With women fighting for entry into temples recently, saying that Hinduism needs to keep up with changes in the modern world, one wonders whether it is time that Hindus and Hinduism kept pace with Modern Times. And the verdict is out from people from other religions too, that Hinduism needs to change. So what exactly is the lacuna in Hinduism that needs to change? Or is it that people, both men and women need to change their thinking on what changes are to be brought about in society? Let us see …
The people fighting for the entry of women into temples say that the Constitution of our country treats everyone as an equal and therefore women should not be banned from entering temples. What does Hinduism say here? Baring four or five temples all over India, all temples allow all people to enter the temple and take Darshan. What is not allowed? Women and men are not allowed into the inner sanctorum of most of the temples unless certain rules are followed. In many cases, only the officiating priests are allowed, that too only after following certain conditions. In Shani Shignapur too, all women and men can take Darshan from a small distance. To enter the inner cordon, men have to take a bath & wearing wet clothes they can go in. Now some women are contesting this and saying that even women should be allowed to go in. So essentially, if the women wanted to go in, they too have to enter wet from a bath and wearing wet clothes.
In my husband’s village in Karnataka, there is a Devi temple (Karikaanamma temple) which follows this rule too. I have been married for 25 years and in these 25 years I have only seen 4 or 5 women willing to enter the inner sanctorum there. In fact, very rarely have I seen men willing to do this too. Everybody says just one thing – ‘It is the same whether we stand here and pray or there inside.’ So what is so different about Shani Shignapur? Will the Darshan from a distance of about 3 feet make such a big difference in the blessings given by the Lord? What about SabariMalai? There too women between the ages of 10 – 50 cannot make the trip to take Darshan. Please remember that there is no restriction on praying to Ayyappa Deva in one’s own mind or at home or in any of His temples anywhere else in the country, irrespective of whether one is a man or a woman, at any age. The trip to Sabari Malai too involves certain procedures to be followed before making the trip. In a normal household which has children, parents and grandparents (as is in most houses in India), how practical is it for the lady of the house to follow all the rituals before and during the trip to Sabari Malai to take Darshan? Another aspect I feel, is that currently, the men cook and clean up after themselves during the trip; once women start accompanying them, will the men expect the women to do these jobs or will they still do it on their own? I request all the male readers to answer honestly.
I whole-heartedly accept that changes should be made – but more than the religion, changes should be made in our mindsets. Our ancient religion has been touted as a religion, less, and a way of life, more. When one reads the Vyaada Upanishad, one admires the butcher teaching the Rishi a lesson on the way of life. But how many of us have paid attention to the fact that it was a lady, a housewife who was able to avoid the Rishi’s anger and advised him to go to the butcher? How did a common housewife have so much power and knowledge? Did Hindu beliefs not restrict her from learning or going to a temple? How then did she become so powerful? What about Sati, the dreaded Hindu custom of forcing a woman to immolate herself on her husband’s death? And Dowry? Another disgusting Hindu tradition, right? Modern thinking helped us overcome both these blots on our Hindu religion. Is it? What was Sati? When Maa Bhagwati ‘burned’ within because of the insults heaped on her husband, by her father, she immolated herself, not on any pyre but with her own Shakti. That was Sati. Greedy in-laws, over a course of time, converted this pious act into the forceful, hated act of immolating the wife on the pyre of her husband, and gave it a religious tag, to escape censure. The Dowry or Streedhan, as it was known, was actually given to the girl on her marriage, to help her and her family during difficult times. It was usually given as the gold that the bride wore on her wedding day. As per tradition otherwise, the bride is supposed to be married off with only 3 sets of clothing (‘teen jodi’) in her wedding trousseau and some essential vessels for setting her house. This is how it was during our grandparents’ time too. Again Hinduism got the label of encouraging the evil custom of Dowry, which actually was a twist to the tradition of ‘Vara-dakshina’ – the dakshina to be paid to the Groom (my husband got Re.1 as Vara-dakshina, which he happily accepted). It was the ‘modern thinking’ of our parent’s generation which was responsible for this thinking – not Hinduism.
In both the above cases, it was necessary to change the mindset and not the religion. People worked hard towards it and with the help of the law, necessary changes were made. But what about the entry to temples? Here too I feel that the mindsets have to be changed and not the religion. Why should people other than the temple authorities have a say in the customs to be followed by the temple? God is not such a small entity that only if you enter the inner sanctorum, you would get God’s grace. If that was the case, we would never have stories of Kanakadasa (Udupi, Karnataka) or Pundalik, Namdeo, Janabai or Sakhubai (Pandharpur, Maharashtra) to name a few. In fact, Hinduism clearly states that if one wants to attain God’s grace, it has to only through shedding of the ego and attaining true Bhakti. The fact is that it is due to ‘modern thinking’, that we have started thinking of women as lesser than men. Hinduism and God did not do that. I don’t remember coming across a single God spouting dialogues (in any scripture) that women should be treated badly or as impure. If that was the case, how did Sri Krishna help Draupadi, during the Vastra Haran? She was having her periods then. I do not remember it written anywhere that only if a woman earns, she should be treated with respect. Just like nowhere is it mentioned in our scriptures that only if one is slim, is one beautiful; and only if one is beautiful will one be admired. In fact it is my belief that it is only due to our ‘modern thinking’ that we are looking at women as a piece of flesh. It is only due to our ‘modern thinking’ that we think that housewives are worthless and a burden on family resources, so much so that unless a woman earns, even her children now give her less respect. Since when is the worth of a woman determined by whether she can enter a temple premise or not? If that is so, then what is it that stops us from quoting the Constitution to allow all of us enter Sabari Malai Ayyappa temple without following the norms as believed in?
I strongly feel that we should fight against such thinking, which makes every woman feel ashamed or dirty, the moment ‘menstrual cycle’ or ‘periods’ is mentioned. Why should anybody necessarily believe that if a woman is not allowed inside a temple or allowed to do certain rituals, she is a lesser person? Why is everything being treated as an insult to womankind? What kind of feminism is it when women are made to feel bad for accepting the role of a caregiver alone, instead of being some superwoman who looks after the finances and the family? It is the same mentality which makes the men feel inferior when they help in the household work. When families are moulded to believe that it is the woman who should wash dishes and clothes and the man should come home and be waited upon, the society suffers. On the other hand if the man shares the feeling that women too should get a vacation and should be treated as an equal in all rituals, with him by his side – not behind him, society flourishes. Those who say that Hinduism does not allow for this should read the Ramayan once again. ShreeRama insisted that a golden statue of Sita would be by His side for the Rajasuya Yagya, thus cementing the feeling of respect that He had for Her, personally. Sita was never looked down upon as a daughter by King Janaka either. But as a Queen, She was let down by the masses who questioned Her purity. Let’s not blame the religion for that. And in Hindu marriages, the circumambulation (‘pheras’) that we take around Agni, when we say our vows, necessitates that the groom too follow the bride in 3 of the ‘pheras’. We conveniently forget all this, blindly accept that ‘might is right’ and then proceed to wreak havoc on womankind through brute force. Rapes are a clear result of this kind of thought process. In the past, this kind of thought would have marked one off as an ‘Asura’ and would have had people praying to have one killed.
Coming back to entry of women into certain temples, my view is that there must have been some specific reason to stop the entry of women into these temples. Hinduism, per se, is a very scientific religion and it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why such restrictions were placed in the first place. The temple authorities, priests and Peethadeeshas of the Shree Mathas of regions should be brought together and their decision or recommendation should be adhered to. There should be no scope for women to feel inconsequential or inferior with the decision taken. Let us work towards changing mindsets with regard to women. Let our dignity depend not on who we are, not on our births but on what we are, what our achievement is.
Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya!