Case Analysis: Women Entry on Sabrimala Temple by Shreyansh Tiwari and Zainul Rizvi

‘’I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.’’ B.R. Ambedkar


Equality is the most unique term in today’s era. The need of an egalitarian society is the want of the hour and when the world is witnessing such a huge amount of advancements in science and technology and in various walks of life. Christine de Pizan rightly opined that the oppression of women is founded on irrational prejudice, pointing out numerous advances in society probably created by women.[1] The fight for equal rights, equal status, and equal opportunity among the women have been increased. Women are still considered subordinate to men, as rightly pointed out by the Kate Millet, women are relegated to an inferior status in the society. Despite adequate provisions under various laws which are there to protect women’s interest, they have been oppressed and discriminated on the grounds of sex for centuries irrespective of the religion they preach.

There are provisions to prevent discrimination of any kind and promote equality, article 14 of the Constitution of India provides “equality before law’’. The state shall not deny any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.   Inequality is illicit according to our constitution. From bygone times, women were deprived of their rights. All they asked for was to walk with their male counterparts together, that’s all the today’s basic feminism asks for, let be it the right of opportunities in job sector, education, politics, even in religion. The utopian model of such a society where everyone is treated equally and is given equal rights is non-est, but with every effort put in by today’s advocates of egalitarianism we are inching closer towards such a society.



In ancient times, members of the highest Hindu caste, Brahmins did not allowed women or restricted women’s involvement in various religious rites or sacred texts of the vedas.[2] The Laws of Manu, state that “By a girl, by a young woman, or even an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her own father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent” (V, 147-46, 155).[3] Buddhism took a revolutionary path due to the fact that Gautam Buddha admitted women into the monastic order, during a time when monastic communities were dominated by males in India.

One of the main schools of tradition that originated during the early development of Buddhism called Threvada Buddhism, expresses the assumption that ‘’all men and women, regardless of their caste, origins, or status, have equal spiritual worth.’’[4] The reason behind this is that Buddhism is that ideology that does not have an explicit creator and there is no implied sacredness in relation to one’s human form, which clearly means that the practice is itself not bound to the ideas of gender, reproduction and sexuality.

However we cannot keep Buddhism in the good books of today’s feminists, Buddhism has its own share of faults. The advancement of gender issues can be witnessed during the time period of Hinayana Buddhism, when Buddhist order underwent major reform of splitting into about 20 various schools. During this period the women’s roles and the status of women belittled within Buddhism, claiming that women cannot reach the enlightenment. This further meant that women cannot attain the positions of leadership because of the very fact that they cannot reach enlightenment.

Now some would ask that why are there so less number of female teachers in Buddhist communities, well the main reason for this was the lack of education among the women, Buddhism mostly grew in the east and there was a highly patriarchal society at that time which actually pared women from getting the education, so one has to be educated, study and must be independent in assessing any kind of realization or understanding.

This shows that Buddhism was too corrupted when we talk about religion and women.


Many evangelist believe that Christianity too had some issues regarding women, it limits women’s freedom in the church. According to Christian Bible, wives are asked to be submissive in many ways, not only to their husbands but also to the church and communities and their god. Men are considered to be the head of the family or better to say head of the household, the head of the women are men and Christ is above the man, wives are secondary to the men and their paternalistic attitude towards women clearly says that men were above the women.

So we see that in Christianity too, women were considered subordinate to the men. According to scriptures in genesis, “the Lord god said, it is not good that the man should be alone, I will help him an help meet (fit or suitable) for him.[5] The passage suggests that women played a supportive role to men.


In Hinduism women are considered equal or sometimes greater than the men according to scriptures, for example Kali Ma is the Hindu goddess of creation, preservation and even destruction. her powers even mark the origin of the creation of life or even the end of the life. So due to this quality of her or the powers she contained with herself she was the goddess who must be respected, loved as well as be feared. Women were even considered as “ardhangini” the better half that means a married man was not complete without his wife. This proves that the women actually had the equal status as that of a man.

While the scriptures, customs and traditions were different in considering women to what they are considered today. As the time passed by, women actually were considered subordinate to men, they were overlooked in the Hindu society and their importance was belittled as the time progressed. Girls felt lesser and were considered not as much as important as the boys were considered.  So due to this very reason, they felt many atrocities against themselves, this drift from considering women as goddess and giving them a status more powerful than men to making them subordinate and of lesser importance. In today’s time efforts are going on to provide equal rights to women, various government schemes are run by the state to encourage women education, health and employment. So that is how there arose a patriarchal society.


Islam being a monotheistic religion that was founded in the early seventh century by the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. Although islam emphasizes the equal treatment of all Islamic people, throughout history the patriarchy has continued to oppress Muslim women since the religion was founded. Women actually have restrictions on public prayer and are either banned from mosques or have separate private spaces. On the top they cannot pray during menstrual period and if they are pregnant or in labor during the month of Ramadan, they must make up these fasting days.


   Gender discrimination has been a problem in India and as well in other countries for ages

The constitution of India also talks about equality  The state not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within The territory of India. protection prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, Caste, sex, or place of birth.[i]

 According to the US Constitution equality is the salient characteristics on every legal order.[6]New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.[ii]

The issue of Sabrimala Temple is related to gender discrimination. It is believed that the temple of Sabrimala is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an estimate of between 17 million to 50 million visiting every year.

The temple is dedicated to Hindu celibate deity Ayyappan also known as dharma Sastha, who was the son of Shiva and Vishnu[7] The temple of sabrimala is situated on a hilltop amidst eighteen hills at an altitude of 480 m (1,574 ft) above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests.

Was the centuries old tradition really discriminatory? Lets find out.

To understand why the women aren’t allowed in the temple, firstly we have to trace back to know legend of lord Ayappa. I’ll be explain briefly what the matter is. So lord ayappa actually took a vow to remain “naistik bramchari”. A bramchari is the one who follows a rule for eternity. Someone who has withdrawn from all the worldly pleasures, and has given up all desires of luxury, family, entertainment, achievement, and all else. He is beyond temptation because he has withdrawn his five senses from the world around him.

So coming back to the story, kind pandalam was on a hunt in the forest and he found an orphaned infant, the king decided to adopt this boy and took him to the queen who did not have any children till then. Everyone infatuated the boy except the crooked diwan. The boy killed Mahishi, the demon, who transformed into a beautiful woman now that her curse has been lifted. By this point queen has given birth to a son of her own. The king regarded manikandan as his own son and prepared to crown him as prince. The crooked minister who has an aspiration to rule in the name of the sickly prince which was the real son of the king, started poisoning the mind of the queen against manikandan, and suggested that she declare that only milk of tigress can cure her child. Manikandan went to the forest and came back with a tigress, with a whole group of tigers behind him. By this sight the king and queen knew he wasn’t and ordinary child. Manikandan forgave the queen and the minister, blessing the queen’s son and declaring his intent to leave the place, vowing to remain a celibate ascetic. He understood that the queen’s fear was the throne, which was the birthright of her son,being highjacked by manikandan and so he willingly stepped aside, promising never to seek power, and never to marry or be associated with sexual energies/reproductive fertility, to ensure that neither he nor his descendants ever sought the throne. Manikandan fired an arrow which landed on the hill named sabrimala at a spot called saramkuththi and asked the king to build a temple there where he could meditate for the well being of his followers.

So by the story we could easily interpret that it was the manikandan’s vow to remain ascetic, to stay away from all the worldly pleasures which also included sexual desires and marrying someone. so women in the age group of 10-50 aren’t allowed in the temple because they are menstruating and it is said that the energies of such women can militate in the vow of the manikandan.

The Supreme Court of India gave a very landmark judgement in the Sabrimala case .The Five Judges Constitutional Bench headed by Former Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra


the dualism that persists in the religion by glorifying and venerating women as goddess on one hand and by imposing rigorous sanctions on the other hand in the matters of the devotion has to be abandoned. Such a dual approach and an entrenched mindset results in indignity to women and degradation of their status. The society has to undergo a perceptual shift from being the propagator of hegemonic patriarchal notions of demanding more exacting standards of purety and hastity solely from women to be the cultivator of equality where the women is in no way considered frailer, lesser or inferior to men.

Patriarchy and patriarchy in religion cannot be permitted to trump over the elements of pure devotion borne out of faith and the freedom to practice and profess one’s religion.

Right to live with dignity- in meneka gandhi’s case the court gave a new dimension to Art. 21. It has been held that the right to live is not merely confined to physical existence but it includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. The same view has been elaborated in the court in francis carolie v. union territory of Delhi (AIR 1981). The right to live is not confined to the protection of any faculty or limb through which life is enjoyed or the soul communicates with the outside world but it also includes “the right to live with human dignity”, and all that goes along with it, namely the basic necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, reading, writing and expressing ourselves in diverse forms freely moving and mixing communicating with fellow human beings.

Dignity is the right of a person to be valued and respected for their own sake and to be treated ethically. It is of the significance in morality, ethics law and politics as an extension of the enlightenment era concepts of inherent inalienable rights and this practice of not allowing the women to enter because they are of procreating age is (derogatory) expressing a lack of respect a law opinion of something to them. Religion cannot be used a cover to deny right to worship to women and it is also against human dignity. Prohibition on women due to non-religious reasons and it is a grim shadow of discrimination going on the far for centuries. To treat women as children of lesser god is to blink at constitution.

Now since the judgment was In favor of the petitioners that is the honorable Supreme Courtremoved the ban on the entry of women in sabrimala temple from the age group of 10-50 years. The bench comprised of total five judges, headed by CJI ranjan Gogoi, the other judges were AM khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, Rohintan nariman and Indu Malhotra. Out of these five judges justice Indu Malhotra was of the dissenting opinion.

Article 14 is the right to equality before law whereas the article 25 of the constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. article 14 cannot surpass or suppress the right guaranteed by the constitution to practice, propagate or profess one’s religion, the court don’t have any right to interfere into the religious matters.

We see that article 15 of the indian constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. We also saw the two grounds on which the women were barred from entering into the temple, first and the major being the lord ayyappa was an ascetic celibate that is a person who restrains himself from all kinds of worldly pleasures. The other reason was the 41 days penance period, in olden days worshippers visit the temple only after observing the penance for 41 days. Since the pilgrims of sabrimala has to undergo “vratham” or penance for 41 days, usually ladies between the age of 10 and 50 will not be physically capable of observing vratham for 41 days on physiological grounds.[8] Despite the Article 15 every religious denomination shall have the right to manage their religious affairs subject to public order, morality and health. Every religious denomination is conferred such freedom under article 26 of the constitution and they shall have the following rights-

  1. To establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes,
  2. To manage its own affairs in matters of religion,
  3. To own and acquire movable or immovable property, and
  4. To administer such property in accordance with law.[9]

When such rights (to manage the religious affairs) are already conferred by the virtue of the constitution’s article 26 and devaswom board has been established by the said article 26 of the constitution then why the state should interfere into the matters of religious affairs of any religion. so the ruling of the supreme court on the religious matters to allow the entry of women into the temple will be self-contradictory and paradoxical. As we have already seen that there’s no matter of discrimination in this case. Also the ayyappans or worshippers of the sabrimala temple satisfy the requirements of being a religious denominationor sect thereof, which is already entitled to the protection provided by article 26.

“The real purpose of article 25 and article 26 is to guarantee especially to the religious minorities in this country to profess, practice propagate or manage their own religious affairs in the matters of religion. No doubt these rights are not only conferred on the minorities but to all the persons (article 25) and to all the denominations or sections thereof (article 26). But, in interpreting the scope and content of the guarantee contained in the two Articles the Court will always have to keep in mind the real purpose underlying the incorporation of these provisions in the fundamental rights chapter. When a challenge is raised before a Court against the validity of any statute as contravening the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 it is from the above perspective that the Court will approach the question and the tests to be applied for adjudging the validity of the statute will be the same irrespective of whether the person or denomination complaining about the infringement of the said fundamental right belongs to a religious minority or not.”[10]

India is a secular state and the concept of secularism is implicit in the constitution itself. Secularism has been defined by full bench “there is no mysticism in the secular character of the state. Secularism is neither anti god nor pro god, it treats alike the devout, the agnostic and the atheist. It eliminates God from the matters of the state and ensures that no one shall be discriminated against on the ground of religion.”[11] state has adopted the kind of secularism in which it doesn’t interferes in the religious affairs of the denominations or sects and ensures full freedom in practicing the religion, it neither supports any god or religion nor it does denies any god or religion.

Also the court doesn’t have any powers to adjudicate on such matters. In Narayan Namboodiri v. State of Kerala it was held that it is a matter of civil court and the decision of the civil court will be binding on all the members of the denomination, if there is any dispute among the members of the denomination with respect to religious, spiritual, ritual or ceremonial matters pertaining to the devaswom.[12]

It has been held in the Vasudev V Vamaji that state should protect all the religion but should interfere with none.

There is no violation of article 14 of the constitution of india which states that all the persons must be treated equally, or that there should be equal treatment among equals and unequal treatment among unequal. Actually right to equality permits the classification and prohibits the class legislation. Classification is actually where the law differentiates. In class legislation law do not classify. The classification must be reasonable. While Article 14 forbids class legislation, it does not forbid reasonable classification however classification should be reasonable and not arbitrary. Classification to be reasonable must fulfil the following two conditions-

  1. the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia, and
  2. the differentia must have a relation to the object or there must be nexus among the object

In the case of sabrimala the classification is reasonable because the ladies between the age group of 10 and 50 will not be physically capable of observing the same because if they will do so it will create biological problems because in that walk they have to maintain hygiene including taking bath twice a day and also taking one meal a day. If they will take twice a day at that period of time it will create biological problems for her only so this is not discriminatory at all. And also the restriction is on a particular age group of women not all, if it would have been on all the women then it may be said that a class of citizen is discriminated, since only the women of a particular age group are not allowed to enter the temple, it can’t be said that a class of citizen are discriminated and the entry of women are banned and such restriction is reasonable as discussed earlier.

Although our constitution does not define religious denomination. A religious denomination is a collection of individuals who are classed together under the same name, now almost always specifically, specially a religious sect or body having a common faith and organization and designated by a distinctive name.[13]

Thus if a body has a-

  1. common faith
  2. common organization
  3. different name

Then it will be categorized as denomination, article 26 mentions the word “section” which makes it inclusive of a sect or sub sect of a religion. the devotees of sabrimala have faith in Lord Ayyappa, they are the worshippers of lord ayyappa and can be specifically categorized as ayyappans. So they are religious denomination.

There must be full freedom given to any religious organization to practice, propagate or profess and to manage their own religious affairs to function effectively. The right to manage religious affairs cannot be abridged by any law.


The separation of church and state is a philosophical and jurisprudential concept for defining political distance in the relationship between religious organizations and the nation-state. Conceptually the term refers to the secular state (with or without legally explicit church-state separation) and to disestablishment the changing of an existing, formal relationship between the church and the state. In a society, the degree of political separation between the church and the civil state is determined by the legal structures and prevalent legal views that define the proper relationship between organized religion and the state.

Every exclusion is not discrimination, there are temples where even men aren’t allowed to enter like Attukal bhagavathy temple in Kerala, Chakkulathukavu Temple in Kerala, Santoshi maa vrat Temple and the list goes on. It is ancient doctrine in India that state protects all the religion and interferes with none.[14] Whom should I worship and who should I worship, SC will decide it?

[1] ‘’The book of the city of Ladies’’ by Christine de Pizan

[2]Halkias, Georgios (2013). A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 494. doi:10.1002/9781118324004. ISBN 9781118324004.

[3] Buhler, George. “Laws of Manu”. Internet Sacred Texts Archive

[4] Buhler, George. “Laws of Manu”. Internet Sacred Texts Archive

[5]“Bible Gateway passage: Genesis 2:18 – New International Version”

[6][6] Article 14 Constitution of INDIA

[6]SECTION 3. Clause 1 US Constitution.

[6] 3Legend of Sabrimala: Love story that kept women from Lord Ayyappa

[7][7] Legend of Sabrimala: Love story that kept women from Lord Ayyappa

[8] S. Mahendran vs The Secretary, Travancore

[9] S. Mahendran vs The Secretary, Travancore

[10] S.P. Mittal v Union of India (1983) 1 SCC 51: AIR 1983 SC1

[11] S.P. Mittal v Union of India (1983) 1 SCC 51: AIR 1983 SC1

[12]Narayanan Namboodiri v. State of Kerala

[13] Commissioner hindu religious Endowments,Madras v. Sri lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt

[14] Vasudev v. Vamanji, ILR 1881 Bom. 80

[ii]SECTION 3. Clause 1 US Constitution.

Law Corner

Leave a Comment