OF TEMPLES AND WOMEN

The utter implausibility of exclusion of women from temples can be illustrated through two examples – Gargi’s debate with Yajnavalkya & the story of Satyakama Jabala – each of which has immense signification in Hindu tradition which, paradoxically, is being used to justify the exclusion.The dialogue between Yajnavalkya and Gargi shows that the status of a Brahmin has nothing to do with gender and the story of Satykama Jabala shows that being a Brahmin has nothing also to do with family lineage. If being a priest or teacher has nothing to do with gender or status how can gender or status alone be made the reason for exclusion by any priest or teacher from the pursuit of devotion or knowledge?

Answering Gargi’s second question Yajnavalkya said, “If someone in this world makes offerings, performs sacrifices and practices austerities for many thousands of years without knowing the imperishable, Gargi, his work comes to an end. He who departs from this world without knowing the imperishable is miserable, Gargi. But if someone passes from this world , Gargi, knowing the imperishable he is a brahmin.” Thus the status of brahmin befits only those who have knowledge of the imperishable and gender is irrelevant – if a Gargi knows the imperishable she can also be a brahmin. And those who merely perform the traditional sacrifices and practices cannot only for that reason be brahmins nor consequently deny a Gargi the right which is her’s of a legitimate pursuit.

Similarly Satyakama’s story shows that any honest seeker of truth can be a Brahmin. Satyakama did not know his family lineage. His mother had told him she became pregnant when she was a servant and moved around alot. But she said, “My name is Jabala and yours is Satykama. You should merely say you are Satykama Jabala.” When Satyakama approached his teacher he said precisely that. And his teacher replied, “Bring firewood, my boy. I will initiate you. You have not abandoned the truth.” No honest seeker of truth can thus be kept out of any temple.

Apart from tradition the significance in Hindu philosophy of Kama (the experience generated through interaction with senses) which is celebrated as one of the four goals of life along with Dharma, Artha and Moksha is equally relevant to the issue of exclusion of women. According to Hinduism the mere danger that may come in the wake of the pursuit of sensory enjoyments  cannot be the cause for giving them up altogether. Tempered with Dharma, Kama has to be kept in harmony with mind and soul and if this balance which is a necessary condition of legitimate human pursuit is not innate to the priests they stand disqualified for being unfaithful to the philosophy they claim to preach. God is nothing but unity in the apparent diversity, the unifying principle and ultimate cause and bringing in notions of gender in this spiritual quest entails attachment to the very things liberation from which is being pursued in one’s endeavour of self-realisation. Purity or impurity is only be in the mind.

And most importantly the symbolic significance of a liberated consciousness (which has nothing to do either with gender. position or status) apparent in the spire (shikhar) above the garbha-griha of a temple which itself manifests the incarnation of God as a universal essence ignores the physical aspect of a devotee looking instead to the metaphysical spirituality of the exercise of devotion. A seeker of enlightenment in Hinduism cannot ever be identified by gender or status.

Neither religion nor tradition justifies exclusion of women from temples.

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