Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The popular mystic, Sadhguru, otherwise known as Jaggi Vasudev, has spoken on the demand to let women into the Shani Shingnapur Mandir in Ahmednagar district. Keeping women out, he told a site called Satya Vijayi, was not “discrimination” but “discretion”. After all, men are not let into the inner sanctum of the Linga Bhairavi temple, he said, to make the point that such practices are not discriminatory. But it was somewhat undermined by the sexist joke that followed: “married and domesticated” men had been trained not to protest against these bans.
Sadhguru explains that temples are not, in fact, places of prayer; they are channels for various energies. The Shani temple, built for the lord of “dominance, distress, depression, disease, and disaster”, is a place of dangerous energies. Exorcisms and other powerful occult processes take place here. “Shani is not nice”, said Sadhguru, but he has to be dealt with. And this unpleasant business is a man’s job.
Delicate sensibilities aside, the main reason for keeping women out is their internal plumbing, according to this theory. Male bodies can be trained to withstand occult forces because “of a few biological advantages that men have in this area of life”. But female bodies, built to reproduce, are more “receptive and vulnerable to certain types of energies – especially during pregnancy and menstrual cycles”.
Such proscriptions stem from concern about women’s well-being, continued Sadhguru. He cites the example of the Velliangiri hill temple, the road to which lay through dense forest populated by “wild animals”. In the old days, women were not allowed into the temple for their own safety. The ban could now be revisited because, presumably, the wild animals had disappeared.
The “democratic fervor” for equality does not take into account the “science behind these temples”, said Sadhguru, and people need to be educated about it. But the mystic is all for gender equality. Gender, he concluded, should not matter outside these specific temples, bathrooms and bedrooms.
Who makes the rules?
This is not the first time that women’s bodies or their sexuality has been used as a reason for exclusionary practices. Women are not allowed into the Sabarimala shrine because it will apparently be too much for the celibate god, Ayappa, who might be tempted to leave the building. Even a temple devoted to the menstruating goddess, Kamakhya Devi, does not let in women on their period. In most instances, female sexuality is imaged as threatening and impure, contaminating spiritual processes. The woman’s presence is reduced to the body, while men can be leavened out of their baser selves.
Sadhguru has more panache, arguing that the ban on women is for their own good. But his theory has a few holes in it. Quite apart from some good old Victorian assumptions about hysteria and female susceptibility, this beacon for gender equality does not recognise that the rules were made by men. And in an equal society, women don’t need men deciding what is for their own good.