Story and Faith Behind Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple

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Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples in Kerala.
The temple is situated on a hilltop (about 3000 feet above sea level) named Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district, which is unique. The temple is open to people belonging to all religions. There is a place near the temple; east of Sannidhanam (the abode of Lord Ayyappa), dedicated to Vavar (a close friend of Lord Ayyappa) which is called Vavaru Nada, an epitome of religious harmony. Another unique aspect of this temple is that it is not open throughout the year. It is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja, Makaravilakku and Vishu. The temple is managed by the Travancore Devasom Board(TDB).

Considered one of the largest annual piligrimages in the world, the Sabarimala temple is visited by over 45-50 million devotees every year.It is said that the pilgrims have to observe celibacy for 41 days before going to Sabarimala. Pilgrims take the traditional forest routes as well as the one from Pamba which is less physically challenging to reach the temple.

Sabarimala is built on a story. A story that has linkages with faith that said that the main deity of the temple, Lord Ayyappa, is a brahmachari (a celibate god) and the presence of women of the menstruating age group is a hindrance to his meditation. Women outside this age group can enter the temple and that has been always so.
And there is more to this story. A female deity in the temple called 'Malikappuram Devi', is given place within the temple and as per the centuries-old belief, Lord Ayyappa will marry Malikappuram Devi the year in which there are no 'kanni' ayyappans (first-time visitors to the temple). But, such a scenario doesn't happen in reality since every year there are thousands of new devotees thronging Sabarimala.

In 1991, the kerala high court banned the entry of the women above age of 10 and below the age of 50 from entering the sabarimala shrine. In its verdict, the Kerala HC mentioned that the ban on women entering the sabarimala temple had existed since time immemorial and only the “tantric”(priest) was empowered to decide on traditions.

However, the ban was challenged by a group of women lawyers on the ground that banning women from visiting a public place of worship was a violation of ideals of equality, non-discrimination and religious freedom.

In January 2016, the case reached the Supreme Court of India after a public interest litigation(PIL) was filled by the Indian Young Lawyers Association.
The case was later referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and comprising Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

The bench, on September 28, 2018, lifted the ban and ruled that women, of all age group, can enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala .
With a 4:1 majority, the bench in its verdict said that the temple practice violates the rights of Hindu women and the banning entry of women to shrine is gender discrimination.


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What is the history behind sabarimala temple?

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