Sabarimala and the “Tradition” Conundrum!

As soon as the Sabarimala verdict was out a few days back whereby, the court pronounced that women of all ages can now be allowed to visit the Sabarimala temple, a childhood friend of mine asked me for my reaction to the verdict. He posed the question to me because, I was basically from Kerala and having known that I have been visiting Sabarimala since childhood. My view on the verdict was that as times change, situations change, ground reality changes. Time for traditions, culture etc. etc. to keep evolving with the times. And hence I was for the verdict.   Of course this was a simplistic view of a complex case the verdict of which, is now threatening to disturb the pluralistic, multicultural and accommodative fabric of our Indian society.

 

My view on the verdict was based on the premise that the reasons, (though may be valid at one point in time) for not allowing women in the menstruating age to visit Sabarimala, may no longer be valid in this day and age. And hence this ban doesn’t make sense any more. And I was also of the view that any condition set by force is fundamentally against principles of freedom and is discriminatory. And more importantly, I felt that if my teenage daughter asks tomorrow why she cannot visit the Sabarimala temple, I thought I had no tenable answer.

My view, that the Hindu traditions, religious practices and beliefs have never been cast on stone and have always steered their way along conveniences of mankind, has been consistent with my reaction to the Jallikattu controversy or the more recent controversy around Carnatic singers singing Christian songs. In the Jallikattu issue, I opined that Jallikattu in its present form is certainly cruel to the animal and needs to be reformed. In the interests of preserving tradition and culture a total ban is uncalled for but, certainly safeguards need to be put in place to prevent unethical and unhealthy practices.

However, in the past few days post the verdict I have been seeing some arguments against the verdict, some making sense and some completely off the mark. And the sensible arguments have sort of made me change my mind on my reaction to the verdict.

In Kerala, a state with almost 100% literacy and social indices far ahead of the other states in India, the women have been leading the fight back against the verdict. One of the pieces I read against the verdict said that women don’t feel discriminated at all in being allowed to visit Sabarimala. And it is a question of respecting a tradition which has been in place for so many years.  This set me thinking and this piece is the result of the churn in my mind, I guess.

What sets Sabarimala to be different from other temples in Kerala or for that matter in India, is the process of visiting the temple itself. One cannot visit Sabarimala just like that, though these days it is much easier and is more accessible. First of all, the temple is not open 365 days for pilgrims.  Even in the present times of increased travel comforts, the journey is comparatively arduous and one needs to make the last 6 kms. of hilly stretch from the Pamba river base to Sannidhanam by walk.  (“Dolly service” to carry people up this stretch is available). And there has been the tradition which most men follow of observing a Vratham for 41 days before you travel observing certain practices including celibacy during the period. As part of the rituals, you carry what is known as Iru mudi kettu and carry that all along the trek. And till now, women in the menstruating age have not been allowed. So all these traditions are what that finally make Sabarimala different and what it is today. Of course the practices have gone through their own evolution as I mentioned before, in tune with the times and available technology!

Sans these traditions and beliefs, Sabarimala will be like another temple, where one can visit whenever. If the Government wants, it can lay motor able roads right up to the Sannidhanam so that one doesn’t have to do the physical labouring from Pamba.  So, that brings to the main issue. If the following of these traditions is what eventually makes Sabarimala special, why to tinker with them now? If majority of women in Kerala and outside have not been concerned about being discriminated and were #readytowait where is the issue?

Just like this practice in question in Sabarimala, if one digs in deep, there are countless such beliefs, traditions and practices being followed in many places of worship all over India. Some of it may push the borders of one’s freedom, may seem discriminatory and even downright hypocritical. But which make those places of worship unique and special in their own way. It is important for us to pick the right battles to fight which have larger social ramifications rather than pick on potentially harmless issues.

Therefore, I now tend to agree with the lone dissenting voice and ironically the lone lady voice in the Supreme Court Bench – Justice Indu Malhotra, who said that it is not for courts to determine which religious practices are to be struck down except in issues of social evil like ‘Sati’.

Having said that, I am not buying some of the other frivolous arguments against the verdict being bandied upon bringing in false equivalence around practices being followed in other religions like Islam,..  It’s up to those faiths to pick up their fights!

If India as a country is sort of unique in the world, it is because of our strong roots, culture rooted in traditions and our unwavering belief in “Faith”! So in matters of “Faith”, it will be ideal if the interested parties deliberate among themselves and bring in the reforms when needed rather than throwing the ball to the Courts which necessarily have to pronounce judgments keeping aside traditional beliefs and the underlying emotions involved. And as a society, I do believe that this judgement has opened up a Pandora’s Box and could set a precedent for many an issues involving “faith”, all of it may not have a peaceful pass as this one!

Kallum Mullum,.. – Kaalukku Methai,…” is one among the many slogans you raise to spur yourself while walking up the hill of Sabarimala barefoot. It means stones and thorns are like bed (of roses) to the feet. For an ardent Sabarimala devotee, the judgement though, is seen as a bed of stones and thorns in his hitherto peaceful journey! Having been conflicted on this one for a few days, I do believe that I have a plausible answer to give to my daughter on this “tradition” conundrum!

Image courtesy: Scroll.in

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Celebrating India’s (food) festivals!!!

It’s that time of the year in India. The scorching heat of the summer is behind us and the monsoon wherever applicable is in its last lap. Come August and the general mood in the country changes in line with the changing weather.  Though we don’t have a pleasant spring as a season in India (except may be Kashmir), in this time of the year, there is a spring in everyone’s feet.  Starting with Id and then the Rakshabandan it’s an avalanche of festivals in India from August till Feb next year.  One can see this festival spirit manifesting itself in the media, in streets, in shopping malls and where have you. What I have noticed in the last many years is that irrespective of the state of the economy, the mood of the people in this period is in a state of buoyancy.  Then it dawned on me that the day-today lives of millions of people is also linked to the economics of festivals – the increased spending on clothes, on festivities, religious ceremonies, investment in real estate, starting of new businesses, renovation/painting of homes, feasting on food,…,… So festive season is one happy season for all.

The difference is while most of the countries in the East and West and the Middle have just one or two important festivals in a year, we in India are blessed with many. Thanks to the number of Gods we Hindus subscribe to. This is one thing in which we are clearly the envy of many countries.  And thanks to our regional identities, we don’t have the concept of one important Pan – Indian festival which we all celebrate but many. If it is Diwali in the North, it is Durga Pujo in Bengal, Onam in Kerala and so on. In my earlier company, my Japanese friends were bemused and amused to see different holiday lists for our different branch offices.

In all this, one thing which cannot be missed is the connect between the Pet (stomach) and Pooja.  It is interesting to note that just like each festival has its own link with a God, it also has associated unique food items going with it 🙂 These are supposedly meant for offering to God which eventually ofcourse find its way to our stomachs. So if it is Kozhakattai (Modak) for Ganesh Chaturthi, it is Appam, Cheedai for Krishna Jayanti, Pori Urundai for Kaarthigai, Different types of Sundal for Navrathri, and so on. So much so for many years I didn’t know why Kaarthigai was celebrated but knew that Karthigai means Pori Urundai 🙂 🙂    In fact celebration of Onam festival is never complete without the traditional “Ona Sadhya” which with its array of dishes on the plate or rather leaf challenges the digestive ability of many a stomach of this generation.

Sadya

One really wonders how our elders came up with this timetable of different dishes for different festivals. Safely I inclined to conclude that they saw themselves in God and came up with things what they liked depending upon the season.

This brings me to the old or rather our youth times when at home the mother gets extremely busy during festival times trying to do justice to the “Naivedyam”(Food offering) specifications for each festival by preparing all at home.  The preparations usually start 1 or 2 days in advance. Keeping the prepared items from our prying eyes or rather mouth till the Pooja / Naivedyam are over was always a mission unaccomplished for the mother 🙂 🙂  The festival times also provided opportunities to showcase their culinary skills to friends and neighbours by distributing the home-made stuff and earn ‘likes’ in a pre-Facebook time.  Among the neighbourhood, it was always few mamis’ stuff apart from our mother’s which were in demand. I vividly remember in the 9 days of Navrathri the houses we choose to visit depends upon the cooking skills of the mamis 🙂 🙂

These days the mothers have different challenges. Since the entire process of preparing appropriate dishes for festivals has been “Adayared” (If outsourcing and losing of jobs to Bangalore is called “Bangalored” then outsourcing of the preparation of food items to ‘Adayar Ananda Bhavan’ is called” Adayared”!!!), knowing where to outsource/source what for different festivals is the biggest challenge.  At home, we as children displayed humongous appetite to polish off things prepared in quick time. These days the children have little interest and less appetite to gorge on the different offerings which come along free with festivals.  So gradually the linkage between pet and pooja is gradually dwindling I guess.

Today is Krishna Jayanti. Time to wind this up and time to finish the Pooja of Lord Bal Krishna, do Naivedyam and then launch into next Pooja i.e Pet Pooja 🙂 🙂

Postscript:  While we were discussing about Gokulashtami,… this morning, my 7 year old daughter asked her mom, “Even after eating so much butter, how is Krishna not fat???”  For GenY, Pet poojas can wait I guess.