India’s Supreme Court Lifts Centuries-Old Ban on Menstruating Women in Hindu Temple
India’s Supreme Court revoked a centuries-old ban which prohibited menstruating women from worshipping at Sabarimala Temple, a major Hindu pilgrimage center. In a 4-1 ruling on Friday, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the age-long prohibition is not essential to Hindu’s religious practice and is a discrimination against women. The court ruling comes on the heels of two other progressive court decisions, suggesting a shift in Indian cultural society.
A number of Hindu temples allow women to worship but bar those on their periods. Sabarimala Temple, however, bars all women, whether menstruating or not, from worshipping at the site. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, a celibate diety. It attracts up to 50 million worshippers every year and is one of the most famous Hindu temples in India.
Critics Say the Restriction Protected Women’s Health from Negative Energy at the Shrine
Misra said discriminating against devotees on the basis of their gender is unreligious, since everyone is created equal. Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud added that any religion that denies women the right to worship is not a true religion and that treating women as lesser beings contradicts constitutional morality in all its applications.
Revoking the worship ban on women at the Hindu temple was not the only thing the Supreme Court had achieved in recent times. The apex court on Thursday annulled a 158-year-old law on adultery; and decriminalized gay sex in September.
The ruling on menstruating women worshipping at Sabarimala Temple is greeted with mixed applause. Supporters said it is long overdue and that the restriction is a residue of outdated, patriarchal notions that considered menstruating women as unclean. Critics said the religious restriction was to protect women’s health from the powerful energy radiating at the major temple.
Renovations to Make the Temple Suitable For Women Devotees Have Begun In Earnest
Incidentally, Supreme Court Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman on the five-member bench, dissented on the ruling. According to her, tenets of religion cannot be rationalized since they are spiritually discerned.
“Religious practices cannot solely be tested on the basis of the right to equality,” she said, according to Reuters. “It is up to the worshippers, not the court, to decide what is the religion’s essential practice.”
President of the Travancore Devaswom Board which manages the temple, A. Padmakumar, said it is unthinkable that real women devotees of Lord Ayyappa would approach the temple even in the face of the Supreme Court ruling.
Annual pilgrimage season at the temple opens on October 16.
Meanwhile, the Kerala government has begun to carry out renovations that would make the temple suitable for women worshippers. These include separate washrooms and baths as well as raising the number of female police officers at the pilgrimage center.