Sanatana Dharma, or what we refer today as Hindu Dharma has no single source, exact time, or place of origin and no rigid commandments. The pedestal a book is placed on in this religion is directly a variable of the value it adds, the universality of its contents, and for how long it has withstood the test of time. Now, it has been agreed upon in spiritual parlance that Sruti, Smriti, and the Upanishads are the oldest and most authentic known spiritual texts that exist today in Hinduism. There are two basic philosophies entwined in our literatures, Karma-Kanda (Ritualistic approach) and Jnana-Kanda (Scholastic approach) for individual liberty. The vedas espouse Karma-Kanda in general and Upanishads, Jnana-Kanda. Either of these approaches are at our disposal to follow according to our inclination.
When we talk about wisdom, logic, or even Bhakti (the first mention of which is in Shwetashwatar Upanishad), we refer to the Jnana-Kanda or the scholastic approach. This approach leads us to believe that we are one with the Brahman and our sole purpose is to realise that oneness by virtue of Jnana, Bhakti, Chintan etc. What is outside is just a manifestation of what is inside. Thoughts like ब्रह्म सत्य जगतमिथ्या (Brahman is the only truth, the world is unreal), ब्रह्मास्मि (I am the Brahman), सोऽहं (I am that) etc. become our harbinger. Bhakti, which can also be considered a part of Jnana-Kanda espouses principles like Maatri Bhav (perceiving God as mother), Sakha Bhav (perceiving God as friend), Vatsalya Bhav (perceiving God as one’s own child) etc. wherein one internalizes the Brahman and loves his chosen deity with a thousandfold more love that one would feel for any mortal being or thing.
In all these paths, a guru generally acts as the mediator for the journey and there is no need for organized religion there. It is a very personal matter to practising hindus, hence not generally discussed publicly.
The second way to supplement the journey is the Karma-Kanda. It is more ritual intensive which consists generally, but not exclusively of Yajnas, Hawan, Pooja, Aarti, Sanskaras etc. In order to practice Karma-Kanda at a community level in an organized way, temples were envisioned and built. Here deities are established, प्राणप्रतिष्ठा (consecration of the idol) is done and hence the idol is treated as if the deity is himself (or herself) manifested in the idol. The natural laws applicable to human beings are applied to him. They are woken up, given bath, served food etc. In Karma-Kanda, along with purity of mind and soul, purity of body is equally important and revered. People who choose to follow this path consciously and by free will, undergo various tapas (spiritual practices) to achieve this purity. These spiritual practices are not random. There is a pattern, a clear way, and a proper guidance to practise these tapas.
The rules envisioned in Karma-Kanda have to be followed in order to achieve purity which one wants to achieve in order to follow the path of Karma-Kanda which one has chosen by his (or her) free will. One who doesn’t want to follow the Karma-Kanda or the associated rituals, is nevertheless free to do so.
At Sabarimala, Shri Ayyappa is the deity and is worshipped by following the principles of Karma-Kanda. He is worshipped as a living God as previously explained and not just an idol. Now, Shri Ayyappa, in that particular temple has taken a vow of Naishtika Brahmacharya or eternal celibacy. Yajnavalkya Smriti lays down the two conditions for such a practice, namely to undergo intense physical hardships and sustain extreme sense control.
“अनेन विधिना देहं सादयन्विजितेन्द्रियः |
ब्रह्मलोकमवाप्नोति न चेहाजायते पुनः || Y.S — 1–50 ||”
Intense physical hardships have been explained by sage Vashishth in Vashishtha Smriti
“आहूताध्यायी सर्वभैक्षं निवेद्य तदनुज्ञया भुञ्जीत |
खट्टाशयन दन्तप्रक्शालनाभ्यन्जनवर्जः तिष्ठेत् अहनि रात्रावासीत ||”
He should undertake studies at any time (that the guru orders); He should hand over all his bhiksha to his guru and eat only what the guru gives;
He should never sleep on a cot; He should never brush his teeth with any special paste; He should never apply any oils or perfumes; He should always be seated (as we can see at Sabarimala, the deity is in sitting position), day and night, ready for studies.
Sensory control part has been described by Shri Vijnaneshwar in his commentary
“विजितेन्द्रियः इन्द्रियविजये विशेषप्रयत्नवान्ब्रह्मचारी”
In order to become a vijitendriya, a (naishthik) brahmachari should undertake extreme efforts to maintain sense control.
(Source – https://medium.com/@pranasutra)
As we can see from the above shlokas that a Naishtika Brahmachari has been instructed to practise austerity and immense self control, he has been directed to stay away from women so that there should be no deviation and distraction in his path. Shri Ayyappa, being a Naishtika Brahmachari has to undergo the same restrictions and austerity as applicable to human beings as practised in Karma-Kanda and explained in the preceding paragraph. The rules that a temple follows are mentioned in ‘temple agamas’ so that they are not tinkered with unnecessarily unless they present a threat to the society in anyway.
Hindus are free to choose between any of the above said paths, Jnana-Kanda and Karma-Kanda. Also, they can choose to pick what they like from these paths and practise only the parts that suit them, as most hindus do. They are even free to not practise anything. What they cannot however do is to change the basic tenets of the religion itself according to their wishes. And this is what the Supreme Court of India has authorized itself to do which according to me is unjust and unfair.
About the Author : Ambikesh Kumar Jha is a social writer and a sailor, presently ashore.
Image Courtesy – www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/sabarimala