Ideas

Sabarimala Conflict: Who Exactly Is A Naishtika Brahmachari?

Devotees offering prayers at Sabarimala (Pic: @keveeyes/twitter)
Snapshot
  • It’s important to understand who a naishtika brahmachari is, in order to claim the respect a fundamental religious practice deserves.

In a shocking development, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the operations of the Sabarimala temple, has reversed its earlier stand with respect to the entry of women in the age group of 10-50 into the temple. In a baffling U-turn, the board has now decided to respect the decision of the Supreme Court and allow women in the age group of 10-50 years to enter the temple premises. This U-turn came when a five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court was hearing pleas seeking a review of its earlier verdict.

The court has now reserved its verdict on the review petition. But it is important to again revisit the arguments of the case and understand the position of the defendants who filed the review petitions.

One of the main points of arguments from the side of the defendants (those who want the practice to stay) has been that the deity, Swamy Ayyappa,  is in the form of a  ‘naishtika brahmachari’. In this form, it is being argued that the deity does not come into contact, in any way, even visual, with women aged between 10 and 50 years.

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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 where the deity does not come into contact with women of age 10 to 50 years as an essential religious practice is vital in this case.

The defendants have produced evidence from the temple agama shastras to prove their contention. It would, no doubt, benefit the arguments if further evidence from our shastras is produced to show that the requirement is based on sound religious requirements and that it is not a result of any misogynist mindset of the management.

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Brahmacharya And Its Types

Quite a few of our smriti granthas (which are without a trace of doubt fundamental scriptures of the Hindu religion) touch upon this topic of brahmacharya. Manu Smriti, Vasishta Smriti, Jabali Smriti and Smriti Chandrika are some of the granthas that shed light on brahmacharya.

But two granthas  —  Smriti Muktavali by Sri Krishnacharya,  and Yajnavalkya Smriti,  give compelling details relevant to the current debate.

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Smriti Muktavali explains the two types of brahmacharya as follows.

(कीर्तितावुपकुर्वाणनैष्ठिकाविति भेदतः |)

There exists two variations in brahmacharya : upakurvaana and naishtika. An upakurvana brahmachari is one who practises celibacy until he completes his education (vedadhyayana) after which he ends his celibacy, marries as per shastra, and leads the life of a gruhastha.

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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: One who is a naishtika brahmachari shall always reside with his guru (नैष्ठिको ब्रह्मचारी तु वसेदाचार्यसन्निधौ |)

In addition to this, there are two primary requirements of such a naishtika brahmacharya which is featured in Yajnavalkya Smriti:

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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 an extreme control of the sense should be practised. Such a person shall attain brahmaloka and will not be born again!

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So, two main requirements of a naishtika brahmachari are:

1) Subjecting one’s body to physical hardship

2) Extreme indriya nigraha or control of the sense.

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Physical Hardship

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 |

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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 reflects the dictum given above.

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Thus, there are extreme requirements imposed from the point of view of physical hardship.

Extreme Control Of The Sense

Like we have seen above, Yajnavalkya Smriti says: “vijitendriyah” as the requirement from the point of view of sense control.

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In this ‘mitakshara’ commentary on the above shloka, Sri Vijnaneshwara explains it as below:

विजितेन्द्रियः इन्द्रियविजये विशेषप्रयत्नवान्ब्रह्मचारी (in order to become a vijitendriyah, a (naishtika) brahmachari should undertake arduous efforts to maintain control of the sense).

The sensory organs that need to be controlled are eyes, ears, mouth (and tongue), nose, skin, hands, legs, reproductive organ, excretory organ and mind. Now it is well known that control of the sense involves control of actual performance of activities by the sense organs as also avoiding any thoughts that could corrupt the mind.

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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 of procreative age.

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.

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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.

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Hence, this injunction is an absolutely essential requirement for the worship of a deity in naishtika brahmachari form.

This piece was originally published on the author’s blog and has been republished here with permission.

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