In this epoch of gender equality it is a cogent argument, whether or not to allow women to visit religious places where men are allowed and vice-versa?
Owing to the geography of Southern India, it has faced only miniscule number of external invasions when compared to northern India, and ergo its traditions have seen very less external influence. Devotees visiting south Indian temples follow certain customs which are continuing since time immemorial, for example:
- To be attired in traditional dress when visiting the temple. Both men and women are barred from wearing shorts and jeans pants, infact, most of the temples in Kerala do not let men wear shirt inside the inner sanctum of the temple.
- To fast for a certain number of days. In most of the kshetrams (temples), devotees are expected to abstain from eating non-vegetarian food prior to visiting the temple. At times strict celibacy is also followed during the vratham (fast).
As a Malayali and a Hindu, I can vouch that most of the Hindus in my state follow both the above customs not out of fear of kopam (fear of divine judgment) but because they respect the customs. Preserving our tradition and certain scientific reasons are also factors which have allowed these customs to be continued through the generations. While it is acceptable to most of the devotees, a custom like barring menstruating women from visiting temples, has been a contentious issue since sometime.
SC’s verdict which allows the women of menstrual age to enter inside the Sabrimala temple has been hailed as a blow to rules set by the patriarchal society. But not many are aware that Kerala has been known for its matriarchal tradition, and that many households still have a lady (matriarch) heading them. This is also the only state in India where women’s population is higher than that of men.; according to 2011 census, there are about 1084 women for every 1000 men in the state. Marital vows and rituals followed by Hindus in the state might also bemuse outsiders, as the husband is expected to stay at his wife’s house. Then there’re shrines like Kumari Amman temple situated in Kanyakumari, part of erstwhile kingdom of Kerala, where married men are prohibited from entering the premises whilst sanyasis (celibate men) are allowed till the entrance gate. At Atukal temple men are debarred during the Sankranti Pongal.
A place where gender equality was already instated, entry into certain temples was never protested by either women or men. In this case neither the judges nor the petitioner seem to have been aware of the greater implications of the verdict on the society. Just like the Radcilffe line!
Seventy years ago, a British man called Radcliffe, was appointed to delineate the border between the new states of India and Pakistan. A man sans the knowledge of Indian demography, culture and traditions, was bound to make colossal blunder. And he did.
I rest my case.