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1 December, 2019 09:35:53 AM

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The tale of two temples

The elections are still four years away and the BJP has enough time on its hands to cash in on the verdict bit by bit
Kumkum Chadha
The tale of two temples

The month of November, at least the first half, was tumultuous,  partially disturbing and of course divisive. Religion was paramount with the Supreme Court of India deliberating and delivering controversial judgements on two places of faith: Ayodhya, the birthplace of Hindus’ God Ram and Sabarimala, a Hindu temple dedicated to another Hindu God Ayyapa
While Hindus stake claim on Ayodhya, Sabarimala remained the domain of men.

Traditionally, the  Sabarimala temple prohibited the entry of women in the menstrual age group given that Ayyapa is a celibate.  The apex court in September overruled tradition and let the law prevail by declaring unconstitutional the ban on entry of menstruating women in the shrine.
Women, irrespective of their age, can now visit, worship and offer prayer to Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimala Temple that is surrounded by 18 hills in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala.
Meanwhile Ayodhya has been declared the birthplace of Ram and decreed that a temple be built there.
Though housed in two different regions of India, the north and the south, Lord Ayyapa interestingly has a Ram
connect.
The word Sabarimala means the hills of Shabari, a devotee of Lord Ram who is mentioned in the epic Ramayan. The story which goes is that on his way to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita,  Lord Ram visited Shabari in this forest.  

Shabari had then fed Lord Ram with the berries that she had tasted for sweetness. At a little distance from Shabari's cottage, Lord Ram noticed a man in deep meditation. Shabari identified him as Sastha.

As Lord Ram approached him,  Sastha broke his meditation. This visit is celebrated on the day of Makar Vilakku, coinciding  with Makar Sankranti in mid January.

 The story of Dharma Sastha, too, merged with another legend of Ayyappa Swamy when some 700 years ago  Ayyappa Swamy attained oneness with Dharma Sastha at Sabarimala. Since then the two figures were worshipped as one by devotees.

Till the Courts stepped in, women of menstruating age, considered impure, were not allowed to enter the temple.  Among the many stories doing the rounds, one is that Sabarimala’s presiding deity, Lord Ayyapa had taken a vow to answer prayers of every devotee visiting the shrine. Consequently, he shunned all worldly desires including contact with women. This, it is believed, is one of the reasons  to bar women.

Close on the heels of the Ayodhya verdict which opened the floodgates of discontent between  Hindus and Muslims, the apex court  referred the Sabarimala review to larger bench. However, it did not stay its earlier order of letting women enter the Ayyappa temple for now. The bench 3:2 said that there was an obvious contradiction between two lines of legal interpretations on the issue. The court said restrictions on women in religious places was not limited to Sabarimala alone and was prevalent in other religions as well. Reading the verdict, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said the larger bench will decide all such religious issues relating to Sabarimala, entry of women in mosques and practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

Even while the Court will review this issue, it settled another long standing dispute of another God: Lord Ram and his birth place claimed to be theirs by the Muslims. The apex court, after years of litigation, nearly seventy, delivered its verdict in the Ayodhya Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid land title dispute . It ruled in favour of the Hindus on the ownership of the disputed piece of land. As compensation, which Muslims see as “a lollipop”, the Supreme Court also ordered the government to allot a five-acre plot at a prominent place in Ayodhya to the Muslims to construct a new mosque.

The court also ordered the Centre to form a trust that would look into the management of the disputed site, paving the . for the construction of a Ram temple.

The Ayodhya case had a total of 14 litigants including the Nirmohi Akhara, Shia Waqf Board, Sunni Waqf Board and Ram Lalla Virajman among others. The Court held that the deity, Ram Lalla is the rightful owner of the land. The five judge Constitution bench unanimously decided that the disputed land must be given to Hindus. The Court also noted that “the Muslims have been wrongly deprived of a mosque which had been constructed well over 450 years ago’’ and ordered that they  be given five acres in Ayodhya for a mosque.

The Babri Masjid Ram Janambhoomi dispute relates to the mosque built by Babur in 1528. The Hindus claimed that it was built over the Ram temple that Babur’s men had demolished. Way back in 1885, Mahant Raghubir Das filed a suit seeking permission to build a temple there but his plea was rejected by the district court. In 1949 the idols of Ram mysteriously appeared inside the mosque and the Muslims alleged that they were kept there by the Hindus. Following suits filed by both parties the government locked the gates of the premises, declaring it a disputed area. In 1950, a suit is filed by a Hindu asking for the right to worship. In 1983, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad jumps in the fray and starts a nationwide movement for construction of temple at the disputed site. In 1986 a district judge orders that the gates of the Masjid be unlocked to allow darshan. The Muslims set up the Babri Masjid Action Committee.

The turning point is Dec 6, 1992 when Babri masjid is razed to the ground by workers of the VHP and BJP. In 2002 the courts begin hearings on who is the rightful owner of the religious site. Long ensuing court battles finally turn conclusive with the apex court ruling that a Ram temple would be constructed.

With this there is a closure to the contentious issue. Even though the Muslims feel let down by the verdict and there are different voices on whether to accept the five acres dubbed as a “consolation prize” by some, the BJP stands to gain both electorally and politically. The verdict will go a long way in consolidating its position among Hindus and help it reap electoral benefit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had,  through his election campaigns, promised  that it would build a Ram temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Even though the BJP was restrained in its reaction following the positive judgement clearly in favour the Hindus, it is only a matter of time before it begins to cash on a verdict which is clearly a win-win situation for the saffron party. Even while the initial reactions were deliberately muted, the verdict is a boost and a huge one for the BJP. That it has helped it deliver on its promise is a given but what remains to be seen is how far the BJP can will  milk the Hindu votes. It may be recalled that the BJP owes its stature and prominence to the temple movement and the slogan mandir yahin banayege, will build the temple here, resonates with majority of Hindus. It was the temple movement that helped the BJP jump from single digit, just 2 MPs in 1984, to its plus 300 tally currently.

Therefore even while the initial reaction is muted and restrained, knowing the BJP and its strategists, surprises would be in store as and when  the time is opportune. The elections are still four years away and the BJP has enough time on its hands to cash in on the verdict bit by bit.

Even while the Congress has welcomed the verdict and may like to gain from it with on grounds that it initiated mediation and wanted the temple constructed the fact  remains that its voice is faint and feeble and more likely to be lost in the din because the temple and the BJP are electorally and politically synonymous.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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