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‘Cannot Direct Thantri To Reduce Vratham Period To 21 Days For Women To Visit Sabarimala’, Observes Kerala HC

The Court observed that there was no law which empowered Court to issue directions to a  ‘thantri’ regarding temple rituals and observances.

Today the High Court of Kerala dismissed a petition seeking directions to the ‘Thantri’ of Sabarimala temple to reduce the ‘vratham'(penance period) from 41 days to 21 days to enable women to undertake pilgrimage to the temple.

The petitioner M K Narayanan Potti, who claimed to be a teacher and also author of many publications on temple rituals, said that he welcomed the SC judgment allowing women entry and there was need to formulate rituals and practises to facilitate women entry. According to him, the existing practise of 41 days of ‘vratham’ cannot be undertaken by women of fertile age group, and hence there was need to reduce the ‘vratham’ period. He submitted that there are several men who undertake the pilgrimage without strictly undertaking 41 days penance. According to him, the temple practises are not inflexible and can be changed by ‘thantri’ in tune with the evolving norms. However, the ‘thantri’ was not taking any initiative in that regard, and had taken an adamant stand that the temple will be shut down for purification ceremonies in the event of a woman of fertile age group visiting it. The petitioner, who appeared in person, stated that there was nothing in the ‘shastras’ which stated that women cannot be ‘brahmacharis’ and hence the rituals should be modified to enable women entry.

The Division Bench of Justice P R Ramahcandra  Menon and Justice  N Anilkumar noted that the basic premise of the petition that women cannot perform 41 days penance due to ‘impurity’ arising out of intervening menstruation was totally misconceived. The Division Bench invited the petitioner’s attention to the fact that the SC had unequivocally declared in the Indian Young Lawyers Association case that menstruation cannot be considered as an impurity which prevents women from performing penance and undertaking pilgrimage. The Division Bench also observed that Justice Chandrachud had held in the SC judgment that exclusion of women on the notion of impurity due to menstruation amounted to untouchability.

Further, the Court observed that there was no law which empowered Court to issue directions to a ‘thantri’ regarding temple rituals and observances. The bench also asked the petitioner as to why he did not choose to intervene in the petition in the SC to apprise the Court of his suggestions.  While dismissing the petition, the Court observed that the SC was the appropriate forum to seek necessary clarifications and modifications in the judgment as the High Court was powerless to issue further directions regarding implementation of an SC decision.

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