Monday, July 03, 2006

Temples and Women

These days I don’t watch news on TV. Not that I am not interested in what’s happening, but because it is so irritating to watch these low-IQ (Intelligent Quotient) and low-EQ (Emotional Quotient) journalists blabbering away in some pseudo-concerned tones and voices, exasperating and panting to report a bomb blast or a scandal, annoying or vexing the interviewee with abrupt interjections, and trying their best to use recently-learnt English words (to keep their jobs), that it started to bother my intelligence and emotions equally.

Anyway, waiting for the next soccer match, I had to while away some time and I surfed onto the news channels once again.

There was this Sagarika Ghosh on CNN-IBN, who is irritating most of the time, talking about some temple in India (Sabarimala housing Ayyappa Temple) which bans women from entering its premises. They invited one Muslim representative to show how some Mosques do not allow women, a grandson/son of Ayyappa Temple, and another equally obnoxious social activist or writer who was making faces as if she couldn’t believe any of the words these two guys spoke. Now, what is my problem with the whole proceedings? It’s nothing to do with religion actually. I am through-and-through an extreme atheist. I find all the religions, the practices and its nuances very funny. But growing up in religious societies, having met some ardent and fanatic religious people (Hindus, Muslims and Christians), and reading religious books and history, has led me to believe that religion has its own good and need not be discarded. It is one of those quirky human traits that we may have to live with. Since human is any way a funny animal, he has devised some funny methods to keep himself saner; and religion seems to be one of those funny methods that withstood time. Of course, humans started to take these funny things pretty serious in the course of time; because of which millions died defending one funny faith against another. All in all, what these religious people do doesn’t bother me as long as they do not trample on my living. If they all want to get naked and involve in promiscuous activity to keep their god happy, or if they want to parade in semi nudity and beat themselves to death, it’s up to them. As long as they don’t tell me how I should I live, I let them live the way they want to.

One funny thing about religion is that they have introduced a word called ‘sanctity’. In my life I have not abhorred a word more than this word- ‘sanctity’ (more about that later). There are certain places in temple where it is sacred, there are idols which are sacred, and there are few rituals and practices which are sacred. Any violation of these sacred things is a direct contravention of the religion which will displease the God. That’s how each religion and sect has collected its own set of sacred things.

Now, for whatever reason, Sabrimala and its god Ayyappa and its followers think that no women between certain ages (where they believe a woman menstruates and can attract men sexually ) should enter its premises. I am quite OK with it. It’s not like all temples in India have banned women from its premises. If a woman wants to go and pray in a temple, there are millions of them that they can choose from. I don’t see why some of these inane actresses like to go these particular temples where there is a ban, other than creating some publicity stunt or to be a rebel just for the sake of being a rebel (because they are utterly bored). I mean it’s not like women don’t have access to a god or a temple elsewhere. And why this fascination with this god who is sworn to celibacy himself? God only knows!

I learnt to respect many idiosyncrasies of religions and live with them. I don’t go to many temples because I have no job there. I do go to certain old and historical temples because I like Indian Architecture and I take lot of pictures. Now, when I enter these temples I respect their sentiments. If they ask me to take off my chappals/shoes though the scorching heat has made the stone tiles to cause blisters, I put up with it. Why do I do that? Look, nobody forced me to enter these temples. I am free to go wherever I want in this country. But here’s a place that some people think is sacred and they have set certain rules. However funny these rules might sound to be, if I want to go in there to get a glimpse of this historic architecture I will have to obey the rules they set out. Therefore, I take off my chappals/shoes and walk in the scorching heat, enduring the pain, take my pictures, and run back. If ever they have a rule that I have to shave my head to enter, and if I am in no mood for shaving my head, I just turn back and do not enter. I have a choice to enter or not enter. It’s not like I am being discriminated against. It’s not like I am being targeted. It’s nothing to do with equal rights and it’s definitely nothing to do ‘marginalizing sacred feminine’ as Sagarika Ghosh would like us to believe.

Sagarika Ghosh, demeaningly and condescendingly asks this son/grandson of Ayyappa Temple priest, if he had heard about Dan Brown and his book ‘Da Vinci Code’ (as if it is some historical and true representation of human history) and asks if our religion too was ‘marginalizing sacred feminine’. Give me a break! I am not sure what is sacred about feminine. A woman and man are two different sexes which mate, reproduce and make babies to continue our species. And while they are not doing this activity, they indulge in other activities too, like inventing, composing music, and creating civilizations. I am not sure if any one of them (man or woman) is sacred (unless of course you bring in the argument that many women and men pray to ‘lingam’, the sexual organ of Lord Shiva, a man).

And she (Sagarika Ghosh) continues to ask if this ban is against the rights of a modern woman and questions why some temples ban women. My response is simple. First, the concept of religion itself is a ridiculous concept and its rules are even more ludicrous. Second, if those rules do affect you as a woman, if they encroach upon your rights and if they discriminate you systematically, please fight it out and I will join your fight. But when almost all temples in India allow women, why this unnecessary and stupid provocation against some odd cases? These men who go to Ayyappa believe in certain things and want to be merry all by themselves without having the presence of women. Consider this an extended boy’s night out and let them be. Why do you want to ruin their party?

There is a temple in Orissa which organizes Rath Yatra pulled exclusively by women. It’s a tradition. The origins of most of these traditions are equally bizarre. Knowing these origins only quenches intellectual curiosity but doesn’t help you in dealing with it. May be, the men should fight for their right to pull this Rath and argue for ‘sacred masculine’. I am not sure where it would lead us. May be, back to cave man?


  1. The television media sucks. Nobody anymore cares about the news. Its a sad state. I depend upon the Net and Blogs to get the right news.

    Check out War For News blog btw. It exposes all the hypocrisy of the news channels.

  2. Hi Sujai,
    This one is nothing more than a rational piece of expresssion...I have been reading your blogs for a few months. It is surprising that, the issues about which I plan to write something, expressing my views, (mere plans, never wrote :) ) are all present in your blog...
    Hoping that you would appreciate this point that there's nothing like right or wrong, favourable or unfavourable, everything being relative, I would say that, our ideas match much, so thts why i find you blog appealing while my friend does not :)
    About this writing..the celebrties are 'bored' and they need some kind of mention and they are ready to do anything unscrupulous to get famous or notorious...
    i am basically agnostic , and so when I visit temples, my friends tease me...But i visit temples for the same reason u do.
    In India, the problems never end, even though we are getting educated, mainly because, through our education we dont learn to respect the views of others...And thts whats happening in and around...

  3. Dear Sankar:
    Thanks for your comments. Very nice to know that many of our ideas are similar.

  4. Hi Sujai,
    Had not you writtten an artitle about, the meaning of a a real management graduate? I remember reading it somewhere...And now i dont find it in your blog !
    I am starting my career as a teacher and the subject allotted to me is Principles of management. I thought i could get some wonderful tips fromyou blog..:)

  5. Sankar:
    I am not sure if I wrote any article on 'real management graduate'. The closest one is titled "IIMs and Salaries" which still appears on my blog. Good luck with your teaching career. I am sure you it will be an enriching experience to you and your students.

  6. Ohh thanks...
    My first class was over today morning. It was interesting. Planning to device some interesting methods of teaching activity, than blabbering the theory out, since Principles of management happens to be highly theoretical, unlike OR or OM.
    BTW what's your email id? I hope it will be better to communicate through emails, when the matter of discussion is not much related to the blog subject.
    BTW my blog is I haven't written much though.
    See you then

  7. Sujai, do you have something against women out there in the media challenging orthodoxies, systems, stupid religious practices? First Ms. Patkar and women protesting Narmada dam, now this. :) :)

    Or, should challenging be only left to MF Hussain? ;) (just kidding)

    I don't really know you, but from the few posts I've read, you come across as liberal/progressive/thoughtful. That's why I'm surprised to see this obvious bias against women in two of your posts. I'd think you would be encouraging them to do more, whether you agree with their POV or not.

    I'd say anyone (man or woman) who showcases the stupid religious traditions (which you yourself are not a supporter of) is more than welcome. If a light is not shown on such issues, there is no way to bring about a change.


  8. Hi Sujai,
    I have been reading your posts one by one. Pretty good, to say the least!
    "I am free to go wherever I want in this country....I will have to obey the rules they set out."
    and "I have a choice to enter or not enter."
    Simply wonderful. Wonderful because most atheists don't seem to show this kind of tolerance and respect for others. Im agnostic myself, and like you, visit temples for other reasons than religion. But I believe that I have no right to break those rules in temples- after all I entered knowing that it had those rules.
    It is pretty much like not plucking the flowers in some public garden or not touching artifacts in a museum. For some reason most atheists (esply bloggers) seem to think that simply because they don't believe in God they can do anything they like in a temple. To me, that is as bad as the religious guy! And I feel sorry that the cause of rationalism is lost because of such people.
    Anyhow, enjoyed reading most of your posts! Keep it up! :)

  9. if a temple in India said, people from certain castes can't enter it. will we say ok, let them pray in other temples?

  10. I know this is a really old post. I'm just going through your blog in a somewhat-random order. So here's my two cents on this post.

    I agree with your views on media. I particularly dislike it where they interview a layperson to ask his/her opinion as if he/she is an expert on the subject matter. That annoys me. Just because they are on TV, these people are ready to sound all intellectual with their stupid views without really having given the issue any serious thought.

    Coming to the topic of not allowing some people (whether it is women/Dalits/transgender(hijras)/people of different religion/etc.) in certain establishments, I think it all depends on whether they are private establishments that pay taxes, government establishments or private establishments that enjoy tax-exempt status or have some sort of tax benefits. If it's third case I think such establishments should treat all Indian citizens equally by law (or follow some related regulations), don't they?

    *Let me say that I don't know if religious establishments in India are tax-exempt or have a special tax status like in the US. (Didn't bother to look it up.)

    **I am not unaware of the fact many businesses and other establishments and individuals evade taxes.

  11. on a lighter note
    y do guys go to temple???
    'cos there they can find pooja, shradhha, shanthi,aarthi,archana,jyothi and tulasi

  12. @Sujai. I know this is only a small part of what you mentioned in this article, where the main point what you are trying to convey is perfectly fine.

    If you dont mind it would sound good if you would have written, "According to me Lingam is considered to be phallus", because some people who are strong believers in the author and keep on reading his point of views come to an opinion that what ever the author says is true and go upon arguing about it. You say there are many conspiracy theories, in the same way many people had their opinion on what siva lingam is and what its meant(irrespective of it being the true or false). You too had yor opinion, but if it had a sentence saying "according to some theories lingam is considered to be phallus and I strongly believe in it", it would have been better.


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