Why should women be denied the opportunity to worship? (55)

12/01/2012 History of Lord Ayyappa

This view takes into account only the physical aspect and fails to see the spiritual essence of the pilgrimage. Sabarimala pilgrimage is more important for the rare opportunity it provides for the cultivation of life-reinforcing spiritual disciplines than the accessibility or any other factor. The view is also illogical as even in the olden days females below the age ten and above fifty were allowed to participate in the pilgrimage and compared to them those in the age-group between ten and fifty can better endure the hazards of the journey. There are other important reasons for this restriction and these are related to the special spiritual disciplines involved in the pilgrimage.

In India, religious pursuits insist on physical and mental purity. Before every religious rite the body is cleaned with a bath. The religious customs as well as the traditional science of health like Ayurveda regard the menstrual period as an occasion for rest for women and a period of uncleanliness of the body. During this period, many women are affected by physical discomforts like head-ache, body pain, vomiting sensation, etc. In such circumstances intense and chaste spiritual disciplines for forty one days are not possible.

A major discipline this pilgrimage involves is forty one days of continence, physically and mentally. During this period many pilgrims even maintain minimum contacts with their homes and stay in special prayer halls along with other pilgrims engaging in prayer, recital of devotional songs and other spiritual disciplines.

Firstly, the women of the age group having the menstrual cycle will not be able to engage themselves in intense spiritual discipline for a long period prescribed for the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Secondly their presence in large numbers during the pilgrimage may naturally defeat the effort of the pilgrims to control their sexual urge which is the most important part of the austerities of this pilgrimage. Sabarimala pilgrimage gives the common man a rare occasion for self discipline and an opportunity to gain inner strength and harmony. If a Menaka, the heavenly damsel of Puranic lore, could upset the austerities of such a powerful personality like Sage Vishwaamithra, what will be the plight of the ordinary man, who is usually immersed in the mires of worldliness! In the present stage of evolution, man often gets swayed by his emotions uncontrollably and such spiritual disciplines are intended to help him get a mastery over his usually uncontrollable emotions and realise his potentials to evolve to higher dimensions of cultural and spiritual existence.

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