Sabarimala verdict and the challenge of the two scales- Faith and Rationality-
Faith is an extension of our life. A key ingredient that makes living possible. It is not something limited to our religious excursions. It is the boat in which you sit and row while attempting to make sense of the life you’re living in. Let’s forget about God for a while; let’s not believe in him for a while. What can happen? Nothing. You still wake up believing in something, most definitely in yourself. Without faith you can’t do anything. You’re dead. Faith prompts us to do our daily work. We have faith in our relationships- with our spouse, our children, and friends. Riding on this energy of faith we enter and explore what life throws at us. A guruswamy tells you what to do as far as rituals are concerned. You have faith in him, follow his instructions in order to raise your energy levels. The rest of the journey is in your own hands. A guru can take you to the edge if you let him, but the leap is of your choice. What you choose to do with the tool-ritual- you received is also entirely up to you.
Faith pushes you to continue with your work in spite of the daily hindrances that come your way. And if you’re on a spiritual journey to a temple where you face the challenges of a vratam-here too faith pushes you on. A vratam is an opportunity to be aware of yourself as you build a dam on your inner temptations, beliefs and patterned behavior. How did you respond when the water rose within; what behavioral patterns and beliefs came floating in the floods? This is vratam. The idea is not just to break out of it, but also to conquer it. To master it, not be a slave to it. And if you muster the will to do that, during the period of vratam, the very same will power is bound to be reflected in your daily life- whether at your work place or at home. Essentially you are challenged either way. Working in an office space or on your way to Sabarimala. One inward, one outward; and life moves on with man carrying both these scales; struggling to balance them both, whether you believe in it or not, like it or not. Some fall inward; all your energy invested in the understanding of the ruminations inside of oneself. It’s a struggle for them to come out and live normally, following the dictates of a society. Some are so comfortable outside, they avoid the uneven inner landscapes and struggle to go inside.
Justice and law- riding the inner and the outer-
Now take a look at the symbol of justice and law. A Greek goddess, ironically the woman again. There’s a scroll that she holds representing knowledge and the flow of time. The wheel of time churns continuously bringing in new cultures, new knowledge, new learning. And those in power who wield the double edged sword of Justice must have the knowledge and willingness to dip into these seemingly parallel and contradictory tracks of the religious and the faithful; and the rational and the so called faithless. She’s also blindfolded, which suggests her sense of equality and her ability to see through both and judge without prejudice.
Now, on your way to a temple or to your office it’s all about a voice that you listen to. The faithful, the innocent, is willing to listen to the voice of a guru- a man on the outside. The faithless rationalists will also listen to a voice, but from the inside- a collective voice of a million ancestors and their wisdom that flows through us as the river of time flows. So there really is no difference between the habits of the faithful and the atheists. Their preferences differ, that’s all. The guru inside or the guru outside; guru indeed; and someone wiser than you. Call it by whatever name, the fragrance of the rose smells just as sweet said a poet. So true here. And yet we have endless debates amongst both believers while truth listens. Now, the paths we choose will have to be different, it has to be; we’re not clones, not puppets, not of the same capabilities, but of the same capacities. We’re made of the same five elements but in different proportions. And accordingly we choose to be earthier, watery, fiery, airy, spaced out! If there’s too much fire in me I don’t douse it completely nor do I fan it unnecessarily. Can I find a balance? It’s a treatment for your doshas like in Ayurveda- In winter you consume pepper rasa and in summer you cool yourself with more water. You don’t go on having rasam even when your body is screaming no.
So what’s the fight about? Our plural paths, our choice of religion and identities, our nature? Who can deny us the very root of our existence? But what we have to remember again and again and again as conscious individuals, and as community creatures is that we just have to be open to new knowledge streams, to understanding the larger picture in which we are participating and walking. To expanding our perception. We look up to people of wisdom- philosophers, poets, scientists, saints, rishis, gods, and deities precisely because they have overcome dualities in life. They have understood and can control all energies- anger, greed, sex, jealousy, hatred… and are capable of guiding too; which is not easy; and a totally different ball game. I believe that the Hindu religion is vast and complete; it is accessible to all, open and courageous in its exploratory nature. There are so many men who have reached enlightenment, but women are far too little in most religious cultures. And yet the feminine is the pathway. Movement is feminine, nature is feminine. There is no Siva without Sakthi. Only the egoistic mind is troubled and wants to establish supremacy of one over the other. Therefore if there is a dearth of women saints and priests I can only gauge that they’re plain not interested, definitely not because they’re not qualified.
Sabarimala, women and the Supreme Court-
I believe it is best to go the Supreme Court way. Let women decide if they want to go or not. But nobody has a right to threaten them. No religious construct however pious and sacred ought to be above the individual. Because it’s the individual who creates his or her gods. She comes first. He too for that matter. But most women by nature have no vested interest in gatecrashing into a bachelor’s party. She’s quite capable of having her own party. But you can’t deny her rights; this denial being very common. And in most cases if the rights are there, the law will not be implemented. One thing is for sure. Earlier she was discriminated against, menstruating or not, and called impure. Not by the sacred texts, but by the priests. This is what she believed in because this is what the potbellied priests, those qualified in religious matters and the society made her believe. No one discussed the science of it then, like we are doing now. Society made her feel like an untouchable, impure. The feminine in us is pure even when the body is menstruating and the energy flow is downward. In fact it is an even bigger opportunity for women to transcend all the negativity that arises, since it’s intense, clear and present. With awareness we can send it to the junk folder in one shot. I have a very strong suspicion that if women go they will reach the ultimate. And if women reach, their men will also reach. Together our society will be a richer place.
Where were all the Hindu priests and advocates of religion until a few weeks back? Clearly it suited the priestly class to exercise their power and blow their inferior trumpets. And now because it suits them either politically or otherwise they suddenly appear as saviors, educating and saving women by announcing that women are not impure when they menstruate, thus also absolving themselves! Two birds in one shot. Trust them to be smart. Like our hero Rajini sir who sends the villains to the heroine and then blasts them into extinction. She’s smitten. Well done.
Now let’s cool our heels and take refuge and understand the science of the feminine and masculine energies, just like we did in the case of menstruation and declared that she’s not impure. You carry something inside your body and you are not impure. When it comes out as excreta or blood it becomes impure! Let’s consider the two scales of balance- one with the inner and the other with the outer world that all human beings carry around with them. What we must try and do if at all anything, is to aid its balance. Instead we incite the women, evoke their faith and bhakti and rally them around deftly towards their own downfall. And if the woman falls she will bring the society down with her. If anything her presence will restore the purity of Sabarimala; will make it more complete. They should be allowed to go if they want to. But not stamping across chest thumping male victims lying on the ground. It’s difficult for women, you see, it’s uneven. They might stumble and fall. So quit the theatrics and treat them with dignity.
She’s the Mahakali you kept away for all these years. Bring her back in, celebrate her return, and restore your balance.
Hinduism explores both negative and positive energies-
A ritual is not just prevalent in a place of worship, like a temple, a mosque, a church or during ceremonies. We engage in rituals every day whether you’re in a pooja room alone in your house devoted to an idol made of clay, or at your office or at any institution you are a part of. Watch yourself and you will see that you blindly walk, talk, work, every day. We cook the same food in the same way at the same time, dress the same way and talk the same way; and engage in the same topics of conversation ritualistically. This blindness is quite normal- following structures either knowingly or forced upon us by the vast blind majority of a society. We are quick to pull out Hindu religious rituals and find fault in it precisely because they are far too many, and easy for people to pick and find fault. But this is the same quality that makes this religion so vast, so inclusive, celebratory and respectful of every kind of energy that man is capable of experiencing. So you do not deify just the usual shanthi bhava or just energies of love and compassion. We pray to gods in even the raudra bhava or a bhibhatsa bhava. We have Kali, we have Narasimha, and we have a Kala Bhairav. Even Ravana an asura is not totally rejected. He was a great devotee of lord Siva. In fact the proud Lakshmana learnt his greatest lesson of humility from a dying Ravana.
So the Hindu religion explores both positive and negative energies in mankind. It is a very human and down to earth religion that is accessible to anyone- whether you consider yourself as an asura or a deva the gods will accept your petition. Middle men always create problems, but that’s the nature of their job. It is best to go straight to the gods. Unfortunately this tight rope walk and this edginess can also be problematic and can tilt towards exclusivity. But look at the positive aspects of it. It’s a moving river; not bound by one religious text, or temple or ritual and it has always welcomed change. Therefore its plurality, its sacredness and the multiple rituals it adheres to in the different temples of various deities or energy beings. One can be a plant or an animal, a mineral, a stone or a bird or a fish, or anything for that matter. There is some story in the Puranas that embraces all. Even a poor miserable rat has it place. We’re a very scientific lot. We just believed in the five elements that made us all, and we simply tried to put our shradha or attention or prayer on these in order to strengthen ourselves in body mind and spirit. Panchabhoothas-These were our gods; basic, simple knowledge of the Vedic period.
As the river flowed, thank god we had a Sri Narayana guru and Vaikom Satyagraha and temple entry proclamations. Yes, caste is and was an issue. Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Sufism, Islam, Christianity, Bhakti movements- we are a flow; a mingling of very many religions and cultures; and so you can see a Vavar palli in Sabarimala next to the Ayyappa temple. Isn’t that proof enough for the rationalists that Hinduism is a truly unique, living, plural culture? Never mind who came first at Sabarimala- this is not child’s play. A Siva temple that became a Buddhist temple with an Avalokiteswara; then a coming together of a Saivite and a Vaishnavite in our hari hara suthan. (Google for Rajeev Srinivasan rediff.com) The fact is that many cultures came together. This is a tribute to those who were in power then, who showed us the right way. They must have truly believed that each Hindu was a religion unto oneself, and for oneself. ‘Seeking’ without a goal was the very goal; and not ‘finding.’ This is due to the understanding of “tat tvam asi”- you are that; you only need to realize it.
Idols represent energy states-
It is very important to think of these idols as representing certain energies, certain states of emotional being that go beyond the physical form. Those who go to Sabarimala address each other as swami- referring to the lord himself within us. Reiterating the idea of becoming one with him. Experiencing his stillness. And this is where the rituals are leading us to. A discipline that guides you to raise your energy levels. Now if you look through your physical eyes you will wonder, how can a woman become one with Ayyappa swami when he himself is a celibate? But if you see him as a combination of the feminine and masculine energies that move within us, then you will also see that celibacy is not just of the body, it is of the mind too. It’s a matter of finding a balance of these energies in you. And all higher energy beings are yogis capable of both motherly love and its extreme opposite of an annihilation of the egoic mind. Like a coming together of Siva and Shakti in the Ardhanareeshwara concept.
But if all the males in Kerala reject the feminine within themselves, and all the women reject the masculine in themselves, they will never be able to live together because the other is always a mystery, far away and separate. This is why men are insecure and harm women. It will be a big joke in this age; an unnecessary lie that we will be living. Like ostriches their heads buried in the mud pretending that we are not tall enough to see far ahead. Kerala must show the way, with its rich cultural history. And women are any day much more celibate than the man can ever be; and are capable of going through any vratam. Ask any married woman and she will tell you that without love, no marriage is worth it. Without love, sex is not worth it. And yet man has concocted this gaze, and stories to go with it which project women as sexual objects and his commodity. And by constant repetition by a society, women start believing it too. So these are frivolous arguments that prevent women’s entry into temples. Convenient, yes. Does she want to go; that is a different issue.
Energy and its playing field-
We talked of various energies and their different bhava. How does it play out in your daily life? A very vital question to ask ourselves. The answer is through the relationships that we form. That between a mother and her child, a husband and wife, a friend; with your parents, teachers, guru. Have no doubt, all this is what life is about; God is about. All gods without exception of any religion. We have the opportunity and the capability of moving deep into either of these states of being and experiencing the bhavas or emotions connected with it. But you have to dwell in there until you dissolve in the other and lose your identity. There are stories of deep friendships between a Krishna and a Sudama, of a little Prahlada whose Bhakti brought the Ugra Narasimha Murty to appear from a stone pillar; and in the most gruesome imagery I have ever seen, lord Vishnu happily digs into the asuras guts and garlands himself with that blood and gore. But what does the child see? Wasn’t he scared? No, in a state of bhakti you don’t see with your physical eye. The hymn by Melpathur Bhattathiripad goes on to say that when this Ugra Murty saw Prahlada his eyes immediately melted in compassion, and he lovingly placed his hands on the child’s head. The lord and the child not separate anymore, one with each other. (Check Edamana Vasudevan Namboothiri Narayaneeyam 25.flv on u tube)
There’s no other way to reach God space without dying in the other. Without shedding your identities. Hinduism gives me the right to choose the path most suitable for me. It doesn’t force me into any one relationship. I can marry, not marry, have a child, serve a parent, have a deep friendship, surrender to the right guru, be an atheist, go or not go to any temple; my options are spread all over. And that is the blessing too. Now the problem is that these are not mere words. There’s a walking involved here. A swimming in either of these options will throw hindrances at you. Because you’re walking on your own constructs, hardened mindsets- it’s a living creature, the mind. But you must twist and turn these rigid cubes to make new pathways, new colors, and new patterns like you do to a Rubik cube. And you must do it.
Role of rituals-
This is where rituals come in. They’re not some mindless nonsense that is introduced. There’s a mindful wisdom in these constructs- Aacharam. They are to be used in order for you to leap into thin air, into nothing, into a state of stillness, dissolution. Once you leap the pole vaulter leaves the pole- (rituals.) You must leave it, otherwise you can’t fly. You will use the pole and fly and fall; fly again and fall again a thousand times perhaps, before you get the hang of it. So yes, have a bath in the morning, but mindfully; stuffing a tulsi leaf in your hair doesn’t particularly make you anymore sacred than a cat or a dog, if its value is not understood and done in the right spirit. And celibacy is to be practiced with all your senses. When you look at a woman and see her as a sexual being most of the year and in 41 days- lo and behold! Aren’t we ambitious! But yes if our yogis and saints have said it, anything is possible in 41 days. But if the rituals are blind what is the point? That is why we must listen to our atheist friends too, who can wake us up every now and then. Even they will agree to the rationale of encountering relationships in life. Of the role of bhava and rasa in our life’s. It takes all kinds to complete the journey towards truth. No religion knows it better than Hinduism.
My mother tells me that my great grand uncle, Nalapat Narayana Menon a rishi himself did upasana of the Lakshmi Narasimha murty salagrama. And when he passed away there was no tantri who had the energy to take his place and perform those poojas with such intensity. So the sacred stone went to the Guruvayoor temple. This is a man who wrote the mind boggling Aarsha Jnanam. A coming together of quantum physics, religion, rituals, tantra, mantra, spirituality. I request all tantris to read it. We are nobody to reduce the teachings and the hard earned essence of this land in a fit of amnesia and fury.
But rituals can change with time if needed and they have changed, but keeping their essence intact. Not because it is politically motivated or convenient for us. The practice of Sati which was abolished cannot be used as an example to favour change in our current rituals. Most rituals in temples are not social evils, and their role has already been talked about-raising energy levels towards love and compassion. But in Sabarimala, keeping women away was just convenience or male hegemony. Why blame Ayyappa swami. And who exactly are we fooling here? The women of this land? That sacred womb from which everyman is born, or the sacred feminine expressions present in every man? Yes, women are culpable. You trigger their compassionate side, their bhakti, faith, and they will melt. You can make them rally around you evoking their faith, and they will swarm the streets with placards that say “we will wait till we’re fifty.” Bhakti is a state of being. It doesn’t really want anything; neither does it particularly feel the need to go anywhere. Wherever there is such intense bhakti, Ayyappa swami’s energy too must be there, in that house, in that woman. Women have a hunch that they have already climbed the mountains and merged with the lord. Where to go when he’s inside you; which mountain to climb when the ones inside remain as hindrance? The irony is that the celibate husbands will eat what their untouchable wives have cooked, and the women will be relieved to serve food to their ambitious counterparts, thankfully observing celibacy for a change.
The sacred feminine path-
The feminine is the path, if dissolving into Harihara suthan is the intention. So men, don’t keep the women away, look into their eyes, the seat of their souls, and you will feel happy that she can accompany you to Sabarimala instead of feeling threatened. You will be doing your own self a big favor. Remember the Mahakali Sri yantra on those eighteen steps that you stamp while moving towards dissolution. Evoke her ferocity and compassion at every step and ask her to kill your egoistic mind in its various grabs, including the more dangerous garb of the spiritual seeker. Without her feminine encounter you cannot reach. Sorry. And where do you reach, but glimpses of a heightened state of awareness. I’m a practicing Hindu- as they call it these days. As much as my awareness permits; though not necessarily in temples. I see the ancient wisdom behind the multitude of rituals practiced in different temples in different ways and respect and admire the path laid out. And it is this Hindu way of life, this divergent pathway that allows it to embrace all other religious streams; not as a favor, but because it sees the same love and compassion in other religions too- the same walking of a path; a reigning in the senses or perhaps using the senses and raising energies until it transforms into love and compassion. But this Hindu attitude is not a weakness. Other religions and followers of other practices must quit the aggression of trying to devour Hinduism through devious means; let’s not play the game of only my religion is the way, so you convert. It’s too silly for this day and age, and violent and destructive.
What is more pressing in these times is that the tantris must speak out and educate the men on the basis of various practices in temples, without getting so rigid and paranoid about it. If the floods had occurred after the judgement I’m absolutely sure the women would have been blamed for it! We just narrowly missed it. Most satsangs/saptahams are thronged by women, though it’s the men who need to adjust their scales, tilt their preferences and widen their perception.
The self is not known through the study of scriptures, nor through subtlety of intellect, nor through much learning. But it is revealed to the one who longs to know the self says the Upanishads. The moment, we start asking questions about our life and the cosmos, we gain the necessary velocity to spin off from the ambit of Maya or ignorance. In short, we are all on the path…
My deepest gratitude to Bharat Thakur- artist, friend, philosopher, guide. My family and friends who have shaped my understanding, and our legendary saints and soldiers who have carved our paths.
Anuradha Nalapat 2018