Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Ayappa Cult - Thekkedy

In my Rough Guide to India I have been reading about the Ayappa Cult that is centred here in Thekkedy.


Each December and January, loads of men dressed in black come here to walk deep into the jungle to a forest shrine. This shrine was built for the god, Ayappa. It’s the second largest pilgrimage in the world.


I read about this and was really interested in going there, but then I read that “although males of any age and any religion can take part in the pilgrimage, females between the ages of 9 and 50 are barred.”

This rule is still enforced vigorously.


In 1995 someone complained about the temple’s hygiene facilities so the “local collector” –  a 42 year old woman insisted that she be allowed to inspect. The temples authorities refused her entrance as she was of menstruating age, but the High Court said she had to be allowed in. She was allowed, but not into the central shrine. 


So now, of course, I really want to go to the temple. I mentioned it to Andrew, but he said “no way.” I asked, “why not?” And he said, “you only want to go there because you aren’t allowed.” So I said,


“Maybe that’s true, but I’m still going to go.”


Today when we saw Thomas, I asked him about the shrine. He knew it, but said that women couldn’t go there. I said, “why not Thomas?” He chewed on his nail for a bit, then said, “I can take you there. I know a way – through the forest. But I could only take you so far, then I would go. If anyone sees you, you’d say you found your way through the forest.” As we were walking I asked him why women weren’t allowed in.


Through mixed mutterings of Indian/English I managed to make out that there was a goddess who wanted to marry a specific man. And the king god (Shiva?) says that she can marry anyone else, but not the man she wants. So the goddess in now in the temple, waiting for her true husband and all these Ayappa cult people traipse into the jungle, hoping that they’ll be the one. The One then gets given some powers.

This story that Thomas gave me was very different to the myth behind the god Ayappa that the Rough Guides gives, so I’m not 100% sure why women aren’t allowed in. I think Thomas missed his occupation as a writer. He’s got a great imagination, what with his visiting royalty and goddess stories.

[Via http://bethanstritton.com]

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