My friend S was browsing on her smartphone when she opened the door for me.
‘Ah, found it! The complete route map to Shabarimala! I will plan the itinerary tomorrow Oh, there is so much to do!’ She was bristling with excitement and rubbed her hands together in anticipation. ‘Finally managed to put those patriarchal MCPs in place and got our right to visit Shabarimala! Congrats to you too!’ she added.
‘Uh?’ Before I could get a word in edgewise, she went off again.
‘I have to shop for some trekking gear, cargo pants and other stuff. Apparently, it is some pretty wild forest and the trek would be great fun,’ she stopped and looked at me speculatively. ‘Would you like to……Naaah, I guess not! It would be a mixed crowd of young people…. (???!!! But then, when youth icons can be pushing 50, she must surely be considered ‘young’, even if she is closer to my age!)….and we would be partying en route, you know,’ she winked. I decided to ignore that. Not difficult, considering our PM had ignored another wink from another ‘youth’ not long back.
‘But there are rigorous vrats to observe if you want to make the trip to Sabarimala,’ I ventured.
‘Says who? We are just trekking to Shabarimala. Not making a pilgrimage. Moreover, no one can dictate terms to us,’ she replied defiantly.
I sighed. It was clear that she had no clue about Sabarimala, the Deity or anything connected with it.’
‘So you have decided to visit Ayyappa!’ I said.
‘Ayyappa? Who is that?’ she asked with a frown. ‘I said I am visiting Shabarimala, not some Ayyappa or Ayyo-ppa!’ she guffawed at her own joke.
‘But if you visit Sabarimala….’
‘I don’t have time to visit anyone this time. Just Shabarimala. Only, I am wondering why our patriarchal society has barred women from visiting Shabari’s temple. Wasn’t she a woman too? Bah!’
I finally understood her reason for pronouncing Sabarimala as Shabarimala!!
‘But…but…’ I sputtered.
‘Oh, I know all about how Shabari offered the half-eaten ber to Rama when he was on vanvas, so that he only got the sweet ones. Such a waste on a misogynist icon of the foolish masses of this country! I am curious to see the woman who deified that man and has a temple in her name! It is because of women like her’… (she gave me an accusing look) ‘…..that we have to fight for every little thing at the highest court,’ she sounded disgusted.
I cleared my throat. ‘But S dear, I’m afraid that if you visit Sabarimala, you will necessarily meet Ayyappa! He lives there!’
‘Oh, another male chauvinist! I’m sure he is the reason why women have not been allowed to go to Shabarimala, even to visit Shabari!’ she sputtered in rage.
I tried to don a deadpan face. ‘Oh, but he is such a great warrior prince! He had even ridden a tigress when he was a young lad. Such a handsome prince he was!’
‘Oh, is that so? That is so interesting! Maybe I will make some time to visit this Ayyappa! But tell me about his riding the tigress – it sounds so romantic and exciting!’
‘He was sent by his mother to bring tiger’s milk to cure her stomach-ache. The young boy did better and brought home the whole tigress, who not only came with him willingly but also allowed him to ride her!’
‘Oh, I knew it! A mama’s boy, who must have grown up into a male chauvinist, victimizing women!’ she snorted.
‘Not so. You see, he was adopted and the queen was afraid that her own son would not inherit the throne if Manikanthan (Manikandan) remained alive and plotted against him, by faking the stomach-ache. She had thought that he would be killed by the wild animals in the forest, but when he came back, not with one but a whole streak of tigers, she lost her nerve and her minister confessed to the plot.’
‘Wait, wait! Now, who is this Manikanthan?’
‘It was the name given by the king of Pandala, who had adopted the divine child he had brought home from the forest, as the child had a small bell tied around his neck.’
‘Ah! Now that is a sweet name! I will call him Mani. I am sure he must have been very handsome as well as brave,’ she continued.
‘He was. He was expert at martial arts in addition to other princely accomplishments.’
‘Then who is Ayyappa?’ she was confused.
‘Oh, that! When the queen and others understood that He was no ordinary child, they were contrite. But Manikandan had decided to go back to the forest to meditate. He promised his father and others that He would remain on Sabarimala till Kaliyuga ended and bestow His grace upon His devotees. His devotees affectionately called Him Ayyappa,’ I said.
At this point, I thought I should show S the picture of Ayyappa and found one on Google for her. Her eyes fairly popped out at the sight of the Deity, who sat there with love and grace pouring forth from His eyes. ‘Here, you can refer to this link if you want to know more about Him.’
‘Why he is as handsome as Ram!’ she exclaimed.
‘Ram?’ I gasped. ‘You mean Ram of Ramayana, that misogynist for whose proposed temple, intolerant and fanatical Hindus are clamouring?’
There was a sudden change in her tone. A faraway look came into her eyes. ‘Do you know, in our village, we have Ram Lila every year and the role of Ram always goes to some member of our extended family,’ her voice was soft, almost inaudible.
‘But I thought you were saying the other day that Ravan is the actual hero….’
‘Haven’t you heard of haathi ke daant**?’ she suddenly grinned with a girlish charm. Ah, this was like my old friend! I heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe I can talk to her now, I thought.
‘About Ayyappa…’ I began.
‘You mean Mani? Well, I will say hi to him from you!’ she blew a kiss in my direction. ‘Come let me drop you home. I will pick up the shorts and other stuff for our trip on my way back,’ she said, almost shooing me away from her house. I was shocked at the sudden change in her.
‘And, oh, did I tell you that we are filing a petition in the SC to abolish dress codes at temples in the south? Imagine sweating away in a sari or suit in those stuffy, crowded temples! The most suitable attire for such places is a short skirt or short shorts! We have a meeting on that issue tomorrow. Sheesh! What a bore, running to the SC for every basic right!’
My eyes had rolled into my head. I had to hastily pull them back before they disappeared completely.
‘And then run along and buy a long evening gown for the New Year Eve dance, because that is the dress code at the posh hotel, right?’
Maybe I had not spoken aloud and was just was thinking this in my head because she tossed her hair and went to the driver’s side without responding. Or had I?
‘Will I ever figure out her haathi ke daant?’ I wondered as I got into the car.
**Haathi ke daant khane ke aur dikhane ke aur is a Hindi proverb. Loosely translated, it means: the elephant has a set of teeth to show off and another set to chew with.
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Finally, I got to read this post. Seriously, what has gotten into people’s head meddling with stuff? I am not a superstitious person but I leave certain things as they are. I don’t like to meddle with them. I have a post lying in my drafts forever on this topic. I think I should shake the dust off of it. 🙂
Dust it off and post it soon. Would love to read your take. I remember the Varalakshmi vratham post of yours 🙂
Yes, it seems that today’s ‘liberals’ do think as your imaginary (?) friend, S, does!
When you wrote this post, the shocking attempts of the various spurious devotees to climb up to, and enter the temple, had not yet taken place. I wonder whether the learned SC judges could have foreseen that this would happen? Where will this end?
The learned SC judges only go by the most persuasive argument, and god knows what other compulsions, while meddling with Hindu customs, temple rituals and festivities. And now that the Kerala government has stepped in to put down the agitating devotees, one can only see the beginning of a series of such assaults. It is sad and sinister at the same time.
As long as there are people seeing misogyny in everything because they can’t understand
that it is the difference between men and women that makes the world beautiful
that by being physically able to do things men do is not the end all of equality
that our ancestors were more equality minded than the courts today
that many of these movements are fueled by vested interests who desire the breakdown of our dharma and the women are merely pawns…
The foundation of the most beautiful and ancient dharm will be eroded from within by the same people who fight for equality without knowing the true meaning of it. I cringe when I think about the day the ones celebrating today like your friend S realize they were used by the real misogynists to advance their agenda and it was never about a fight for equality.
I agree with the points you have made. Today everything is being reduced to a man-woman thing, which is ridiculous, just as much as finding caste shades in idli and sambar! As I often say, ultimately Santana Dharma will thrive and revive only from outside India. Keep the flag flying high!
‘The foundation of the most beautiful and ancient dharm will be eroded from within by the same people who fight for equality without knowing the true meaning of it.’ – True to an extent, but those who are fighting for the equal rights are NOT fighting from within the community. For instance, the PIL was filed by a Muslim MAN! Can there be a bigger irony? Yes, women have to learn the bitter fact that most of the time they are being used by the same misogynists they are fighting in real life.
Rolling eyes, tearing hair in distress, oh God! Honestly the people contesting these rights have no head or tail knowledge of the backgrpund of it. For those in the know, they will continue to follow their faith and now antiquated beliefs.
Why antiquated beliefs, Kala? Those who believe in a particular tradition, especially something that is of historic recentness as in the Sabarimala case, no one has the right to meddle in them. Did you hear about the Kerala HC throwing out the petition demanding that women be allowed to pray alongside men in mosques, just today? If anything pertaining to other religions are handled with kid gloves by the courts and the government, who gives them the authority to meddle in temple affairs, and that too individual temples and overturning local customs and traditions? The answer lies in the way laws have been laid and enforced by successive governments to serve skewed justice in such matters. As you have said, those who respect the traditions will not go even now, but those who are raring to go clearly don’t have any religious or spiritual motive to do so, don’t you agree?
This is the tragedy of our Bharatavarsham!
We are ‘chasing shadows’ and in the process just leaving the substance behind!
Will our women & men see sense! When?
As long as matter relating to Hindu culture and traditions is distorted and ruled over by the government and the judiciary, this trend will continue and people who have no stakes in such issues will continue to meddle with them.