Constitutional Law Judiciary Opinion


Sabarimala Temple

Sabarimala Temple

Women is not lesser or inferior to man. Patriarchy of religion cannot be permitted to trump over faith. Biological or physiological reasons cannot be accepted in freedom for faith Religion is basically way of life however certain practices create incongruities”, 

Mukul Bansal, Panjab University, 23 August, 2020, 11:15 PM IST

Cramps in her gut but sari is on point, She stood in the queue for pushpanjali, Maa, standing beside, rolling her eye. Is it the Fourth day? She winked and grinned ‘No. but a new day’

Sabarimala Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Ayyappan situated at Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala, India.

According to the “Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States”, published in two volumes by the Madras government in the 19th century, women of menstruating age were denied entry into the Sabarimala temple even two centuries ago. They follows the custom that “Old women and young girls may approach the temple, but those who have attained the age of puberty and to a certain term are forbidden to approach as all sexual intercourse in that vicinity is averse to this deity (Lord Ayyappa)?? Prior to 1991 when the Kerala High Court  forbade the entry of women to Sabarimala, several women had visited the temple sporadically, although mostly for non-religious reasons .At Sabarimala temple women  visits  the temple to conduct the first rice-feeding ceremony of their children at the temple premises. On May 13, 1940, even the Maharani of Travancore is recorded to have visited the temple. In 1986, when young boll wood actresses  danced near the deity at the pathinettam padi (18 steps) for the Tamil movie named  Nambinar Keduvathillai a fine of Rs. 1000 each was imposed on the actresses and the director of the movie. The Devaswom Board, the board in charge of the maintenance of the temple and premises was also fined Rs. 7500, because it had given the director permission to film at Sabarimala. 

Following a court case in connection with this event, the high court of Kerala prohibited the entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age to Sabarimala because the people over their think that a woman at that age is under a menstruation period and are impure and because of that she cannot enter the doors of the temple. In 1995, the then district collector Valsala Kumari of 42 years old visited Sabarimala shrine (but didn’t visit sanctum) under special permission to get firsthand information about the conditions at the temple in connection with her official duties and became the first woman to do so legitimately.In the same year, the local press reported the story of two young women, possibly wives of VIPs, who entered the shrine despite police vigilance. 

But on 1990– S Mahendran files plea in Kerala HC seeking ban on women’s entry to temple.    S.Mahendran vsTheSecretary, Travancore[1]

A Division Bench of the Kerala HC had, on April 5, 1991, examined the Sabarimala Thanthri (chief priest) and upheld the restriction on women of a particular age group offering worship at the shrine.

The HC Bench of Justices K. Paripoornan and K.B. Marar held that the prohibition imposed by the Travancore Devaswom Board was not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution. Neither was it violative of the provisions of the Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965 as the prohibition was only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class.

The HC examined Ravivarma Raja of the Pandalam royal family, to which the temple belonged, and the Ayyappa Seva Sangham secretary. The verdict referred to the belief that the deity is a ‘Naisthik Brahmachari. The Hon’ble High Court as well as The Kerala government urged the Court to consider the assertion made in 1991 by the then Sabarimala Thanthri Sri Neelakandaru that women belonging to the 10 to 50 age group were prohibited from entering the temple even before 1950.

After a long time period a case was filled by Indian Young Lawyers association in 2006.

2006– A petition challenging the ban was filed in the Supreme Court by Indian Young Lawyers Association on the grounds that the rule violates the freedom to follow and propagate religion, listed in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. But there also Kerala government appealed to the Supreme Court that the beliefs and customs of devotees cannot be altered by means of judicial process and the priest’s opinion in final. However, hon’ble Supreme Court had referred the issue to a larger constitutional bench. 

Jan 11, 2016– Two-judge bench of SC questions practice banning entry of women at the temple 

Two religious bodies have moved the Supreme Court supporting the PIL seeking entry of women in the historic Sabarimala temple in Kerala saying no ritual or custom can be used as grounds to discriminate against women in the matter of worship. Kerala-based bodies Hind Navotthana Pratishtan, through President Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, and Narayanashrama Tapovanam, through its Managing Trustee Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, have filed the plea seeking to intervene in the PIL being heard by a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra. They further added that “No temple ritual, ceremony or custom can …be made any ground for discriminating against women in the matter of worshiping in any temple, including Sabarimala, as it is a clear violation of the constitutional equality and freedom guaranteed for men and women alike,” the plea, filed through lawyer Ravi P Mehrotra, said.

Referring to some religious texts, it said “no defence or refuge to the practice of disallowing women devotees can thus be taken in the case of Sabarimala Temple and Deity, or any other public places of worship, on the ground of widespread/ long-standing belief and custom. “Just as customs can be good, noble and great, they can also be derogatory, destructive and retrograde, as has happened in the case of women, their religious status and equality…,” it said.

No custom or practice can claim any credence or exemption on any ground and the Constitution is supreme, it said, adding that the temples come under Constitution and the laws enacted under it.


Aniket Dwivedi

After all the hearing the case went to the constitutional bench and Five-judge constitution bench starts hearing the matter.

In January 2018 Temple authorities make it mandatory for female devotees to furnish their age proof while visiting the Temple. The decision came after a number of women from the banned age group were detained while entering Sabarimala. But the ban on women from entering the Temple was latterly lifted up by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on September 28, 2018.

September 28, 2018 the judgment was laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court with a 5 judge constitutional The Supreme Court has delivered one of the most keenly awaited judgment in Sabarimala case. by a 4:1 majority, the Court has permitted entry of women of all age groups to the Sabarimala temple, holding that ‘devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination’.

 The lone woman in the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, dissented. Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R F Nariman, Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud constituted the majority. They framed that:

Women is not lesser or inferior to man. Patriarchy of religion cannot be permitted to trump over faith. Biological or physiological reasons cannot be accepted in freedom for faith Religion is basically way of life however certain practices create incongruities”, 

After the judgment was passed by the hon’ble Supreme Court the ban was lifted up from the entry of women from entering the Temple of Sabarimala, still  the women in Kerela are not having courage to move to temple because they are scared that will the men in temple will let them entre the doors of the Sabarimala. Once an attempt was made by 2 women, that to
under the police safety, this should not happen.

In the end I just want to say that:

“Culture does not make people. People make Culture .If it is true that the full humanity of the women is not our Culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”

[1] AIR 1993 Ker 42

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