Sabarimala row: Hinduism’s moment of Draupadi vastraharan
by Jayasree Saranathan on 26 Jan 2019 40 Comments

Never in the 70-year history of free India has Hinduism faced an existential threat as it is facing now in the State sponsored and judiciary-abetted desecration of the temple of Ayyappa at Sabarimala. Threats have been happening over the years ever since foreigners intruded this country thousand years ago with the first ever worst assault on Somnath. Millions of our forefathers sacrificed their lives in saving Hindu temples and Hindu culture, with the result that Hinduism was able to thrive in the face of and in spite of all odds.


At the crucial moment when India should have been declared a Hindu nation, it started well with a Constitution, the original document of which displayed the rich Hindu past of India. This handcrafted document has the scene of a Vedic Gurukul in the beginning of Part II on Citizenship, in a thoughtful portrayal of where we, the Indians, trace our sense of belonging.


But all this is past and forgotten in such a short period of independent India compared to a thousand-year-old struggle against invaders. Liberty, the second clause guaranteed in this document in terms of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship sounds non-existent to Hindus today, but is used deftly against the interests of Hindus only. Once secularism entered the nomenclature of the Constitution of India, it is no-holds-barred affecting the interests of Hinduism. Temples, the edifice of Hindu culture, suffered the worst with systematic looting of temple properties, successful alienation of several communities from temple services they were associated with for ages and manning temple administration with non-Hindus.


With all these we, the Hindus, the practicing ones at that, had silently put up but the last straw happened with the abuse of tradition at Sabarimala initiated by the judiciary, executed by the Government of Kerala with unseemly zeal and supported by the media, while all through this a definite game-plan of pitting non-Hindus against Hindus was well orchestrated much to the shock of the unsuspecting Hindu lot, notwithstanding the fact that an early hint of Hindus versus non-Hindus was thrown by actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan in a TV debate as the narrative for 2019 general elections. So what is originally the identity of this land with a long history is sought to be openly trampled upon for the benefit of political ends and desert cults.


When the Mughals came, we knew who our enemies were. When the English came, we knew whom we have to protect ourselves from. But in free India, we have absolutely lost our sense of judgement as to who works against us – is it the politician or the non-Hindu or the very Constitution that is supposed to protect our rights and our traditions or our own brethren, the fellow Hindus? The damage caused by the ignorance of our Hindu brethren is no less damaging than the collective effort of all those pitted against Hinduism. It is regretful to hear the Chief of a Mutt saying that there is nothing wrong in the judgement on Sabarimala.


The height of ignorance of diverse ways of the Hindu tradition was demonstrated by a much respected spiritual Guru who welcomed the verdict initially but did a volte face after opposition to the verdict grew. The irony apart of persons seen as custodians of Hinduism influencing modern day Hindus, there are numerous others leading various sects of Hindu thought who have not even bothered to open their mouths, with the least realisation that what is seen now is fire next door which can engulf them anytime soon with all the inimical forces waiting to fan the fire to destroy Hinduism in its own country.


Judiciary, politicians, fellow Hindus in slumber – with all these having a part in hastening the pace of desecration of Hindu space and Hindu traditions, an average Hindu who is able to foresee things to come is absolutely lost as to what to do, what is next going to happen, how to defend himself and his faith and how to survive in the midst of all-round assault on himself and his only source of visible connection with divinity – the temples.


Millions of Hindus undergoing the pain and sense of loss on seeing the State orchestrated pilgrim tours of non-believers to complete the process of the havoc caused by the judgement of the Supreme Court have no idea of what to do next and how to react to this. The devout had reacted – but in an unfortunate way; the breach of the sanctity of the abode of Ayyappa had caused them to abandon their vrat midway – a reaction much awaited by the assaulters of the tradition.


There are others shouting for help in all directions, fretting, fuming, praying and tweeting but nothing else at their disposal. They almost look like the hapless Draupadi who wanted a Dharmic answer to her simple question after the Pandavas lost the dice game and staked her after losing themselves. She wanted a Dharmic answer and not a lawful answer, for Dharma is always Dharma, but the law need not be dharmic.


When she asked the same question to Bhishma, his reply was on law and not Dharma – something similar to what we are experiencing now. He just relied on power, authority and numbers on the side of the one who issued the decree when he replied that what is called as Dharma by a strong man in this world is regarded so by others, however otherwise it may be; but Dharma spoken by the weak man is scarcely regarded as Dharma, however correct it may be. Bhishma didn’t side with Dharma but with the brute power of those in authority which is absolutely unexpected and unbecoming of a person of his stature who avowed to protect the throne of authority.


Today Hinduism is disrobed like what happened to Draupadi. From all sides the wicked and the mighty are colluding to rip her apart. To name the salient ones:


-        The 4:1 judgement is akin to the power of numbers in the court of Dhritrashtra – the fifth voice, that of the female (Justice Indu Malhotra) was trounced by the power of the mighty (majority), similar to how Draupadi’s voice was ignored.

-        Draupadi was in her menstruating season at that time – the very issue that is being used now to disrobe Hinduism. And that was the foremost reason for her refusal to come to the court. The menstruating women never mingled with anyone in this country since time immemorial. Then what to say about going to a temple?

-        The question raised by Draupadi addresses the issue of gender equality – the focus of Sabarimala issue today. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandava brothers lost his four younger brothers in the dice game and finally staked himself and lost too. After losing himself he staked Draupadi and lost her. Her question in simple terms was whether the wife was a property of the husband or an individual entity by herself – a question that exposes the level of feminism and respect for female gender prevalent in the Hindu society even at that olden time.


Hinduism brimming with well thought-out and worked out paths of relevance cutting across times is now being made a Draupadi mainly because the assaulters, as well as the majority of the assaulted ones, are ignorant of what and why of the many ideas of Hinduism!


Dharma and the mighty


In the above-listed issues, whatever the mighty says is not correct if it is not Dharma. And a law not addressing the underlying Dharma is not correct and hence untenable. Bhishma sided with the strongmen of the court accepting their word as Dharma, which is completely deplorable. If the one at the helm, who is in a position to uphold Dharma, fails to do it, he is bound to suffer for that. This is not a curse but Natural Justice.


Hinduism does not condemn anyone as a sinner – but the sinner is the core concept in the religion that worships a dead body and another which condemns to death everyone other than themselves. Hinduism only says you will get what you sowed – which is a universal concept. Bhishma paid for the dereliction of what is expected of him at the arrow bed 13 years later. What Draupadi felt all over her body when disrobed was felt by him with every inch of his body constantly pierced by arrows.


One may give any kind of justification for him to have chosen the arrow bed, but that was the manifestation of Natural Justice for his failure to safeguard Draupadi. So there is something beyond the law of the mighty, and that is Dharma. When the law is different from Dharma, only Dharma must prevail and prevail it will sooner than later. In the course of it, those who harmed Dharma would stand to undergo Natural Justice.


Menstruation issue


On the second issue of menstruation, there are reasons why women don’t enter a temple during menses and why women of menstruating age are not going to Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala.  A temple is not just a building but an abode of the deity in the form of Vigraha which means ‘special embodiment’ that is made possible by mantra, yantra or tantra. So far experts have looked into the plan of the temples as well-crafted ones in alignment with natural forces. But an experiment done way back in 1980 and reported in Indian Express on December 31, 1980 has something more to say. (The experiment and its results were displayed in a stall at the Trade Fair in Island Grounds, Chennai, that year) It says,


“Teachers and students of Parasakthi College, Courtallam, through a set of experiments using laboratory gadgets, make a scientific interpretation of the chanting of slokas, abhisheka of the idol and offering of fruits and leaves. Temple worship has definite scientific reasoning behind it, the assistant professor in charge said”.


While this reveals the beginning of an unknown science of temples, the Athirathram Yajna was already within the purview of scientific scrutiny with results proving the benefits of the Yajna. Similar tests conducted on Agnihotra Homa that was found to have saved two families in Bhopal Union Carbide gas tragedy revealed the scientific nature of the Homa wherein it was found that the expected results did not materialise when a menstruating woman touched the homa vessels in use and conducted the ritual herself.


This is an area requiring serious scientific study but what this reveals is that these yajnas must have come into existence after a series of studies and experimentations. The time needed for the experimentations prior to their formulation pushes back the origins of Hinduism farther back in time. Any advanced and civilised society would only like to preserve them and subject them to more scientific scrutiny without spoiling any of the features – one of them being the restriction on menstruating women – and not barge on the community to disrupt the traditions, as the Kerala Government is doing now.


With so much scope for the probe into scientific aspects of these issues, what scientific or logical reason has been cited by anyone, including the judges, to show that ‘sanctity’ of the temple would not be breached if women of that age-group enter the temple? The burden of proof is on the prosecutors and persecutors of this tradition that nothing of the temple chemistry was breached by the biological conditions of the woman during her menstruation and no harm to herself during her menstruating age.


On the other hand, the proof of the pudding is in the inbuilt process of maintaining equilibrium in the temple chemistry. The ritual of Shuddhikaran is one such proof aimed at restoring sanctity when women of restricted age-group entered. Shuddhikaran is not something invented recently. It is part and parcel of the rules of the temple when the deity was consecrated as an embodiment of a universal principle. The very existence of this remedy shows how temple science has been perfected long ago.


Gender Equality


On the third issue of gender equality, by staking Draupadi after he lost himself, Yudhishthira, one of the three acclaimed as knowers of nuances of Dharma (Vidura and Bhishma being the other two) had given the message that women are not to be treated as property of or subservient to men, but are free entities on their own. Bhishma failed to voice this openly; but Vidura was unequivocal when he said, “If Yudhishthira had staked her before he was himself won, he would certainly have been regarded as her master”, but that he didn’t shows that the wife was not a property of her husband. She was neither lost nor won by anyone, which means that she was a free woman – always.


Can there be any better statement on gender equality as being part and parcel of Hindu culture, and above all supported by Dharma? Can such a culture shaped by the tenets of Dharma discriminate women on an issue unless that is Dharma-based? But why did Hinduism reach such a state as to be disrobed by too many Dussasanas today?


Redeeming Hinduism from Draupadi moment


The story of Draupadi vastraharan shows a way out. When Dhritrashtra offered to grant her boons, she sought the release of Yudhishthira and then the other four Pandavas. When prodded to ask for more boons, she refused to oblige saying that covetousness brings loss of virtue.


The five Pandavas released from slavery stood with her to pay back for the harm done to her and to restore her dignity. They are the five senses of each one of us released from the clutches of covetousness, with Dharma as the sole torch bearer. Let’s consciously stand by Dharma in whatever we do, and none of what we do should make Hinduism a Draupadi. We cannot stake her in the course of any work we do. Be he the Tanthri or the Prime Minister or the Chief Justice or a pilgrim or a common man – each one must do what is Dharmic in the situation.


A Tanthri cannot allow himself to be cowed down by a contempt threat in as much as a pilgrim cannot afford to abandon the pilgrimage, for, more the pilgrims, stronger will be the deity’s power. The Vigraha is made a ‘special embodiment’ by the devotion of the pilgrim too, in addition to mantra, yantra and tantra.  The sound effect of chanting plays a crucial role in transforming a temple into a divine abode much in the same way the Vedas create vibrations by the recital. The above-mentioned experiment by Parasakthi College proved that. So never stop going to the temple and never stop chanting his name aloud. We need more temples, almost in every street, to make this sacred motherland of ours a divine land.


In the larger picture, all the heads of different paths of Hinduism must be brought under one umbrella and they must raise their voice every time an assault is made. Draupadi was able to win only because everyone in this land was drawn into the fight – whichever side they may be – but it must be known which side that one is seen, on the side of Dharma or Adharma. Let us accept the emerging narrative that it is Hindus versus non-Hindus and work for victory for Hindus. Victory for Hindus means victory for Dharma; what else is needed to restore the honour of Draupadi?



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