Supreme Court has to prove HC verdict wrong to open Sabarimala gates for women

Updated - September 23, 2016 01:09 am IST

Published - January 18, 2016 12:00 am IST - NEW DELHI:

As the Supreme Court decides to examine the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years to Sabarimala shrine, it will first have to prove wrong a 1991 judgment of the Kerala High Court on the same issue.

The judgment in S. Mahendran versus Secretary, Travancore Devaswom Board saw the High Court’s Division Bench even examine the hereditary Tanthri (arch priest) of Sabarimala to conclude that restriction on women was an “essential religious practice” and qualified as a custom and usage followed at the temple for time immemorial.

Twenty-five years later, a three-judge Special Bench led by Justice Dipak Misra has rattled the “logic” behind the restriction on women devotees, even asking whether there is any proof that women did not enter the sanctum sanctorum 1,500 years ago.

In order to determine whether ban on women of a particular age was an essential religious practice in continuous usage, the High Court Bench of Justices K. Paripoornan and K.B. Marar examined the Sabarimala Tanthri after referring to Sadasyathilakan Sri T.K. Velu Pillai’s Travancore State Manual, which said that only the Tanthri could authoritatively clear the air on spiritual questions.

In his examination, Tanthri Sri Neelakandaru testified that women belonging to the age group of 10 to 50 years were prohibited from entering the temple even before 1950.

“According to him, these customs and usages are to be followed for the welfare of the temple. He added that only persons who had taken penance and followed the customs are eligible to enter the temple and it is not proper for young women to enter the temple,” the judgment records. The court also examined Ravivarma Raja of Pandalam royal family, to which the temple belonged to, and Ayyappa Seva Sangham secretary in this regard.

“The testimony of these witnesses conclusively establish the usage followed in the temple of not permitting women of the age group 10 to 50 to worship in the temple... These three persons have personal knowledge of the practices followed in the temple at least for half a century,” the High Court concluded.

The judgment also refers to how the deity is in the form of a ‘Naisthik Brahmachari’. “It is therefore believed that young women should not offer worship in the temple so that even the slightest deviation from celibacy and austerity observed by the deity is not caused by the presence of such women,” the High Court observed.

Besides, the 1991 verdict said that a ‘denomination’ – it considered Ayyappa devotees as a separate denomination – has complete freedom to manage its own affairs in matters of religion under Article 26 (b) of the Constitution.

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