In this very enlightening talk, Anand Prasad talks about understanding the Supreme Court ruling on Sabarimala. He questions why is it difficult for the court to see the traditional Indian viewpoint? The notion is that a secular State is viewed as a godless state, as against a State that accepts all gods. The court is an institution of rational thought and hence struggles to sanctify an argument in myth. There are multiple schools of Hinduism and they differ from each other. The problem arises when the court applies principles of the bhakti school (or the idea of “faith”) to other schools of Hinduism.
For presenting the arguments in review before the Supreme Court, the science of temples need to be understood, the science of energy needs to be understood. It is also important to understand that there are different rules for different rituals and how the difference to one set of people may look like discrimination to another set of people.
An abuse of the rules of a temple could result in a depletion of the temple’s specific energy and an eventual destruction.
About Speaker: –
Anand Prasad is a corporate lawyer, based in Delhi, with more than 27 years of experience representing both domestic and international clients on a variety of legal and commercial issues within and outside India.
In late 1999/early 2000, Anand helped co-found Trilegal, which today is one of the premium law firms in India. In March, 2017 Anand left Trilegal in the hope of contributing directly to society while at the same time practicing law as an independent counsel. In this role, on a bro bono basis, Anand’s work has included (i) assisting start-ups with financial investment transactions and generally structuring/restructuring their businesses, and (ii) advising citizens from poorer sections of society on a variety of civil and criminal law issues. He has also been providing mentorship to individual lawyers and small law firms and advising them with their practice development.
Other than being a lawyer, Anand has a keen interest and spends considerable time studying ancient Indian history, including in a religo/spiritual context. In his view, defining the multiple religious/cultural traditions in India as one religion, i.e. “Hinduisim”, is a major error coming from the days of European rule in India, which continues to be perpetuated in today world. This viewpoint has been the biggest contributor to the divisions in modern Indian society. Anand has written a few articles on these and associated issues and is in the process of penning a book on the topic
Thanks to all of you for coming here and Srijan foundation for having organized this talk. I thought in terms of how to frame the presentation itself and I thought that their different perspectives, that exists and therefore I called it rationalizing skewed perspectives. It is really that look at the different perspectives and see whether there is a way to actually look at them harmoniously. It’s not one against the other, but actually can all those exist simultaneously. If I could do a quick straw poll, so to say, how many of you believe that the restriction in Sabarimala is good and musty, if you could just give you put your hands up and how many of you would believe that the restriction is actually bad and should go away. All right.
So it’s a good mix when in school, when we look at, there is a concept called relativity, relativity in the sense of, there is a train standing on a platform, there is a man standing on the platform, there is another man standing in a compartment and the man is playing with a ball inside the compartment. He actually throws the ball up and down and catches it, to booth it looks as if the ball is traveling in a straight line and then the train begins to move, the man in the train is still playing with the ball, it’s still going up and down but now something different begins to happen, for the person inside the train compartment the ball is still going up and down, it’s a straight line, but for the person standing on the platform, it’s actually going in a parabola, it’s not going straight, it’s actually going like this, because the Train is moving in this fashion for him to catch the ball again because he is actually moved by the time the ball has come up and down the ball outlawed travel like this. So the person standing on the platform will see it going in a parabola, the point that I am trying to make is, it is possible for two truths to exist. We need to recognize that both those truths could actually exist, for the person standing on the platform, he cannot conceive how somebody could sell an argument to say that, this is a ball just going up and down, for the person sitting in the train compartment he cannot understand how somebody can say that this isn’t moving a parabola, because his personal experience is going up and down and that’s to my mind exactly what describes, what’s happening in the Sabrimala context.
So if you sort of dive into the presentation, but keep that perspective in mind is that there are two perspectives, both very true for the people that observe them and therefore how do you sort of rationalize it. So here the divergent positions on the issue, when you look at it from a rationalist perspective. So this is the guy standing on the platform, he actually sees it in straightforward manner, women are not allowed entry into a temple, what’s the reason, there is no logical reason and therefore it is discriminatory. And then all these arguments actually get reflected in the Supreme Court final ruling. The second point that comes for, is that religion is a creation of a patriarchal mindset, has no basis in religion and even if based in religion, ought to be outlawed in today’s rational world.
So the thinking is and this is true for most of us, even those of us that go to temple, and are religious in nature, is that why does religion exist, it’s because man created religion because the caveman’s saw lightning and thunder and fire and God scared and started giving divine attributes to it and that’s how religion came into existence. And the early because men in those days was perceivably stronger or at least that’s how history talks about. It was stronger physically, they were the ones that put together concepts of religion and therefore the superiority of the male species was are embedded, in their creation of religion and therefore even if this is true in religion, the restriction in Sabarimala is true in religion, whether it deserves to continue to exist in today’s modern and rational world and so really that’s the rationalist perspective I would say.
If you look at the perspective of the people that support the tradition, one you will often hear them say, though they don’t explain it very well, they say, that the restriction is not discriminatory and it, my bet, it is capable of a rational explanation. But really what you hear people say is that, it is not discriminatory, the second argument that you hear is, it is part of an ancient tradition and therefore ought not to be disturbed because it is going on from time immemorial. So don’t actually change something that you don’t understand it. And this is true even if it is not fully capable of explanation. So I may not be able to explain why, but just because it is old, don’t really change it because you want to change things for the sake of modernity.
There is a story around the Sabarimala, but there are lots of puranic stories, most people would say that the puranic stories are not actually factual in nature. They are stories that have been weaved and embedded within it, certain natural truths or certain truths in nature. So, it’s not actually those truths are not visible superficially and those have been doubt that knowledge has been transmitted over the generations through the medium of stories. So really if you follow the stories, you follow a certain principle of science or nature and therefore you have certain benefits that come out of it and that really is the other way to speak in terms of how do you justify the Sabarimala tradition.
How has the tradition itself evolved and there is some disjunction, so I thought it is actually useful to bring it out. So, one, it is a temple that was consecrated or founded by Parasurama, that is the sort of the old legend and he consecrates it, as one of the five… now the term Sastha is a very technical term, but as a Sastha temple. So it’s part of the Tantric tradition that you find in Kerala and coastal Karnataka. The sage Parasurama, then having consecrated it also found a priest, who is capable of actually conducting some rituals, that the Ayyappa at Sabarimala is a manifestation of intense ascetic or celibate energy and ought to be approached only by those pilgrims whose personal energies are harmonious to the deity and really that is the underlying construct in which the whole restriction is framed. When you consecrate an idol or you consecrate a deity, there is a certain energy that you infuse into, it is meant to serve a certain very specific purpose and therefore so unlike the modern temples, that we see built today, there are all purpose. So you can go over there and ask for I am going to get married, I want to get a job, I want to have a child, I am having ABCD trouble. So these are all purpose temples, these kind of follow specific outcome oriented temples. So really if you, I mean to give a short analogy.
So, what is the outcome that you want and the deity is concentrated for that specific outcome. And therefore to participate in that energy, to work with that energy, your personal energies must be brought into a certain shape and form where the work, if your personal energies are not, one it doesn’t work for you, it may have an adverse consequence for you. But it could also have an impact on the energy that is there, which is consecrated and that’s really the underlying basis on which the whole tantric and the Sastha system is functioning.
Now the tradition of forty one day ‘vratham’s and now the ‘vratham’s is actually not just fasting, but it’s a whole host of different things that you need to do. This is existed forever, the purpose as I said is to transform the energy of an individual and make it harmonious, so that you are actually able to participate, in an interface with the deity itself. So the people that undertake the ‘vratham’s the way it is meant to be and therefore go for the pilgrimage, go with a certain, I would say mystical sort of outcome in mind.
Now this is where things get mixed, but you also hear the story of Manikandan, a prince in the Pandalam dynasty, was considered an Avatara. When to Sabarimala, he undertook the ‘vratham’ and then merged with the deities, really. This is not 12th century AD, is not time immemorial, it is after Christ and certainly after the Prophet and in fact in this story, he’s got a friend with a Muslim. So really it is the post prophet period. So it is not, it is probably medieval time legend, it is not an ancient legend coming from time immemorial.
What the pilgrims try to do, is they try to replicate the Manikandan journey and Manikandan is explained the process for, how to do it to his father and so therefore they follow that exact same process. The important thing that lots of people seem to miss out, and it’s actually reflected you pick it up in the Supreme Court ruling, is that there, of course mean, who participate in this pilgrimage and they are called Ayyappans. But they are also women, that participate in the forty one day process and we will come to, how can they participate in the forty one day process. But they can and so therefore, it is not an anti woman restriction, I would say. It is a restriction against those that cannot follow the ‘vratham’ or do not follow the ‘vratham’, it is not and if a woman is not able to for ABCD reasons and a man may not be able to follow ABCD reasons, they are both restricted, in terms of the tradition.
The completion of the Vratham is followed by tying of a bundle, which a pilgrim carries to Sabarimala, he then climbs and this is the other important element to actually grasp, men to climb certain steps, which is they call it the sacred 18 steps or the Pathinettu Padi and then enters that temple, to get the deity darsan. Important thing is that the temple has, two entrances and this is the entrance that a pilgrim is meant to take, there is a northern entrance, where you can which had alluded to, which you can enter the temple without ascending the eighteen steps and this is available to those that do not carry the sacred bundle. So this is in some ways you could think of it in terms of further non pilgrims, I mean you can have a pilgrimage to Sabarimala and you can have visitations to Sabarimala and therefore these two exist, in that sense.
Important things about Sabarimala, not a regular temple. So they don’t do daily puja at here, the temple is open only on very specific days or periods. There is a Mandala puja which is November, December, it sort of goes into January, it goes into the Makara Vilakku, or the Makara Sankranti as we call it. They also open it on the Vishu festival which is mid-April and then there is a tradition of opening it in the first five days of each Malayalam calendar year. Now the interesting point is that the Devaswom board, when it made its argument in the Supreme Court and it’s recorded there, that the restriction on women of menstrual age is only for the pilgrimage period, it is for one, two and three, there is no clear restriction in tradition according to the board, to get into the temple in the first five days of the Malayalam calendar year, not ascending the eighteen steps, but using the northern entrance.
Now traditionally, women of in menstrual age never went to the temple, however those outside the menstrual age. So, either you are too young or you are too old which is when you can actually undertake the ‘vratham’ can go. The exception to this certain sort of tradition has been mothers attending the first rice eating ceremony of their children. Now this is not part of the pilgrimage, this happened, this used to happen, in the first five days of the month and they used to, use as I said the northern entrance for the temple. But again, it is an exception because this is not a temple that is easy to reach or to get to.
Now let’s look at how the 41 day ‘vratham’ actually works. So the vratham is capable of being interrupts, you can sort of dislodge yourself from the vratham two ways, there is a voluntary way which is actually you violate one of the restrictions and there is an involuntary way that you can actually, that can stop you from going there. Now involuntary as the word suggests is not actually not within your control, just like for women on menstrual age, menstruation is not within their control and I’m not getting into people popping pills and delaying their menstrual cycles. But really it’s not within their control, but for a man who is doing the vratham if there is a birth or a death in the house, he also gets disqualified. So really there are things about the vratham that work differently. It is not necessarily, it’s not just about a certain kind of a woman, but it’s really about who can or cannot follow it and sometimes there are things which are not in your control that actually put you out of the vratham period.
So really the tradition was that in the Mandala puja, most people will try to go at that period, and if they don’t, then they actually have to redo the 41 day period and then they try and go during the other periods when the temple is open. I can’t explain really in if you were talking to the modern scientific terms. I can’t explain why if there is a birth in the family or a death in the family that your vratham breaks and you are stopped from going. I cannot explain it beyond a point. I need to get into a certain energy tradition discussion really, to try and explain this. Similarly, I can’t really in that logical sense explain how menstruation will break your vratham.
So, the thing is, since it’s got to be a continuous 41day period, there are things that will actually stop it, there is no real rational explanation in terms of modern-day science. But if you look at the tantric traditions, if you look at some of the older spiritual traditions, they have certain explanations and the scriptures really say to making this discussion sort of easier, scriptures say that, when you are having in your menstrual period, do not undertake intense penance, so don’t fast, don’t do things that are vigorous in nature, it’s because it recognizes the tradition recognizes, the woman, the energies are slightly lower in those periods and as a man I can’t personally experience it, but they are a bunch of you that of women and probably know this a lot better through personal experience, but the energy levels are slightly lower and if therefore says, that do not undertake that sort of intense penance or fasting or I don’t know whether that makes sense today and maybe my own views, that modern science will catch up with some of these traditions and how they work, but really that is how it explained and therefore, if a woman’s vratham can be broken and she is prohibited from or restricted from entering, same goes for the man. He can also on account of involuntary things be stopped from getting into the temple.
There is an important element that they could be an adverse effect, if you do not follow the rhythm and you visit the deity, adverse effect on the pilgrim. It could also have an adverse effect on the energy of the deity. The court, not in this particular ruling, but in various other rulings, also recognizes the concept that deities in a temple are required, you are required to keep them energized to following a certain set of rituals. Now these rituals are coming from whenever the deity was consecrated, but the guys that consecrate the deity, very often know what kind of rituals are meant to be followed and concentration is a separate discussion, if you do not follow the rituals that deity, the energy in that deity will get dissipated. Initially it will, it will go down in strength and ultimately it will, you will only be left with a rock or a piece of Idol over there and that’s a meaningless piece of Idol because that in our tradition and our manner of approaching a certain deity and deity being different from the Almighty God, certain deity, the energy might no longer exist. So really, you end up worshiping a piece of rock which is useless. So when you talk in terms of desecration of a deity by non-following or non-compliance of rituals, it is a notion that has also been accepted by the supreme court and as a function of law in our country, for a good, since the 1960s or 70s whenever those rulings were there, but that that’s actually been recognized.
Now here are things that might have vied, in some of the discussions and at least when you read the Supreme Court ruling, it doesn’t sort of clearly pointed, but it seems to suggest that these have had impacts. So we say it’s an temple since time immemorial, but the temple was rebuilt in the 1950s because there were acts of arson and vandalism, the idol was broken, etc. So, there was a new idol that was consecrated. So something really in a rational sense, the question that pops up in your mind is that, this is really a 1950s deity. Why are you saying that this is an ancient tradition? There is no old consecration over here. So what are you talking about… What this misses out is that and I think, you find it in certain parts of northern India, but it’s very common in southern India and peninsular India, is the notion of re-consecration of a deity. So you do it once every 12 years, because why the question is, why is it done and there’s a certain very specified strict process needed to be followed. It’s not just the process, the people that do the consecration need to, also, do some penance before they come to do it. There is a certain energy play that happens in our tradition that is involved with a certain concentration process.
So, a deity, the recognition is that there are various energies post consecration over a period of times, all sorts of energies and distortions creep in and there’s a need to revitalize that energy and therefore the tradition of re-consecration. So really the fact that this particular deity was re-consecrated in 1950s, doesn’t really hold so much water because in almost all temples if there is a process of re consideration that happens, so every temple over old as being very consecrated there is a re-consecrated process that happens every 12 years.
Now, really what happens is that if you have a set of judges that do are not focused on some of these things, they start viewing it like the man standing on the platform, watching a man in a compartment plays the ball. So he’s actually seeing it in a parabola, so his view is that this is a parabola, the ball is moving in a parabolic shape, whereas the guy sitting in the compartment is saying that ‘what are you talking about, I actually am throwing the ball up and down and it’s in a straight line’, and this is where things start to begin to become a little fuzzy and therefore the need to recognize that both of those are truths for those two individuals. But in 1955, is where the devaswom board issues two notifications. Now interestingly it says, it has two elements, it says, male pilgrims that do not observe the vratham are restricted, it also says women between 10 and 55 assuming that they are in a menstrual age today, that those parameters also changing in the modern world, but in the 1950s that is probably truer than it is today. These are the two categories of people that are restricted. So it’s not a woman only notification, it is a notification clearly about people that do not observe the vratham, for various reasons some as I said, voluntarily do not follow the vratham, some involuntarily cannot follow the vratham, it’s not within their control.
So, the notification also based themselves on the fundamental principle underlying the ‘prathishta’. So, it’s also saying that this is based on what existed since time immemorial. So, this is ‘prathishta,’ is consecration really so, at the time of consecration what are the rules that were laid and therefore we following those rules. This is what we do. Now, two other interesting elements, one argument was that the Tantri had dreams regarding strict observance of the restriction. So really the other one was, so the Kerala tradition has got something called ‘devaprasnam’. So they have got ‘prasnam’s. It use small shells and you sort of do some sort of an astrology with it, but they did devaprasanams and the response from the deity in terms of the devaprasanams, the deity does not want women of menstrual age entering the temple. When you make it very forcefully, so as lawyers most of us understand, so you actually I do not make outlandish arguments, if you do make it here to figure out how am I going to rationalize it and these are instances when people are taking to these kinds of arguments a little more and other than this, there were arguments like, ‘oh, the deities celibacy will get disturbed, as if there is a human deity and then the natural reaction is that how can if God decides, he wants to be celibate, how can a woman actually alter any of that, not to say have a woman outside the menstrual period, how come she doesn’t have that sort of an impact on somebody celibacy.
So really a whole host of irrational sort of arguments I mean alright you have them inbuilt in your puranic lore, but when you go to a court of rationality, how far do you push some of those arguments because they are rational arguments that you can actually use and I think that is where that is where some of the traditionalists lost the plot and these arguments were specifically so the court got focused on these arguments rather than looking at the rational arguments and we therefore have the outcome that we have.
Now let’s look at the problems with the debate. So there are two or three problems with the debate. I would say the first problem is that there is a presumption that the restriction against women is discriminatory and so therefore once I presume that it is discriminatory the whole debate goes to is this the discrimination that is capable of justification and so therefore that’s the route it takes. The point that I would make is that and as lots of the traditionalists have made is that the restriction itself is not discriminatory, it follows a certain path. I may or may not be able to explain it fully in modern scientific terms and I may have an explanation somewhere else, but it is not discriminatory and almost everybody that you hear including on television debates will tell you that it is not discriminatory. They’re all, they are not able to do is to explain why it is not discriminatory. So let’s look at as a lawyer.
I said let’s look at the terms discriminatory, drawing a distinction which is factual in nature and so therefore you look at discrimination and a whole host of case law on what is discrimination, but broadly you would say, when you discriminate against somebody, you distinguish so, there is a reasonable distinguishing or they can be an unfair distinguishing and so therefore in my mind if you are the, if the set of arguments were presented in the more theological way in the manner in which the temple was consecrated, I think they would have made a strong case to say that this is not discriminatory, it is actually drawing a distinction between the kind of energies, that people are meant to carry and there are certain kinds of people that actually cannot carry that energy.
Now once you presume that a certain practice is discriminatory, the debate goes in another direction. So my first point being that it should not be discriminatory and really you would have won the argument over there. Well let’s assume for sake of argument that it is indeed discriminatory, so once you say that it is discriminatory, then the court moves to certain specific articles in the Constitution and it says is therefore this discrimination can I still hold it to be constitutional or not, is it unconstitutional, the mostly all forms of discrimination are unconstitutional. There are certain exceptions that get carved out, one of the carve outs which might have allowed it because they some case law to justify this, is that a certain practice even if it may be slightly questionable in terms of discriminatory or not is it an essential feature of that religion and if it is an essential feature of the religion maybe have a carve outs that this is a discrimination that I will allow, which kind of gets us into two particular elements because really the debate goes into, is it essential to Hinduism and my question is what really is Hinduism, because is it one faith in the in the construct of in the construct of Sai, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism etc, or is it a multiple set of faiths that got labeled as an agglomeration merely because you actually existed in a certain geography.
Now if you have multiple faiths over there that are labeled with one term Hinduism, how are you going to find the commonality over there? So what is going to be the essential feature of that faith? there is going to be no essential feature because each one of those traditions will have a certain separate and distinct essential feature, so to say, that and in the court in its rulings actually observes that if this tradition is not followed in, Hinduism is not going to get devastated, are not going to get altered. Of course it won’t get altered because they have multiple traditions, but this particular tradition will get devastated it will be destroyed. So I thought, let’s just take a quick look at really in one sense what is Hinduism and when you decide that or when you debate on the basis that Hinduism is a monolithic religion, you actually come to a certain different consequence and throughout our debates, whether it’s in court or it’s in public discourse, we actually view Hindu as, I mean there’s Hindu nationalisms as if there is one religion that requires a nationalism.
So really what is Hinduism. So let’s dive back a little and I think this is not something that I am saying, lots of people have said it. Since ancient times it is actually a geographical description of the land, that this is Hindu land, the people who reside over here are Hindus and that essentially was I mean, I would say that just like you look at people who reside in China’s Chinese, people who live in Iran as Iranians, who live in Greece as Greeks, those who lived in India, India is an English term, but were called Hindus, even today some of the languages in the Middle East and in China tend to use the term Hindu, for anybody that comes out of India regardless of their religion. So, the term is religious and agnostic, it is geographical in description.
Now what the Europeans did, is that they continued to use the nomenclature Hindu, except they gave it a religious connotation. So they defined it order they tried to explain it in terms of segregation. So they said all the native religions are Hindu and then they are the foreign religion. So you actually view it differently and therefore they define it in law as follows, is that everybody that lives in India excluding Muslim, Parsi, Jew, Christian, and those are the sort of exclusions, but the definition of an Hindu law is by exclusion, it’s not so, it actually follows the logical pattern of how traditionally you viewed the term Hindu, how it got embedded into law and once it got embedded into law, the same construct is followed in the Constitution.
Now it then includes there for Hindus everybody in India including Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, etc excluding Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jews. So therefore when you, when you view it in that sense, you get pushed into over the years, we have gotten pushed into thinking of Hinduism as a monolithic religion, it is one faith, they should be one central text, essentially you’re trying to view the people that live in India in the manner in which you view yourselves. This is the sort of the European approach, to India and we very happily since we were sort of modernizing away from a medieval practices, we happily following and Europeanizing ourselves. So we sort of went down that path and so therefore it doesn’t actually figure into the debate, it certainly did not figure into the Sabarimala debate, in the Supreme Court that, when you look to find essential features of Hinduism, what are the features that you are looking for and I would like to ask anybody in this crowd or anywhere else please give me five points or three things that I actually essential features of Hinduism, that if you do not follow, that the religion would stand destroyed or altered significantly they do not exist, it is because there is no central, there is no essential feature and a fundamental basis for the Supreme Court’s ruling is and this is the majority judgment saying that if you take away this tradition it does not distort the essential feature and so therefore the whole Supreme Court ruling is on a misplaced premised, on a misplace fundamental notion of what is Hinduism.
Let’s therefore look at Hinduism itself because I said that it’s a conglomeration of various traditions, religions, theologies that said let’s just take it look at it. So there are what you describe as Hinduism, have got a Vedic and a non-Vedic school, you have got an asthik and a nastik tradition, you have a Jnana, Kriya and Bhakti approach, you have a Saivite, Vaishnav and a Shakta tradition and these are only some or the ones that you would have heard in public discourse that, I am actually pointing to, you heard the Advaita, Dwaita and Visistadvaita. I don’t know, if many of you have heard of the Siddha, the tantric and the Aghoriya traditions. What these traditions and if you look at these traditions carefully, some of them are different, come from different theological constructs. So these are very different from each other, there is a lot more detail that goes into each one of these theologies and traditions and theologically there is a different construct, we, I mean one of the one of the common notions that most people over here have and I would assume a lot of us that the foundational basis for a Hinduism is the Vedic principle, but there actually a whole host of non-Vedic elements that have gotten assimilated into what we believe is into Hinduism. So the Vedas are not necessarily a fundamental construct to all Hindus, they are all hosts of Hindus out there that, yes, the Vedas are there. But we actually follow for us primacy is in certain other texts, which are non-Vedic texts or certain other practices and traditions.
So, the agama traditions there will be a debate whether we are part of the Vedic tradition at all or not. Now with passage of time, what happened is and these are sort of really ancient. So when you talk about time immemorial, these are really ancient traditions over thousands of years, certain schools start getting primacy and it is as all of us whatever we were actually a debating society. So what would happen is that, one person would go carry is philosophy to another village debate over there, whoever wins, either everybody converts to there or jumps into the well or the river or something like that. So really they were different theologies, which were in play and there were frequent debates within these and some would and at times lose some would times win, there would also be the element of which King follows what tradition and so therefore when Asoka followed Buddhism, India primarily became a Buddhist country.
So there are these multiple traditions that have existed some over a certain period of time, got primacy. So the Vedic traditions got little more primacy and amongst the Vedic tradition the Advaita school got a little more primacy. So almost all of us believe that God is omnipresent exists. I am God, you are God, all of us are God, that principle isn’t Advaitic tradition. It is not really a whole host of other traditions that exist over there, that do not accept that as a philosophy. So, Adi Sankaracharya went about debating with various people, means there were many people who over there, who did not accept his philosophy in those days. Adi Sankara was actually not viewed as one of, as I would describe, a Hindu, but people say that you are a fake Buddhist. There are Buddhists, masquerading as a Vedic philosopher. So, really that’s the various traditions that have existed and therefore the kind of primacy.
Now, when you get the primacy of, I don’t have an issue that’s really our history is mined out. I have no complaints against them, but really therefore when we start examining what is Hinduism today, in our mind pops in Vedas, the Vedic tradition, our mind pops in the Advaita tradition and so therefore, there are a whole host of observations on the Supreme Court that will say that God does not make the distinction, God is a creator, in many Indian traditions there is no creator God. So you start labeling us with these sorts of ideas because they actually come from certain specific theological constructs that you have been sold under, under the big label of bringing all religions together and assimilating everybody I mean, I will no problem with that but when the law starts following those constructs that is where the problem exists. So people are individually free to follow whatever belief systems. No complaint about that.
The interesting element and so I sorted dwell a little more on Hinduism itself, the interesting element of the different theologies that constitute Hinduism, you will see, they are vastly different and I would venture to Islam, Christianity and Judaism are actually closer as theologies, than a whole host of Indian theologies that exists. So what is it this difference between all of those? Just there’s a difference, the one prophet each. So Christianity is one prophet extra or one Son of God and Islam is one prophet extra, but otherwise all their prophets are the same and they follow the same God, the same theology. So from a theological construct they are actually closer as religions, whereas the Indian tradition has got these vastly different traditions, where there are the underlying principles the fundamentals are vastly different.
Now over thousands of years you incorporated bits and pieces from here and then you sort of become a bit of a mishmash, but really to therefore look at this agglomeration of theological ritualistic practices in India or religious practices in India as one monolithic religion cannot be more fundamentally flawed and therefore to presume to actually give, to put in place a jurisprudential principle on this basis cannot actually come out correct and which is why what you see in Kerala which is actually a very left-leaning state, very empowered women, a whole host of protests, from what would otherwise be considered a godless society and whole host of women protesting and so therefore I thought because we actually see some of this friction both in public space. It’s not just the courts, but we see it amongst political parties. Nobody knows what real position to take. So really how is it as a state that we are constructed? So we say that we are a constitutional state. But what does that mean? I would say that essentially our understanding or our impression of secularism is one of a godless state. Now secularism really can mean that, I will not discriminate between religions and there are two ways, are not discriminating — one becoming godless as somebody who is sort of administrator, judge you. The other is I will be like maybe in the US, I could be Christian state, but I will actually not make the distinction no particular religion will get any favors. But in India we sort of have gone down the path of the British version of secularism, which is basically a godless state, that is how we, our whole state has been constructed on the basis of a British constitutional principle and that’s what you follow.
So it doesn’t matter if a judge is religious, it doesn’t matter if a judge is a priest, because this particular constitution bench had all those in the mix, they will take the godless approach because that is how our state has been constructed. Now when you look at a godless approach, you allow religious freedom, but then you make it subject to all other kinds of fundamental rights. It includes the right of equality, but I don’t necessarily have a big problem with that, but the mix level let you take it to, you then in that construct and actually most of us as I started it at some point in time alluded to this, think of God as a human fabrication, you think that men have actually fabricated God because you got scared of lightning, thunder, the tiger coming into your cave etc. You were scared of the darkness. So, you attributed whatever we are scared of, you have attributed an idea of God. So really God is a human fabrication and not a function of fact, and hence therefore, when you start thinking of it like that, as I said, the Tantri has dream, of course, since God itself is human fabrication, how can your dream be anything but human fabrication and so is the Devaprasnam. So how can that be anything godly.
Now, you also take into account, when you are the state, you take into account that historically and globally this is not. There has been some sort of historical prejudice, against women and therefore this sense is reflected in. So there were three rulings that actually ruled against in the Supreme Court three judgments, against the restriction, there were majority judgment due to two judges. Then there were two single judges that also gave, all three of them have got elements of women have been subject to prejudice over the ages, patriarchy has crept into religion and therefore those are the reasons why religion has those embedded principles in them and it is the job of the law therefore now to reform it, and so that’s the approach that happened at the Supreme Court and they talk about reform and various other religions and various other where the law is intervened and brought about reform. I think there’s a difference between issues of… So people equate the sati system and whether it ought to be reformed or not and therefore equation of this. I think you have got to start recognizing the fact that over centuries lots of things that are unhappy will come into existence. It may not have religious basis to it. They may be various, are the basis to why some of those cultural changes happen. But you can’t, you should, what you shouldn’t do is to try and equate one, and use those principles to put down another and that in my mind is really what has happened, is that the ideas of untouchability, the ideas of the sati system, all those have been used to actually strike down at this one particular tradition and here is where it is important for us to continue to recognize and constantly reinforce in our minds, that we are not one single religion, I mean we do call ourselves Hindus but we are not one single religion, we are actually a multiplicity of religions, various different traditions, some traditions can have some malice that have crept into them, and those could be sort of modified. You look at each malice to see whether it is justifiable, it is not, where does it come from, is it really discriminatory, does it deserve to exist not and therefore deal with it separately on an individual case to case basis, if we try and use a broom to sweep all the duster on the floor, we will stop making that distinction, so we try treating ourselves as a monolithic religion as soon as we do that.
Now the perspective of the tradition lists, the rules governing operation of the divine energy in Sabarimala, comes from nature, religious tradition merely recognizes the same and utilizes those energies for the benefit of mankind. So really when and it goes back to the whole consecration idea, is that you actually tap into certain natural energies that exist. You energize a particular deity and he used that deity in a particular specific fashion. Now you look at their specific deities all over India, some you will go for treatment of leprosy, some you will go for treatment of some other disease, third one you will go if you are professionally doing badly, fifth one you will go for if you have got a stomach problem, many of these ancient deities have been consecrated for specific outcomes. You go there only for those specific outcomes, you don’t go that it’s not a general good for all thing, then you go to, and so therefore and the basis for this, is that a certain kind of energy that exists in nature has been consecrated in that particular shrine or in that particular Idol and therefore there is a certain set of laws by which you approach it, now take an example you want to make ghee. You put some milk you put some rice, you put it on a boil of water, you put it on boil and then you run out of sugar. So you say now, what do I do for sugar, so you say ‘ohh, I see one white little granular thing over there, you pick up a bunch of salt and put it in, it will not give you ghee, it may look similar but it may have a certain specific behavior in nature, which may alter the outcome for you’.
So, really a lot of these old Indian traditions, they lay out the process by which you can actually get to a certain kind of benefit. What has happened over a period of time is, you started diluting some of these. So, you started using salt instead of sugar because both look white both a granular and therefore, we are not having the kind of outcomes, that we will generally want to. The need for other vratham is exactly in that sense, is that, if you are going to a Sabarimala deity, it is actually meant for spiritual upliftment. You don’t go there for any other purpose, it is an ascetic energy, it is a celibate energy, that means you have actually, you pulled in all your the energy in nature and they have multiple energies in nature, but this particular energy is pulled into itself a certain kind of power that comes from a certain functional behavior and therefore when individuals approach that deity, that is what you need to do, if you do not do that, and you go and approach that deity and multiple of you go and approach the deity, not only will you suffer, but the deity’s energy will get eroded and that’s the underlying principle. So, it is not patriarchy in play, and it is not discriminatory, and it is not anti-women. It is anti not following the vratham.
Now rules of nature were traditionally built within the Puranic lore and it made easy for common man. But these rules hide within themselves certain truths of nature. Now this is something that I said earlier, but really that’s the way some of our traditions, some of our culture has evolved, some of our religious practices evolved, is that you will find people who will give you the raw truth if you are able to absorb it and you will find some people who will give you a story and the truth would be embedded in that story and very often to get the raw truth, you can actually, it’s not as if you are walking into a library, then you can act, when they explain the raw truth to you, they want you to actually appreciate it fully. So you must be capable of appreciating it fully, it requires you to actually be in a certain space, where you can absorb some of those ideas, you can experience others ideas, and not see just as a hand down from somebody, but you actually experience that truth yourself and so that is how you will find, so very often you’ll find, people will not give you the raw truth straight away, because they believe they use the term that you don’t deserve to do it, but it’s really that you’re incapable of dealing with that raw truth and that’s the approach that some of our traditionalists carry.
So a lot of people embedded in the tantric tradition or Srividya tradition will actually not speak of these things very easily, because they believe that you will one not appreciate it, you will not understand it, and you will probably subject it to ridicule. So, one of the easy ways to hitting out on all of these traditions is to bring ridicule to it, so call it superstition, ridiculous, demean it. So, all of us don’t want to look ridiculous. So we actually start taking ‘ohh, these are ridiculous superstitious stuff’, but that is how you start killing tradition and that is what pushes the traditionalists into a narrower box. They stop speaking of it more and more. So you really have to go out, look out for people like this, find them, but there will be people that will give them to you.
Not all our knowledge is in scriptures, lot of our knowledge is in oral tradition. So you will actually find it as handed down mouth – mouth, generation – generation, you can actually find these people that can explain the tradition to you in a longer discussion. They require you to be sincere, they require you to be appreciative, and very often they require you to have already traveled a certain path before they are willing to divulge that piece of knowledge. So really if you go and the way I would look at it, you go and talk to a mathematical professor and in IIT and you say that teach my fourth-class child mathematics, he’ll throw you out of the house. Why does he throw you out of the house? He is not being discriminatory, your four-year-old child is simply not in his level of play, he cannot interact with that person, the same thing happens with the guys who hold this traditional knowledge. They simply are incapable of dealing with you, they lose patience, they really don’t and they know that they will lose patience. So they don’t want to deal with you, so they will not share that information. It is not a piece of library that you can walk in to pick up a book and start reading and understanding everything, and the same holds true for many of our scriptures.
There are traditions standing on the platform you see simply cannot appreciate, how can that guy sitting in the compartment see the ball go straight up and down, it is not possible because you’re actually seeing it go like this. So therefore, you actually seeing women being discriminated against because it is innkeeper, nobody is explaining it to you and relativity is a very important element particularly in my mind. It’s a modern notion, but it is very helpful and trying to get us to appreciate a whole host of traditions, that we get subjected to. So this is kind of this slide has got a lot of stuff that I actually already spoke about.
So, this is temple construction and concentration or deities. So I don’t know, I mean, some of us know it and many of us don’t know it. But in the popular discourse it simply does not exist because if you want to found a temple, once I just get a piece of land, build a building over there, install an idol and that’s it, start doing puja, that’s but according to the tradition which is the agamas that are involved with how does a temple get constructed. It is highly detailed, it will talk about different parts of the temple; what sizes, what direction, what kind of material, a whole host of things. It is in many ways. The reason why it is so detailed and why it must be actually followed to the day is because it is actually trying to capture an energy principle.
So when you consider, when you actually build a temple following those agama, is following them exactly the way do not use salt for sugar, if you do things like that you will get exactly the outcome that the scripture tells you too. Deities are consecrated, how temples are built, it is in the agama tradition, some of the agama tradition are documented, some oral traditions that are passed over generations, but if you were to follow each one of them, you will actually get the outcome. How do you get it? You harness a certain energy in nature and you get the designated outcome, and once the other element of temple and this is something that I said in earlier in the presentation, is once consecrated, how do you keep the energy going and so there is a set of rituals, that say, that all right this is how you keep the energy going, these are the kind of pujas you repeat it, you’re the chief in this particular case that tantri in other places, the chief priests will have to do these on a repeated basis and so therefore you keep the energy going and then of course there’s the 12 year consecration process. But these are meant to preserve energies the rituals the consecration the what they describe as should be occur and so we view it as purification, but it’s not really as if that energy is got dirty, it’s just got muddled. So you basically make it pure once again. So it’s not with a purification which should occur and it’s not as if filters are occurred over there, that’s not the idea, the idea is that, that energy which is earlier functioning 100% has now become 70. How do you sort of clean up that 30 back and bring it back to 100?
Sabarimala again follows many of these principles. The tantric tradition essentially is, it doesn’t talk about a Creator God, there is no creation, doesn’t happen in that particular fashion. So, it it is a play of energy that in it’s very detailed, as I said, anybody who is interested should read serpent power at Avalon. But it’s an energy tradition and how it describes, how creation happens, how the universe comes into existence, how individuals come into existence, how humans come into existence, what are the energy elements over there, and therefore how can we reproduce it in inanimate objects, how can we also reproduce it in human beings and individuals. So, you will find throughout India the tradition of individuals actually invoking and they will say Devata agaya. So that is you sort of drawing that energy by a certain process into yourself.
Similarly, you can draw the energy into a certain material, again it is not as if you can bring that energy into all kinds of material. So tradition will also specify specific kinds of material, for specific kinds of energies. So shoveling our ideally come from the banks of Narmada, often the Narmada there are certain very specific materials that are prescribed for some of these and that’s how the sort of the tradition works. I describe it as tantric, and I use the term tantric tradition here a little more because the Sabarimala is a tantric shrine, it is not a Vedic shrine. So do not carry your Vedic ideas or it’s not an Advaita in shrine, so do not carry the Advaita in ideas into the Sabarimala. That is what the Supreme Court has done in its ruling, is that it’s carried these other ideas into this particular tradition it is not, and as I said, this is not a faith tradition.
So, the tantric tradition is not, you don’t have to a belief. If you put sugar in milk it will become sweet, it will not become salty. So, it is not a faith tradition, you don’t have to believe, “oh please, please, please let it become sweet”. You don’t have to do that, you can be completely God are agnostic, you can just mixture, go put it in, it’ll become sweet. So it really follows a certain factual principle, excepting you to be careful that you don’t pick salt and put it into the sugar and expect it to be sweet. So you’re going to follow exactly what is prescribed and if you do follow that, you will get exactly the outcome and so therefore the tradition actually follows this. The whole modern construct is a belief, you must have belief, you must have faith, “bhakti ke sath jao”. All this bhakti and all is existing and it’s a good thing. But, it’s not part of the basis on which this particular temple has been consecrated.
There are a whole host of interesting arguments, some of these as sort of alluded to when we were walking through the presentation. But that is the Supreme Court’s approach is, any of you wanted? I am happy to share this presentation, but certain arguments that were made by the board, by the Tantri etc., specifically over here, how the court approached it, again as I said, it approached it from the perspective that there is a creator god, who teaches, who treats all human beings equally, the Hinduism is a religion that does not discriminate and there are no essential features of the Hindus of what is called Hinduism, which will get distorted if this practice is discontinued.
There was one other element and I think I should sort of speak of it and this is a very specific legal argument, is one of locus, is a who can come and challenge the tradition. I think one of the judges specifically gets into it, another judges said that locus is irrelevant because you have to see the law has to operate in some sense of isolation, was the argument. So he does recognize it, but he pushes it aside. Another judge the dissenting judge, actually takes locus to its logical conclusions and say that a non-practitioner cannot question a certain set of practice. So just like he would not allow and just like the Supreme Court recently did not allow a whole host of Hindus challenging tradition in a mosque, similarly you do not just because they are called Hindus, you do not allow them to challenge a tradition, that they actually are not followers of, and that’s the whole locus argument. I don’t think you should deal with it only on the locus argument to the locus argument, is also very relevant from the perspective of, just the relativity example that I was giving, is that, there is no way that you can fully appreciate, what a passenger sitting in a train playing with the ball experiences. He actually experiences a ball which is lobbed up and down going in a straight line, whereas in a moving train you see it going in a parabolic fashion and therefore, if you are not in the tradition, you simply cannot appreciate it and which is where locus becomes relevant.
There some, I said there were some, arguments in court which diluted the whole flavor of the manner in which it should have gone. So they have been deviations in practice, so when he’s a forty one day vratham, now somebody suddenly says that already you can do vratham for two weeks, you can do vratham for six days, Now, these are all deviations and my view is, if a woman in menstrual age is capable of desecrating a temple, so can a man who does not follow the 40-41 day vratham, desecrate the temple, you cannot have for sake of convenience start playing around with it; you cannot because you can’t go to the shop and buy sugar use salt to make ghee. So, it will result in desecration and really that is something that we need to be more and more mindful about.
That’s all that I had for you in the presentation. Thank you, and if you have any questions please feel free to fire it.