media critic.
The board's decision was however not conveyed to Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran. When asked, Prayar maintains that the board was not required to communicate day-to-day decisions to the government.
(All photographs by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair)