‘Don’t fight, follow what our shastras say’

Print edition : May 13, 2016

Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Interview with Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati.

THE Sankaracharya of Dwarkapeeth, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, who is often in the news for his controversial remarks, says the entire debate about whether or not women of reproductive age should be allowed inside the Sabarimala temple is totally unnecessary. He says that the shastras (scriptures) describe menstruation as impure, and to prove it he provides the example of a katha, or a story. He also says that women should follow what is prescribed for them in the scriptures. “We do not put a why to what is written in our shastras,” he told Frontline in an exclusive interview over telephone from Haridwar. Excerpts:

In view of the fact that the Supreme Court is deliberating whether women [of reproductive age] should be allowed entry into Sabarimala temple, can you tell us why women should be denied entry in the first place?

Let me make it clear that there were only three temples in India which have denied entry to women: Sabarimala, Shani Shingnapur and Trimbakeshwar. In Shani Shingnapur, that woman Trupti Desai led an agitation and now they have been allowed entry. Trimbakeshwar too has now allowed entry to women with certain conditions. It is only Sabarimala which continues with the prohibition.

Personally speaking, I am against allowing entry to anyone, whether man or woman, into a temple’s garbha griha [sanctum sanctorum], because in Hindu temples the sanctum sanctorum is traditionally very small and cramped. If you allow everyone inside it will lead to a stampede-like situation. I feel only the priest should be allowed inside and everyone should have darshan from outside. As for Shani Shingnapur, I don’t understand why Trupti Desai led an agitation to enter because Shani is not even a god, it is a cruel planet, and worshipping Shani would only harm the women. Now that they have been allowed to worship this cruel grah [planet] it will lead to more crimes against women, including rape. As for Sabarimala, if the entry of women has been prohibited then they should follow it because it is in their own interest.

But even the Supreme Court is struggling to figure out why women should not be allowed inside the shrine, especially when the Constitution gives them equal right to worship.

As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, whatever it says or rules is based on what is written in the Constitution and concerns only this lok [world], so obviously it cannot decipher why women should not be allowed in this temple. Our job is to explain things both for this lok and parlok [the world beyond] and that is why we have to go by what is written in our shastras. And our shastras are very clear that a menstruating woman should not enter any temple during those days, should not do puja, should not touch any idol, etc., because she is impure during those days. In fact, it is very clearly written in our shastras that if a menstruating woman touches pickle, it gets spoiled, if she touches drying papad it turns black, and if she touches a fruit-bearing tree even with her toes, the fruits get infested with insects. But this does not mean we do not respect women. We not only consider them our equal, in fact we put them a notch above us, but on these issues, they should follow what the shastras say, otherwise it will invite bad luck for everyone. We have no objection to women becoming President or Prime Minister. But how they should do a puja, how they should perform a havan must have the permission of the shastras.

But is it not true that menstruation is just a normal biological process? So why should it be considered impure and why should women be discriminated against on this basis?

We do not put a why to what is already written in our shastras. Women should just follow it. In fact, they universally do without anybody having to tell them. This is the lok vyawahar [normal practice]. In the majority of Hindu households, you will find women following these traditions on their own, nobody has to force them. So why fight now? If you fight and project yourself as a representative of all women, then you will bring bad luck to the entire womankind. See, for example, what is happening in Maharashtra now. They pray to that man called Sai Baba, put him on the highest platform in temples, and keep our Hindu gods below him. Now see, how most of Maharashtra is being destroyed by drought. If you worship a thief, a dacoit, a nastik [atheist], how can you expect to get any benefits out of this? If you pray to Shani, how can anything auspicious happen for you? That’s why I say, don’t fight, follow what our shastras say.

Can you name the shastra that describes women as being impure during menstruation?

[After a very long silence, an aide provides the answer.] There is a story in Indradev ki katha in Bhagwat Mahapurana.

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