The Supreme Court is currently hearing a PIL regarding women between 10 to 50 years of age being prevented from entering the Sabarimala Swamy Ayyappa temple. Continuous hearings are underway (as of July 2018) and various Hindu religious requirements are being debated in the context of constitutional provisions.
One of the main points of arguments from the side of the defendants (those wanting the practice to stay) has been that the deity — Swamy Ayyappa — is in the form of a नैष्ठिक ब्रह्मचारि — ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’. In this form, it is being argued that the deity requires that he doesn’t come under contact, in any way — even visual — with women aged 10 to 50.
Since the temple is dedicated to worshipping Ayyappa in this form, any deviation from the required modes of worship will constitute an infringement of the fundamental identity of the religious denomination. The question that is being asked by the Supreme Court bench is — “Is the requirement a fundamental religious practice?”
There have been many judgements where religious practices that are fundamental in nature have been upheld as essential by the courts. Hence establishing the practice of the deity not coming in contact with women of age 10 to 50 as an essential religious practice is vital in this case. The defendants have produced evidences from the Temple agama shastras to prove their contention. It would, no doubt, benefit the arguments if further evidences from our shastras is produced to show that the requirement is based on sound religious requirements and that it is not based out of any misogynist mindset of the management.
Brahmacharya and types
Quite a few of our smriti granthas (which are without a trace of doubt fundamental scriptures to Hindu religion) touch upon this topic of brahmacharya. Manu smriti, vasishta smriti, jabali smriti and smriti chandrika are some of the granthas that give good details about brahmacharya.
But two granthas — Smriti Muktavali by Sri Krishnacharya — and Yajnavalkya Smriti — give very good details relevant to the current debate.
Smriti Muktavali explains the two types of brahmacharya as follows
कीर्तितावुपकुर्वाणनैष्ठिकाविति भेदतः |
There exists two variations in brahmacharya — upakurvaaNa and naishtika
A upakurvana brahmachari is one who practices celibacy till his studies — vedadhyayana — is over; Once his education is complete, he ends his celibacy, marries as per shastra, and leads the life of a gruhastha.
On the other hand, a naishtika brahmachari is one who undertakes a vow to remain a celibate till his death. He also has to undertake to live forever with his guru!
Yajnavalkya smriti says
नैष्ठिको ब्रह्मचारी तु वसेदाचार्यसन्निधौ |
One who is a naishtika brahmachari shall always reside with his guru..
In addition to this, there are two primary requirements of such a naishtika brahmacharya which is given in yajnavalkya smriti
अनेन विधिना देहं सादयन्विजितेन्द्रियः |
ब्रह्मलोकमवाप्नोति न चेहाजायते पुनः || Y.S — 1–50 ||
In this way (a naishtika brahmachari should) body should be subject to stress and extreme sense control should be practised. Such a person shall attain brahmaloka and will not be born again!
So, two main requirements of a naishtika brahmachari are 1) Physical hardship for one’s body and 2) Extreme indriya nigraha or sense control.
Vasishta Smriti has a long list of requirements in terms of physical hardship that a naishtika brahmachari should undertake. A few examples are as follows
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, day and night, ready for studies
Note: One may recall that the Ayyappa idol at Sabarimala is in a seated position — that is conducive to studies — and as per the dictum given above!
Thus, there are extreme requirements imposed from a physical hardship point of view.
Extreme sense control
Like we have seen above, yajnavalkya smriti says
as the requirement from a sense control point of view.
In this ‘mitakshara’ commentary on the above shloka, Sri Vijnaneshwara explains it as below
विजितेन्द्रियः इन्द्रियविजये विशेषप्रयत्नवान्ब्रह्मचारी
In order to become a vijitendriya, a (naishtika) brahmachari should undertake extreme efforts to maintain sense control.
The sensory organs that need to be controlled are eyes, ears, mouth (and tongue), nose, skin, hands, legs, reproductive organ and excretory organ and mind.
Now it is well known that sense control involves control of actual performance of activities by the sense organs as also avoiding any thoughts that could corrupt the mind.
Since a naishtika brahmachari has been explicitly ordered to undertake extreme measures, in order to avoid the deviation of his mind towards procreation as also to keep the reproductive organs under control — he is required to completely stay away from women who are in the age conducive to procreation.
Diety as a human
It is a well known, and well accepted, fact that as per agama shastra, the deity in a temple is subjected to the same conditions that an ideal human in that particular form would undertake. Hence whenever a male deity is worshipped as a naishtika brahmachari, the specific agamas of the temple — based on the injunction in Yajnavalkya Smriti — impose the condition that he not be subjected to the company of women aged 10 to 50 — IN ANY WAY.
Hence their entry to the abode of worship is forbidden and only if they are on either side of the age limit are they allowed.
Essential Religious Practice
We can thus see that the temple agamas are clearly derived from one of the main Smriti granthas — the Yajnavalkya Smriti to be precise. Smritis, along with the Shrutis (Vedas) form the core of Hindu religious scriptures.
Hence this injunction is an absolutely essential requirement for the worship of a deity in naishtika brahmachari form.