Sabarimala: It is not About Gender Discrimination, It is About Tantric Tradition
         Date: 24-Nov-2018


Madhukumar

Hinduism presents a banquet of diversities, uniqueness in worship, localised customs and festivities. These diversities ensure freedom for believers to choose from a wide range of options. It offers different paths of experience to people of different ‘vasanas’ for worship and enlightenment - The Path of Action and the Path of Devotion being the widely acclaimed ones.
 
Yet, our temples are deliberately designed for the vast majority; its design, pattern of worship and rituals constructed by sages like Parasurama and later Adi Sankaracharya. Temples were planned, built and consecrated with certain beliefs and Sasthras (Scientific principles). All the customs of worship, rituals, festivals, and observance of religious sanctity were described, documented to the possible extent and transmitted verbally by the sages to the pundits (Brahmins destined for temple rituals) of that period. Sage Parasurama travelled to the southern peninsula through the Konkan coast. He, with his fellow disciples, are said to have identified and consecrated groups of local people whom the sage found fit for the spread of dharma. These people were thereafter responsible for temple rituals and worship.
 
The temples in the Indian peninsula were strictly configured as per the Tantric rules and norms set by such sages. Worship of deities was as per this system. There are four systems of Tantric worship named after four different regions of Indian subcontinent. Broadly they are of- Tibetan, Kerala, Kashmiri, and Vanga Desa(Bengal region) lineage. There are certain differences amongst these systems and also similarities. This tantric way of religious worship is known to be a part of Agama Shastra which is one of the six Shastras of Hinduism. Kerala Tantra has its unique characteristics vis-à-vis other regional varieties. The distinct variation might have come about due to the region’s relative geographic isolation. The region was accessible only through narrow passages known as "Churams"(Caved paths across the Western Ghats) to the neighbouring regions. Further sub-regional differences occurred due to different schools of priesthood.
 
Prana Prathishta and the unique nature of the deity
 
Tantric ways of the AGAMA system are different in intent and methodology from Vedic rituals. They are claims that these rituals even predated Vedic traditions.
 
Vedic rituals are mainly meant for delighting the Devas through Yagnas, Homa, and Havis(sacrifices and offerings to the Holy Pyre of Yajna known as Havanam). In turn, the worshipper seeks the blessings of the Devas in the form of rain, good harvest, health and well being of the whole community. Tantric temples are sharply ‘deity oriented’. The consecration is elaborate and technical. First, an idol of the deity known as Murthy is constructed. This idol is installed at an identified place of adequate serenity. Then the idol is given ‘life’ using the Pranic energy (Life) by the Tanthri(The chief priest). When the Tanthri invokes Prana (The vital life energy) into the idol, thus identifying and naming the idol as the deity, he becomes the FATHER OF THE DEITY by ritualistic assumption. The Tanthri does all the daily chores for the deity as if for a human child, right from waking up from sleep, purification of its body, bathing, feeding, dressings, decorations and singing lullaby for it to sleep.
 
Appropriate rituals are also performed to please the deity and to the Devatha residing as the deity; For example, Lord Siva may be evoked as the Devatha in the form of the deity for a selected idol in various forms like Mruthyunjay, Aghor, Uma Maheshwara, Dakshinamoorthy etc.
 
Spiritual internalisations by the priests are based on assumptions. Mudras (special gestures of hands and fingers symbolising the Tantric rituals), and Manthras, (chanting sounds and words in Sanskrit), form the core of Kerala Tantra. Though Manthras are often used , the Tantra rituals are overwhelmingly based on Mudras, the hand gestures to invoke a God, a deity, and carry out routine rituals as mentioned above. There are separate tantric ways for Saiva, Vaishnava and Saktheya cults.
 
The assumptions during the initialising ceremony are so secretive in nature that only the chief priest, the Tantri, internalises and presumes the individuality of the deity such as God/Goddess representing the deity as also the bhava (mental attitude) of the deity consecrated. He charts out the ‘Moola manthra’(The basic mantra pertinent to that deity), and specifies the offerings typically pleasing to that deity, likes and dislikes of that particular deity, as well as special poojas to be performed.
 
The chief priest also fixes the temple festivals according to the nature and characteristics of the deity. The strategic location of the temple, the serenity requirements of the place, purification process to be followed by the serving Pundits and other temple staff, their duties, are all prescribed by the Chief priest. The Tantra texts prescribe the dimensions of the temple and the site plan needed for the construction. It is an architectural document pertinent to Kerala temples with due importance to Vasthu features.
 
Deity – A Legal entity established by covenant
 
In Kerala, the Deity is a legal entity and is considered as a minor as per the Covenant of between the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin state and Indian Union. To protect the Hindu way of worshipping and rituals, during the merger with Indian union, the Travancore-Cochin state demanded the formation of a Devaswom board, an autonomous body as per the covenant to administer the temples of the state. The minor status of the deity is for protection of the assets and wealth under the temples, as no one can transact the property owned by a minor as per law.
 
Regarding the purity and serenity to be maintained in Kerala temples, there are very strict rules to be observed as per the Tantric systems. Devotees shall adhere to the stipulated conditions and sanctity for visiting the temples. Any body fluids spilling in the temple premises except sweat are treated as impure. Violation if any, will have to be nullified through a purification process as specified by the Tanthri. The minor has rights that need to be respected.
 
Sabarimala: It is About Tantric Tradition
 
In the case of Sabarimala, the idol was consecrated as Ayyappa, a local warrior hero who saved the people of the Pandalam kingdom by resisting and defeating external aggression to bring peace and prosperity to the subjects. He, a Brahmachari, on the success of his mission, is said to have merged with the Sastha idol of the Sabarimala Temple. This incident predates Adisankara period of 8th century AD. The Deity here is consecrated as a Brahmachari, a celibate, and young ladies are not to visit the temple. There is documentary evidence by Ward and Connor, two British architects who wrote and published the Travancore survey manual in the 1890s supporting the contention that no young ladies visited the temple from those times. The temple gradually acquired fame and popularity in the other parts of the State, like Cochin and Malabar. The belief of the celibacy of the deity continued even as the temple became an International pilgrimage centre for believers of all religions. Other famous Sastha temples are situated near to the Pandalam Local kingdom as mentioned earlier. Famous temples in south Kerala are Sabarimala, Kulathuppuzha(where deity is a boy), Aryankavu (Deity is a married adult with two wives), Achankoil (deity is an adult with a wife and son), Thakazhy, Thalavady, Veeranarkavu, etc. None of these temples has restrictions for young women.
 
Tantric restrictions do not uniformly favour men. In Trivandrum Attukal temple, the restriction is applied to men. On festival day, only women are allowed here. There are temples with women priests doing poojas according to the Tantric methodology. An example is the Mannarsala Nag Temple in Alleppey district. Thus the restriction for young women at Sabarimala is a Tantric requirement unique to that particular deity. There is no intended gender bias.