Sabarimala verdict: Supreme Court reserves judgment on review pleas

In a U-turn, Kerala's Travancore Devaswom Board supported entry of women of all ages

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:33 am IST

Published - February 06, 2019 05:01 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Lord Ayyappa's shrine at Sabarimala.

A view of the Lord Ayyappa's shrine at Sabarimala.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of its judgment which lifted the bar on menstruating women from worshipping at Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

A Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi presided over a day-long clash over its September 28, 2018 judgment.

A whopping 65 petitions, including review pleas and writs, challenged the authority of the Supreme Court to intervene with a “centuries’ old” belief that the Sabarimala deity is a Naishtika Brahmachari whose penance should not be disturbed by the entry of women worshippers of the menstruating age of 10 to 50 years.

On the other hand, senior advocate Indira Jaising, representing Bindu and Kanakadurga — the two women who fought the odds to enter the Sabarimala premises, said it was the fundamental duty of citizens under Article 51A (h) of the Constitution to “develop scientific temper, humanism, spirit of enquiry and reform”. That is what the Supreme Court judgment urges citizens to do.

“What about Article 51A (e)? To promote harmony and common brotherhood...” Justice Rohinton Nariman on the Constitution Bench asked.

“It hurts a woman very, very deeply to say she is polluted because she menstruates. The hurt caused by such discrimination goes to the heart of the Constitution,” Ms. Jaising submitted to the Bench.

The majority judgment in September 2018 concluded that the exclusion of menstruating women from Sabarimala temple was akin to treating them as the children of a “lesser God”. It had said exclusion of any kind, especially based on a biological attribute, amounted to practice of untouchability, an abolished social evil.

But on Wednesday, Nair Service Society (NSS), represented by veteran lawyer K. Parasaran, sought a review of the verdict on the ground that the exclusion at Sabarimala temple was not based on gender or sex, but on religious faith in and character of the deity.

The temple’s chief priest Rajeevaru Kandararu, who is the main review petitioner, argued that “every devotee has a fundamental right to worship in a temple in a manner which is in sync with the character of the deity”.

“Thanthri [priest] is the father of the deity. Every deity has a character. The Sabarimala deity, unlike in other Ayyappa temples, has the peculiar character of a Naishtika Brahmachari . The essential religious nature of Sabarimala deity is affirmed and perpetuated everyday by the offerings/pujas conducted in the temple. All this rests on this unique character of the deity. Exclusion of women of a certain age is nothing on moral or immoral,” senior advocate V. Giri argued for the priest.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi for the former chairman of Travancore Devaswom Board, which controls the temple, said “In Hindu religion, god is worshipped in different manifestations... Devotees have to worship in sync with characteristics of that manifestation to attain salvation.”

“What is the effect of your Sabarimala judgment? It is a mandamus given to a particular religious community that you shall not hold this belief!” asked senior advocate Shekhar Naphade.

“Hinduism is the most diverse religion on planet Earth. And here, you want to allow only practices or customs which are ‘universally ethical’ to all Hindus? Is it possible? Surely, that’s not the right approach to take in such a diverse religion?” Mr. Singhvi went on to criticise the September judgment.

But Kerala government countered the review petition, saying courts can set aside religious practices which oversaw fundamental rights like dignity of women. “Touchstone of our Constitution is ‘you will not discriminate or exclude’,” senior advocate Jaideep Gupta submitted for the State.


The Travancore Devaswom Board supported the State, saying the spirit of the Sabarimala judgment is equal entitlement for man and woman in society.

But Ms. Jaising said her two clients have faced death threats and social exclusion for daring to worship at Sabarimala.

Lastly, advocate P.V. Dinesh, appearing for two other Kerala-based women who filed a contempt of court petition, asked the court, “If it is believed that a 10-year-old girl child can breach the NaishtikaBrahmacharyam of a God, then a child is being portrayed as a sexual object?”

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