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Indian temple priests turn back women, defying court ruling

Hindu priests and temple staff sit on a protest against a ruling from India's top court to let women of menstruating age entering Sabarimala temple, one of the world's largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. The country's Supreme Court had on Sept. 28, lifted the temple's ban on women of menstruating age, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender. Two young women, a journalist and an activist, were forced to turn back after they had reached the temple precincts under a heavy police escort. (AP Photo)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Dozens of Hindu priests on Friday joined conservative protesters to block women of menstruating age from one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, defying a ruling from India’s top court to let them enter.


RELATED: Indian temple set to allow entry to females who menstruate


The priests threatened to stop rituals and prayers in the Sabarimala temple in southern Kerala state if women ages 10-50 tried to enter the shrine.

“We have decided to lock the temple and hand over the keys and leave. I stand with the devotees. I do not have any other option” said Kandararu Rajeevaru, the head priest.

Indian activist Rehana Fathima, center wearing black helmet, is escorted by policemen as she attempts to enter Sabarimala temple, one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. Dozens of Hindu priests on Friday joined conservative protesters to block women of menstruating age from one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, defying a ruling from India’s top court to let them enter. Rehana and another young woman journalist were forced to turn back after they had reached the temple precincts under a heavy police escort. (AP Photo)

Two young women, a journalist and an activist, were forced to turn back after they had reached the temple precincts under a heavy police escort.

Kadakampalli Surendran, a Kerala state minister, said the temple was not a place for activism and the government was not responsible for providing security to activists. He implied that authorities initially thought the two women were genuine devotees but at the end refused to enforce the court ruling to let them enter.

The minister’s statement came despite the fact that the state government, run by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), vowed to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The two women were met with protests from the priests who sat on the steps leading to the temple, clapping and chanting religious hymns. Hundreds of police had set up a security ring as the two women trekked 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the temple complex.

Hundreds of protesters have blocked the entry of women of menstruating age since the temple reopened on Wednesday following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Sept. 28 that says equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender.

The temple will remain open for five-day monthly prayers until Oct. 22.

Protesters vowed to file a petition with the Supreme Court next week seeking a review of the ruling. They say the celibacy of the temple’s presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is protected by India’s Constitution, and that women of all ages can worship at other Hindu temples. Some Hindu figures consider menstruating women to be impure.

The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the temple, held a meeting Friday and decided to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court next week highlighting the “grave situation prevailing at the temple,'” said A. Padmakumar, the board president.

The entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 to the centuries-old temple was banned informally for many years, and then by law in 1972.

In 1991, the Kerala High Court confirmed the ban until it was struck down by India’s Supreme Court.

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Ashok Sharma

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  • The headline suggests that it was the priests who denied entry to the two women. The headline is wrong: Hindu priests don’t have that sort of agency. Perhaps a priest of a church has agency over his church, but Hindu priests don’t have agency over temples.

    Who has agency over temples? Recall that this temple is run by the state government. Therefore the state government’s minister and the police chief have a lot of say. It is significant that “Kadakampalli Surendran, a Kerala state minister, said the temple was not a place for activism”. That, and not the Hindu priests, was the key to stopping the two women. The police stopped the two women on the say-so of the minister, not the say-so of the Hindu priests.

  • I wonder how many of those who consider menstruating women to be impure have thought about the fact that it is those very women who make it possible for men to be born.

  • These women are trying to destroy Hinduism. This is South India where Hinduism is strongest and purest. Once a Temple is tainted devotees stop going to that Temple. It literally could kill the Temple. In order to cleanse the Temple of the spiritual impurity caused by a menstruating female, the Priests have to engage in weeks long cleansing ceremonies. In the Temple resides the “living God” within the “Murthi” . In a contaminated Temple the God leaves. It is an empty shell.
    .
    Even then pilgrims stop coming. Hindu Temples rely a lot on the funds of pilgrims. The Tirumala Temple in Tirupathi Andhra Pradesh is the 2nd largest money earner in the world of any religious place, and only next to the Vatican. Each day it receives around 60 thousand devotees. On special days that number can surge to over 100 thousand.
    .
    In the past when invading armies would vandalize temples and left the devotees also abandoned them. Many simply were lost as forest cover took over. Spiritual contamination is the underpinning of the Hindu system. From the caste system , to diet, to every aspect in life revolves around spiritual gain to loss to contamination. the ritualistic bathing done each day in holy rivers is to cleanse any spiritual impurities through contact or action.

  • Long before the state of Kerala was formed this temple existed. The laws governing this temple precede the existence of Kerala or the Indian Supreme court.

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