Yes, Hindu temples are secular
by Jayasree Saranathan on 17 Nov 2018 60 Comments

Indian secularism has always been at odds with the commonly accepted meaning of the word secularism. It made a new record when the Kerala government claimed in an affidavit submitted to the High Court that Sabarimala is a secular temple “where entry of devotees is not restricted on the ground of any caste or religion”. As justification, the importance of Vavar mosque was highlighted in the pilgrim tour of some Ayyappa devotees. Given the kind of ‘secular’ atmosphere in the country these days, the days are not far off to get a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court take up on a priority basis and validate the ‘secular’ nature of Hindu temples! But there is no need for it.


If acceptance of devotees from any caste or religion is the criteria for secularism of the temple, then Hindu temples are definitely secular. Ranking high in the list are the two big temples of India, namely Srirangam and Tirupati. Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam and Lord Venkatesvara at Tirupati have accepted the devotion of women from the Muslim community and even married them. These women have been given separate shrines within their temples. The marriage festival of these deities with Muslim women is celebrated every year in their temples.


The God at Srirangam had gone a step higher in secularism, by partaking Roti, the food of his Muslim wife, every day for breakfast. He has been such an indulgent husband that he takes Roti after it is offered to his Muslim wife, Surathani.


A similar episode of marriage with a Muslim devotee is reported in the temple at Melkote in Karnataka. Here the Muslim woman was said to have merged with the image of Lakshmi at the feet of the Lord. Local people worship her before conducting marriages in their families.


All these devotees of another religion have been accepted and given a place within the temples. They are worshipped in the temples of the Hindu Gods and not outside. Can the same be said about Vavar of Vavar mosque? If the legend of friendship of Vavar with Lord Ayyappa was true, either Ayyappa would have given a place for him within his temple or ordained that he be enshrined in a temple and not in a mosque, as the legend goes. If there is any truth in the Vavar legend, there should exist some presentation of honour to Ayyappa by Vavar mosque. In the absence of any visible or token connection with the lord at Sabarimala, one is forced to conclude that the vulnerability of devotees has been exploited by some vested interests. Only Ayyappa devotees are going to the mosque and no Muslim is coming to the temple of Ayyappa.


If a Muslim or Christian comes to the temple, he can no longer be a Muslim or Christian but only a Hindu. If someone claims that he undertook the vrat (penance) and scaled Sabarimala to worship Lord Ayyappa but went back to his parent religion, then he can be said to be secular, but this is not what the Hindu deity demands. The basic idea of worship in Hindu dharma is surrender to the god. Whatever be the background of the person, the one who surrenders to the lord in an attitude of a lover or friend or devotee would eventually be Hinduised and cannot retain the earlier identity as Muslim or Christian. If he does, then he is disloyal to both religions. Such persons need not put on the garb of a religion or devotion. They can as well tow the line of Marx that religion is the opium of the people.

Every religion demands perfect allegiance to its God and tenets. Hinduism is no exception,  but it differs from other religions in the kind of relationship that a devotee comes to hold with the God. The relationship is something personal that Krishna indicates in his sermon to Arjuna. Whatever one gives, one must give it as an offering to God. It could be a leaf or flower or fruit or just water. But it must be given with utmost devotion and an attitude that it belongs to Him and not to oneself. When actions and motives are done with that attitude, it becomes a Yajna or oblation to God. The one who gives in that attitude gets freed from karmic bondage. This attitude is consciously cultivated in Ayyappa worship at least for a limited period vrat of 41 days.


Interestingly, a Rig Vedic practice of worship is also found in the worship of Lord Ayyappa. Verses 25-28 of Rig Jyothisha and 32-35 of Yajusha Jyothisha list the names of deities of the 27 asterisms and state that the one who does the yajna must substitute his name with the deity-name and conduct the yajna as though the deity in him is doing it. This means the person born in an asterism gets embodied with the deity of the asterism and does the yajna in an attitude that the deity is performing the yajna.


Oneness with God is the ultimate purpose of this attitude and the Ayyappa devotee does the same during the period of vrat. He gets embodied with Ayyappa Himself and lives like Ayyappa by taking up the celibacy vow of Ayyappa. Anyone who is seen in that attitude is recognised as an embodiment of Ayyappa and worshiped as ‘Swamy’. The one who continues this vrat year after year is bound to develop that attitude into an attribute. That takes one closer to Liberation and ultimate merger with Ayyappa Himself. Those who cannot undertake the vrat are no way lagging behind as it is the attitude that matters. They wait till such a time they can undertake the vrat in all earnestness.


The one Universal God with whom several individuals can develop exclusive personal relationship is best visible in Ayyappa vrat. That individual can be from any background or religion, but only a sustained relationship can help him attain merger with Him as how Ayyappa Himself attained that status at Sabarimala. Let the Marxist government rest assured that Ayyappa would never swerve from the ‘secular’ path. He accepts one and all that come with the attitude expected of them. Our secular governments and secular courts need not worry at all.   

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