Women and Sabarimala (56)

12/01/2012 History of Lord Ayyappa

For one who is ordinarily involved in worldly pursuits, Sabarimala pilgrimage offers a unique opportunity for the practice of spiritual disciplines. The successful completion of the austerities makes him stronger to face the challenges of daily life with equanimity. The broader vision of life imbibed during the period of discipline and the pilgrimage uplift culturally and spiritually and enables him to provide comfort and solace to his fellow beings. The sages have so designed the pilgrimage that no factor should cause a breach in the maintenance of the self-disciplining austerities during this period.

India’s spiritual culture was founded by the great Rishi-s who acquired deep insights into the mysteries of man and Nature by activating their spiritual faculties through meditation. They became beacon lights in man’s evolutionary march to perfection by renouncing the ordinary worldly comforts and exploring into the deeper meaning of life. They discovered the spiritual values that would lead man to higher and harmonious dimensions of existence. Their penetrating insights gained through one-pointed meditation gave form to various branches of knowledge as would help man’s progress as an integrated physical and spiritual entity.

Ayurveda evolved by Charaka and Susrutha, Naatya-shaasthra by Bharatha Muni, Astronomical science of Varahamihira and the great Vedas, the Upanishad-s and the Ithihaasa-s by many master minds of yore, are precious knowledge that we have inherited from them. They had a deep commitment to the aesthetic and spiritual upliftment of the whole human race. The disciplines of Sabarimala pilgrimage have been evolved by such master minds. By strictly following the austerities, the pilgrim will gain a great deal in spiritual strength and attain inner harmony. Sabarimala pilgrimage should be viewed only in this context of self-disciplining, not as an occasion for picnic or sight-seeing.

There also prevails a common-place view about why women of a certain age-group are not allowed in Sabarimala. Based on this there is much harpings and arguments. According to this view, Ayyappa is a celibate and the presence of women will not be appropriate in His Presence! Some people entertain a wrong notion that devotion to God and pilgrimages are for the sake of God! Disciplining the mind through a prescribed period of celibacy and austerities are meant only to elevate the human beings, who are bound by various sorts of conditionings, and not for the sake of God who is the Transcendental Reality. Celibacy is ascribed to Ayyappa to remind the pilgrim about the need for such disciplining during the period of austerities, which would help him to train himself for one-pointed concentration for spiritual expansion. Such one-pointedness is necessary even for the success of mundane undertakings as well as for communion with God – the transcendental Total Consciousness. It is for the sake of pilgrims who practise celibacy that youthful women are not allowed in the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Women as a whole are not prevented from these austerities and the pilgrimage, but the proper period for the participation and successful completion of it is after the age of fifty. Yet another point to be noted is that there are many Ayyappa temples elsewhere, where no section of women are prevented from entering on the pretext that Ayyappa is a celibate.

Even during other occasions of pilgrimage as during the first day of every Malayalam month and during holy days as Vishu and Thiruvonam, the pilgrimage to Sabarimala is supposed to be undertaken only after completing 41 days of austerities. For climbing the 18 holy steps one has necessarily to carry the Irumidkettu (the sacred package of offerings) on the head. To spiritually equip oneself to carry the Irumudikettu and for making the pilgrimage really beneficent, austerities for a period of 41 days have to be observed. Therefore, for meaningful pilgrimage it is always prudent if women of the forbidden age-group hold themselves back.

Lord Ayyappa is a great unifying spiritual power before whom devotees forget all man-made divisions such as social status, caste, creed, language, nationality, etc. And in such an all -encompassing Presence there cannot be even a trace of discrimination against women.

Related Articles