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Why the Sabarimala controversy is good for Sabarimala?
The Sabarimala hill shrine in Kerala has been in the eye of a storm ever since the SC made it permissible for women of all ages to worship at the temple. It has now become the focal point of a political battle between the left-ruled government and other parties, mostly the BJP and the Congress which have scented blood which can be used to fertilize poll prospects in the next elections.

Although initially, the BJP and RSS welcomed the verdict, the reactions of the local Hindus made them realize that this was their opportunity to make inroads into one of the last bastions in the country that had been resolutely holding out against the saffron party.

The CM, Pinarayi Vijayan, in his zeal to abide by the court verdict, walked right into the trap. However, instead of beating a hasty retreat, like others made of less sterner stuff, he has forged ahead determinedly to ensure that the writ of the court is upheld, come what may. This is a truly admirable stance, which deserves praise. On the other hand, it would have helped if he had chosen to deliberate a bit before taking the plunge. It is not as if the skies would have fallen down if women of a certain age couldn't visit the shrine this year.

Women are not totally banned from Sabarimala, so one cannot apply the principle of discrimination in this case. But women who really wish to worship at the shrine might want to do so when they are in the prime of their youth and health.  The bodies and constitutions of 10 year old girls and 50 year old women might be weak and frail. In this case, however, we have a god who does not wish young women to visit his shrine. What has irked devotees is that the god's rights have been denied and they see it as their duty to defend them. The fact that they think god needs to protect them, however, is quite bizarre.

In Tamil Nadu, thousands of centuries-old idols have been stolen and sold to foreign buyers by our own countrymen.  If the gods wanted to protect themselves from thieves wouldn't they have done so? And did any calamities happen because of such thefts?

While the feeling of the devotees is understandable, a true devotee would have recognised that everything happens according to god's will. It is 'maya' which makes us think that we control the world and all that happens in it. This is what the greatest Hindu seers have said all along. Perhaps, Lord Ayyappa himself might have felt that it was time for the ban to be lifted and created conditions propitious for it to come about.  This is one way of looking at it.

But there is also another way of looking at it and it's more preferable. The Sabarimala shrine sits on a hilltop in a dense forest which is also the Periyar tiger reserve. Over two crore people visit it during the 'makaravilakku' season (November – January). To create facilities for these pilgrims, structures have been built near the shrine. Such structures have no place in a forest area. The increasing number of pilgrims puts tremendous pressure on the delicate ecosystem. They leave behind mounds of litter and garbage disposing of which has become a headache for the authorities. Pristine rivers and streams carry faecal wastes, plastics are being dumped indiscriminately, trees are chopped for firewood, and, to make matters worse, the Devaswom board which manages the temple affairs, is mulling a new project called Rudravanam on 100 ha of forest land which envisages the construction of 45 multi-storeyed buildings, a township with a shopping complex and parking facilities. It is proposed to link the township with the base camp at Pampa, for which a 15 m-wide highway has to be created entailing the clearing of 15 more hectares of land. A report says that the already fragile ecosystem of Sabarimala will collapse if this happens. Apart from the damage to the flora and fauna, the dangers of floods and droughts will increase manifold.

If more women are allowed entry, thanks to the SC order, no doubt, the pressure on the environment will increase. One solution is to regulate the number of visitors to the shrine. Because of the protests and agitations, bordering on violence, following the government's attempt to implement the SC verdict, the shrine has seen fewer visitors in recent days. This, in my opinion, is a most welcome development, for it will allow the forest to breathe and regenerate itself.  We humans often leave behind a trail of destruction in our wake each time we visit a place in hordes.  Thanks to the ongoing controversy, hopefully, Sabarimala can breathe deeply again. If, in the absence of young women, Lord Ayyappa's peace of mind remains unthreatened, in the absence of surging crowds of devotees, the forest too, and its voiceless denizens, may find some much-needed and restorative peace and quiet.

What Sabarimala really needs is not more pilgrims, male or female, but less human beings. So, as long as the controversy rages, it is actually good for Lord Ayyappa and his shrine. In fact, I can hear Ayyappa chuckling to Himself, as I write this.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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