‘An issue of belief’

Print edition : May 13, 2016

Kandararu Rajeevararu. Photo: Leju Kamal

MEMBERS of the “Thazhamon Illam” are the tantris, or hereditary high priests, of the Sabarimala temple. While the Travancore Devasom Board, an autonomous body under the Kerala government, is entrusted with the administration of the temple, the tantris have the final word on all questions relating to religious and ritualistic issues. Male members of the family take turns every three years officiating at the rituals at Sabarimala. Kandararu Rajeevararu is a prominent member of the family. Excerpts from a telephone interview he gave Frontline:

A 1991 Kerala High Court judgment has listed the various reasons of faith for which women in a certain age group are not allowed in the temple. Are the reasons the same even now?

There is no change. How can there be any?

A petition is now before the Supreme Court challenging such reasons.

This is an issue of belief, why connect it with the courts?

Because you have denied entry to women in the temple.

It is only women between the ages of 10 and 50. Custom demands that only those who have undertaken a penance for 40 days can make this pilgrimage. And it is not possible for women to undertake it as per our custom. Maybe the custom evolved against the background of the difficult nature of the pilgrimage. People are tying themselves into knots trying to explain the logic behind customs and traditions.

But there are a number of instances when people have violated these customs. Were there not instances of young women visiting or worshipping at Sabarimala despite the ban? Of actresses dancing in front the 18 sacred steps (as part of a film shooting)?

True.

Is there a need to change the customs to suit the aspirations of a changing society? Have you considered the wishes of women who want to visit Sabarimala?

We are only telling them to wait [until they are 50], not denying them entry.

And they are asking, is it because we menstruate?

Has it not been the tradition here, even in ordinary temples?

Do you think it should change?

The Thazhamon family does not wish or want to make changes in the traditional customs at Sabarimala. How can we? We are the custodians.

R. Krishnakumar

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