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Right to Worship – Understanding Restriction without Prejudice

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While discussing or understanding traditions and culture it is important to lose coloured lenses of pre-conceptions or modern ethics. We often weigh them on modern thoughts, while traditions have historic origins. It is easy to label them as discriminatory, superstitions without going into details. But sometimes details and historic perspective bring different picture. Supreme Court is hearing petition on women entry in certain places of worship – Sabrimala, Shani Shingnapur and Haji Ali dargah. Article 14 is about equality and Article 25 about religious freedom. Judicial interference in religious matters should be avoided unless serious infringement of individual rights. Right in question is right to worship. But ban is not umbrella ban on worshipping right but ban or restricted entry in places. No doubt right to worship is fundamental right but if right to worship in particular place is fundamental right or not is debatable. So this issue should be discussed in light of article 14 – right to equality and not under right to worship. Places of worship can’t be regarded as personal properties. Discrimination in these places can’t be allowed unless they are based on genuine concerns like heart patients are not allowed in Amarnath yatra for their own safety.

Religions have traditions, rituals and defined methods of worship. It’s true that everyone has and should have freedom to worship, freedom to choose the path to connect with his/her god. But there is always some tradeoff between freedom of worship and sense of worship. One has freedom to worship Maa Laxmi for wisdom and Maa Sarswati for prosperity, Worship Krishna in Navratra puja, Rama on Shivratri and Maa Durga on Janmashtami, worshipping Ganesha or Krishna with Bel Patra but it just don’t make sense. When you follow sect, religion you agree to certain conducts. There are times when certain rituals are just followed because they are done in this way only from historic times and sometimes to bring uniformity. Like we have holiday on Sunday, why not on Wednesday? Or why we follow left hand drive and not right hand drive. These are just rules for uniformity. In USA it is right hand side driving. When we enter USA we lose our right to drive on left side and accept to drive on left side. See it would not have been immoral/crime to drive on left side if driving rules were non –existent. But that would have created chaos. No?

Now back to “Lord Ayyapa”, “Shani Dev” and “Haji Ali”. Common thing between these three is that all three were brahamchari. Often we confuse Brahmacharya with Bachelorhood but two are different. Let’s still assume that two are same for further discussion. As these 3 were bachelors, so women are generally not allowed in inner sanctum of temple/dargah. In North India women don’t touch hanuman’s idol for same reason. Yes it can be valid argument that how will their “bachelorhood “be affected if women are allowed to enter the temple. This argument is put without proper understanding “Bhakti tradition” of India. Bhakti Tradition is not about worshipping omnipresent, formless, almighty god but about loving him by forming human relations with him. Traditionally 5 different “Bhaava” can be expressed for god/goddess.

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1. Sant – He/She as a parent or protector- Bhaava of Prahlad and Dhruva.
2. Daas – He/She as a guru or master – Bhaava of Hanuman and Nishadraj for Lord Rama
3. Sakha – He/She as a friend – Bhaava of Sudama and Arjuna for Lord Krishana
4. Vatsalya – He/She as a child – Bhaava of Soordas and Yashodha for Kanha.
5. Madhurya – He/She as a lover – Bhaava of Radha and Meera for Lord Krishna.

Due to different reasons or perspectives Bhaava of Male devotee to goddesses is limited to “She as a protector/Mother” or she as a guru or in limited sense she as a child. But she can never be worshipped with “Sakha” or “Madhurya” bhava. Mostly she will be worshipped as a Mother only. While female devotees worship god mainly with bhava of “Sant”, “Vatsalya” and “Madhurya”. “Sakha” or “Daas” Bhava examples are rare. May be Shabri and Ahillya can be said to be worshipping with “Daas” Bhava.

But the most intense bhava for female devotee is “Madhurya”. Especially Shiva and Krishna are worshipped in this form. Most famous example is of Meera singing – “Mere to Girdhar gopal,Dusra naa koi. Jaa ke sar mor mukut mero pati wahi”. It is because “Madhurya” Bhava is associated with worship by female devotees that they are generally disallowed to enter inside inner sanctum of these Devas/Saints. We have to understand that traditions have historic significance because of society’s particular way of looking and understanding these issues. And above all we have to understand that traditions can be changed and are not static. But these can’t be changed through judicial orders or forced entry but only through debates and discussions.

Society should always be progressive and ready to adapt and change according to changed conditions. True female devotees of Lord Ayappa will not enter Sabrimala even after court order. Those who want to enter forcefully will never visit again after winning the battle if they lack “devotion”. In Nepal’s Gadhimai festival authorities have decided to discontinue “Pashu bali” after persuasions and discussions by devotees.

Social reforms can’t be forced. By choosing easy path of judicial order or confrontation we avoid our responsibilities. It’s better to have change tomorrow through discussions rather than through confrontation today. And most important thing is that these changes can be brought by believers only. Right to equality in religious matters hold only if one is believer. Non-believers of that sect can’t claim this right and I am talking about only religious right and not civil rights like divorce, marriage, property, inheritance and other legal rights which are often confused with religion. These civil right should be dealt according to law of land.

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