I know as I start typing these words on the keyboard a huge world of people are going to be very disappointed in me...but I am what I am...and feel compelled to write what I feel very strongly from my innermost being.
From an early age, I was very spiritual. My parents are god-fearing and instilled in me the presence of a higher power. I am fairly ritualistic...but do not know any hindu chants/sholkas etc. My commune with God was and is a deep communication which I have nurtured through a pattern of daily prayers. I think from an early age I came to believe that not all is humanly possible...there are situations/ events that can drain you....there are human beings who will hurt you...and in all these happenings if you surrender to a higher power...you are able to draw the strength to keep moving inspite of all obstacles.
I guess everybody in this world finds ways and means to cope and move ahead...for me it was largely through the spiritual strength churned out of daily meditation and prayers. Over the years, I started developing my personal symbols of hope & strength. The female deities who were embodiment of power/shakti/para-shakti became my personal favorites. Maybe all this is also connected to my evolution as a person.
But one male deity who caught my attention was 'Lord Ayyappa'. I still remember as a child when my father went to Sabarimala after observing 41days of austerity...I spent days listening to the stories of Lord Ayyapa after he came back...and one thing that stuck me was that this is a secular temple...Vavar a muslim warrior was Lord Ayyapa's best friend...infact I understand there is a dargah for Vavar Swami enroute to Sabarimala... Believers from all faith can go here which is not a usual practice in many temples in Kerala where it is explicitly written outside that 'only Hindus can enter'. K.J Yesuday a legendary singer who is a Christian has visited the temple and a song sung by him composed by Sri Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer in Sanskrit is the lullaby that is played every night in this temple. Once I understood the set of rituals that was followed for the 41days austerity, I could clearly understand why only girl children before they attain menarche and women after they attain menopause were allowed to climb the '18 steps' to have a darshan/sight of Lord Ayyapa.
Over the years, I saw each temple across the country have their own unique rituals. There are temples which chant 'profanity' (Kodungallur Amma) and there are temples which celebrity feminine power (Kamakhya Temple)...maybe there are rituals that are regressive too. But over a period of time...as a organic evolution...and maybe also because of the of the efforts of reformist regressive harmful rituals have ended. But the faith and belief of the believers continues to grow. Is there a logic to it? I don't know....not everything can be explained by logic. For example I cannot logically explain the sense of God experience I feel when I am able to restore the smile on the face of a child or adult that I have rescued... It is a deeply personal moment.
Believers of any faith, evolve a set of practices that gives them comfort. Most of these practices...are oral traditions passed on from generation to generation. One important practice that most believers undertake is to visit their place of worship. For Hindus it could be Tirupati or Vaishno Devi or Sabarimala, for Christians it could be the Holy City of Jerusalem or the Vatican and for the Muslims the Mecca. Each place of worship requires a different set of rituals unique to that place of worship. One goes to these places of worship not because you cannot sit and pray in your own house or office or wherever that suits you...but there is a innate faith in all believers that collective spaces of worship gives us another level of strength which is rejuvenating. Maybe also because of the 'oneness' in worship a positive energy radiates in these places of worship. I cannot explain logically the overwhelming sense of feeling that flows as tears from my eyes...when I see Lord Balaji in Tirupati or Mookambika Devi in Kollur. I am sure that must be the same feelings for Christians when they visit Church of Holy Sepulchre,Jeruselam or for muslims when they visit Kabba in Mecca.
Why did I feel invaded when the #Sabarimala verdict came?
While verdict in the name of gender equality gives rights to all women to enter Sabarimala no matter what age they belong...and rightly said it was now for the women to choose whether they want to go or not, my contention is that these temples of deep faith & belief become what they become because of the specific rituals practiced by that temple. If those practices are radically changed the space loses its sanctity. Sabarimala is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world with over 40-50 million devotees visiting every year in short span of 103 days in a year (temple is open only from 15th Nov-26th Dec, 14th Jan, 14th April and 5 days in the beginning of every month).
Whether that gives an idea of deep faith in these practices to anybody I don't know? But I definitely know when a deep faith that stirs my soul is negated I feel disrespected and devalued. I also know that you are trying to invade and take away small spaces I have created in my life that gives me a sense of oneness with a higher being...
I will continue to strive hard to practice 'Tattavamasi' i.e.. to see the divinity in you...but do not please take away the space that I nurture which makes alive the divinity in me.