by Jayant Kalawar, November 21, 2019
Women and Sabarimala: The Science behind Restrictions. Sinu Joseph, Notion Press. First Published by Notion Press 2019, ISBN 978-1-64733-633-2 (The book is available directly from publisher at Notion Press and at Amazon India . It is also available on Kindle atAmazon.com. My review is based on a digital copy provided for review purposes).
The author, Sinu Joseph, opens up for us the amazingly beautiful complex weave of Sastha tradition (of which Sabarimala is an integral part) by taking us on a journey of six Sastha temples, across a geography of many hundreds of miles in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. When we go along with her on this pilgrimage, we get to sense of the process of subtle human connections with the Deities of each of the temples. Along the way, Sinu describes what that connection experience is like for those who identify themselves as female and how it is different from those who identify themselves as male.
Before embarking on the journey, the book gives us an orientation in the first two chapters. This may be especially helpful for those who, while born into Hindu families, may not have had the opportunity to understand the deeply thoughtful subtle framework of chakras, and their connections to the endocrinal system of the human body, that have been used to design this pilgrimage through these six temples, each with a uniquely powerful Deity residing in a specific temple architecture. The connection to the human endocrinal system lays open for us to see how the pilgrimage process generates different experiences in female and male bodies. Those who are already deep practitioners in the chakra based traditions may find the first chapter of the book to be a quick refresher (given there are multiple views of chakra framework within Hindu tradition, the one described in this book may be considered by some to be a beginners version). The second chapter (along with the preface) sets up the problem that arose when Sabarimala temple was viewed through the lens of modernity – the rest of the book being a response to the question: why are women between the ages of 10 and 50 not allowed to enter Sabarimala temple.
The pilgrimage of the six Sastha temples is described as journey from the muldhArA chakrA through swadisthAnA, maNipurA, anAhatA and vishuddhi chakrAs to the AjnA chakrA. Reading the first two chapters makes the descriptions of each of the temple Deities and the experiences easy to grasp. Each description is helpfully divided into sections describing the journey of the author’s travel party to the temple, their experiences in the temple, the Deity, the Chaitanyam, the ChakrA significance.
As the pilgrimage gains momentum, the descriptions of experiences build upon themselves and one becomes more and more curious about what comes next. That is a hallmark of an accomplished story teller. To show us this particular complex weave of Hindu tradition with such story telling prowess wants me to read more of Sinu Joseph’s writings in the future, as she deepens her insights by continuing her sAdhanA.
In the last but one chapter Sinu brings the mystery to a close by making a compelling case, which she has been building all along. We see how by the time we get to Sabarimala our endocrine systems may be activated through the pilgrimage and how this begins to impact male and female bodies differently. And especially how this may impact menstruating women differently.
The book ends with a conversation with women to begin exploring the answer to the question ‘but so, what should women who also want mukti do?”. I think such exploration is much needed to rejuvenate a knowledge base that would help us move towards a socially and culturally more balanced life.
The blessings of Lord Sastha flow into this book and upon its readers through the blessings of Shri V. Aravind Subramanyam, President, Shri Maha Sasthru Seva Sangam, Coimbatore, in his foreword to the book. I read it at the beginning and once again at the end of my reading. I highly recommend reading this book. May you be blessed by Lord Sastha.
Jayant Kalawar is the author of An Outsider Deconstructing European Enlightenment, in which he uses the Devi / ChakrA lens to describe Europe’s interaction with the world over the last 400 plus years.