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Indian Women challenge the age-old taboo of banning women’s entry in temples

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After mounting a spirited challenge to centuries-old traditions, Indian women have gained access to the inner sanctum of a key Hindu temple that had prohibited them from entering for hundreds of years, and are spearheading a movement to have similar bans overturned in other temples and a historic mosque.

When 31-year-old activist Trupti Desai set foot on the platform where the deity of the Shani Shingnapur temple is placed, it was hailed as a huge victory for gender equality in a country where large strata of society remain patriarchal.

Desai’s entry in Ahmednagar in Western Mahasrashtra state this month, along with a small group of other women, marked the culmination of a high-profile campaign that she launched five months ago on hearing that priests had conducted a purification ritual in the temple after a woman offered prayers to the idol.

After police foiled Desai’s attempt to literally parachute from a helicopter onto the raised platform of the open-air temple earlier this year, women activists mounted a legal challenge to the ban.

The Mumbai High Court ruled in their favor, saying it was a fundamental right of women to access any place of worship where men are allowed, and that authorities should facilitate their entry into temples that ban them.

After some resistance, the temple trustees finally threw open the inner sanctum to women. It has not happened easily; the activists had to enter armed with a court order and protected by a ring of policemen because they faced angry counter protests by locals who wanted to protect the temple from what they felt was its desecration by women.

Women have challenged the ban on their entry to the mausoleum at the famous Haji Ali Dargah, a shrine and mosque situated on an islet off Mumbai’s coast. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Women have challenged the ban on their entry to the mausoleum at the famous Haji Ali Dargah, a shrine and mosque situated on an islet off Mumbai’s coast. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

“Many people had said that ’til the sun, moon and stars exist, you will never be able to set foot here. I am very happy that women’s power has won, and tradition has lost,” said Desai after tasting victory.

She said her movement does not target religious practices; it aims to fight the notion that women have a lesser status. Most Hindu temples allow women, but a handful of prominent ones have shut the doors on them.

As the campaign to change the status quo gains traction, women have set their sights on other temples with similar restrictions. At least two – the well-known Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik and Mahalaxmi temple in Kolhapur – lifted their bans on women this month.

But the battle is not over, as similar campaigns are playing out in other parts of the country. The most high-profile one is for access to the famous Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala state in Southern India, which does not allow women of reproductive age to enter the temple. The ban is born out of the belief that menstruating women are impure.

The Supreme Court, which is due to rule on a challenge to that centuries-old custom, has said it will the test this restriction on the basis of the constitution.

“What right does the temple have to forbid women from entering any part of the temple? Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest? The reasons for banning anything must be common for all,” said Justice Dipak Misra, one of the three judges said during a recent hearing.

Temple authorities have defended the tradition saying the deity being worshipped is a celibate.

It is not just Hindu temples that are coming under pressure to allow women. Muslim women petitioners have challenged a ban on them in the mausoleum at the 15th century Haji Ali Dargah, one of the country’s most prominent mosques in Mumbai and a famous city landmark. The restrictions were imposed in 2011 by trustees who said allowing women in the proximity of the tomb of a revered saint is “a grievous sin” in Islam.

Zakia Soman, the co-founder of a Muslim women’s rights group (Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan), questions the ban, saying both men and women are allowed right into the holiest place for all Muslims in Mecca.

She said they went to court after efforts to have a dialogue with the trustees made no headway making it clear that as women raise their voice for equality, “these people are getting even more regressive than what they are. We cannot just allow this to pass, we have got to fight it.”

Most Hindu temples, like this one in Gurgaon, do not ban women. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Most Hindu temples, like this one in Gurgaon, do not ban women. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Women’s rights advocates describe the movement to enter places of worship as an important milestone in the quest for gender equality. They say what is significant is the campaign took root in a relatively small town and not in the big cities, where such battles are usually waged.

A professor of sociology at Delhi University, Mala Shankar Das Kapoor, points out that these campaigns have been drawing nationwide attention.

“A lot of more people will realize that these things need to be stopped, so that gives the women who have been deprived a little more courage to stand for their rights and express themselves. All this adds to the confidence of women asking for equality,” she said. (VOA)

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Top 10 Famous Hindu Temples of Tamil Nadu

Most of the temples of Tamil Nadu dates back to 800 to 1400 years and still stands to be rock solid.

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Most of the temples situated in Tamil Nadu were built during the historic and medieval period
Most of the temples situated in Tamil Nadu were built during the historic and medieval period

NEW DELHI: Tamil Nadu is known as the temple city of India and the state is considered as the torchbearers of the magnificent heritage of that region. The Hindu Tamil temples here are a classic example of art form evolved over thousands of years and thus very much glorifies the ancient culture of Tamil Nadu and of India as well.

Tamil Nadu has nearly 33,000 ancient temples scattered on its land and some of them are known to be the biggest temples of the Hindu community. The Hindu Tamil temples located here dates back to 800 to 1400 years and still stands to be rock solid. Although, the historical records describe the scriptures to be 3,000 years old but the wide variety of complex and wealthy architecture of these temple makes it difficult to believe in their ages.

Most of the temples situated in Tamil Nadu were built during the historic and medieval period when Pallavas, Cholas, and Nayakas were the rulers of Deccan Plateau of India. Thus, these Hindu Tamil temples help you to get an immense insight of elaborate and brilliant sculptures of those times.

All these things point out towards the rich culture and heritage of Tamil Nadu.

Also Read: SC directs registration of Kerala temples having elephants

For the coming New Year, we have compiled a list of 10 famous temples of Tamil Nadu that will walk you through a great spiritual experience and offer you to learn about the mesmerizing past of the state. The astounding beauty does spellbind every visitor and tourist.

Meenakshi Amman Temple is a masterpiece of the Dravidian architecture. Wikimedia Commons
Meenakshi Amman Temple is a masterpiece of the Dravidian architecture. Wikimedia Commons
  1. Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

The ‘Meenakshi Amman Temple’ is devoted to Goddess Parvati in the character of Meenakshi and her partner, Lord Shiva in the character of Lord Sundareshwarar. It is one of the most ancient and famous temples of Tamil Nadu, as the temple was built around 6th century AD and a major portion of it got damaged in the 14th century during the Muslim invasion. The present structure was again restored to its pristine glory by the Nayak rulers. The whole temple is furnished with thousands of figures of gods, goddesses, and demons.

The Meenakshi Amman Temple is a masterpiece of the Dravidian architecture and is no less than an ancient architectural marvel. Thousands of devotees throng this temple every year during ‘Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival’ in the months of April-May.

2. Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur

Brihadeeswarar Temple is one of the largest temples in India and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. This Hindu Tamil temple was built during the reign of the Chola dynasty in 11th century AD and stands 216 ft. tall. The temple is known for one of its structure known as ‘Vimana’ and claimed to be the tallest structure in the world.

The Brihadeeswarar temple comes under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of ‘Great Living Chola Temples’. The Temple also professes of being the world’s first temple completely built from granite stone.

According to archaeological records, the exact is not known and dates back to the 10th century under the rule of Chola dynasty. Wikimedia Commons
According to archaeological records, the exact is not known and dates back to the 10th century under the rule of Chola dynasty. Wikimedia Commons

3. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam

The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is devoted to Lord Vishnu and is located on the Srirangam Island of the Tiruchirappalli city in Tamil Nadu. The temple is another gem built by the Dravidian architectures and is counted as the first amongst the 108 holy abodes of Lord Vishnu. It is spread across an area of over 150 acres with some dazzling tower gateways.

According to archaeological records, the exact is not known and dates back to the 10th century under the rule of Chola dynasty. The temple was plundered in the 14th century by Muslim invaders but was again restored by the Vijayanagara and Nayaka rulers in the 16th century.

Also Read: Arulmigu Masani Amman Temple: Temple of Justice in Tamil Nadu

4. Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram

Ramanathaswamy Temple is located on the serene island of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. This temple is considered as one of the holy ‘Char Dhams’ and included in the 12 sacred Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. This Hindu Tamil temple is supposedly built by the Pandya rulers during the 12th century.

Such is the divineness of the temple that it is observed as one of the four primary pilgrimage destinations for Hindus. ‘Vishwalinga’ is located next to Ramalinga, the Shivlinga that is believed to be brought by Hanuman. The most amusing thing is the corridor hall which is acknowledged as the longest in India.

There is a mysterious water stream under the Shivlinga that continuously flows out. Wikimedia Commons
There is a mysterious water stream under the Shivlinga that continuously flows out. Wikimedia Commons

5. Jambukeswarar Temple, Thiruvanaikaval

Jambukeswarar Temple was built during the reign of Chola empire and is located on the Srirangam Island. This temple is devoted to Lord Shiva and represents a Dravidian style of architecture.

The temple holds 5 enclosures inside it and the innermost enclosure is the main sanctum housing the Shivlinga in the form of Appu Lingam. There is a mysterious water stream under the Shivlinga that continuously flows out. According to an ancient ritual, every day the priest of the temple dresses in saree and offers prayer to Lord Jambukeswarar which is a very unusual practice.

6. Kanchi Kailasanthar Temple, Kanchipuram

Kanchi Kailasanthar is believed to have been built under the rule of the Pallava Dynasty and dates back to the late 7th century- early 8th century. This Hindu Tamil temple is the oldest temple in Tamil Nadu and dedicated to Lord Shiva with 16 sided Shivlinga’s made of black granite stone. It is located in Kanchipuram district of Tamilnadu and made entirely of sandstone.

There are various delicately carved sculptures of Lord Shiva and also walls of this temple have pictures of Goddess Parvati. The temple is said to attract a large number of pilgrims, especially during the occasion of Maha Shivratri.

Inside the structure, there is a 1000 pillared hall with carvings of Shivlingas. Wikimedia Commons
Inside the structure, there is a 1000 pillared hall with carvings of Shivlingas. Wikimedia Commons

7. Ekambareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram
Ekambareswarar Temple is counted amongst five elements of the universe and is devoted to the element earth. This shrine holds great substance for followers of Lord Shiva. The exact date of its existence is still not known but it is believed to have been in the existence since 600 AD.

Inside the structure, there is a 1000 pillared hall with carvings of Shivlingas. There is also a mango tree present in this Hindu Tamil temple and is believed to be 3000 years old and what makes it special is that it bears four different types of Mangoes in four different seasons in a year.

Also Read: Enigmatic Mount Kailash: The abode of Lord Shiva

8. Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Chennai
Kapaleeshwarar Temple’s structure dates back to 16th century but after the devastation caused by Portuguese, it was built back by Pallava kings during the 7th century. The Hindu Tamil temple is located in Mylapore district of Chennai.

The temple is devoted to Lord Shiva and is one of the key pilgrimage sites of Tamil Nadu. It presents a tremendous artwork of the Dravidian architecture. The temple also holds an essence of Goddess Parvati and there is also a small shrine dedicated to her.

Monolithic Rock Temples is known for famous five monolithic rock-cut temples. Wikimedia Commons
Monolithic Rock Temples is known for famous five monolithic rock-cut temples. Wikimedia Commons

9. Monolithic Rock Temples, Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram is known for some very famous ancient temples present in that area and thus it is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage site. The site was erected during the reign of Pallava dynasty and dates back to 7th century. The town holds a hallmark of the superb craftsmanship of that era. Monolithic Rock Temples is known for famous five monolithic rock-cut temples. The temple has been dedicated to a Pandavas and relates to the period of Mahabharata.

The other attraction of the Mahabalipuram town is the marvelous ‘Shore Temple’. Unlike Monolithic Rock Temple, this temple is constructed of granite stone. This Hindu Tamil temple is devoted to Lord Vishnu along with the Sheshnag.

The whole place in itself is so serene and peaceful that it also complements the whole spiritual environment.

10. Kumari Amman Temple, Kanyakumari
As the name of the place suggests, Kanyakumari was a virgin Goddess and an avatar of Goddess Shakti. The temple is situated in Kanyakumari of Tamil Nadu and dates back to 3000 years back.

Located on the peninsula of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, the ‘Kumari Amman Temple’ is dedicated to the virgin Goddess Kanya Kumari, an avatar of Goddess Shakti. The sculpture of Goddess is a pleasing young girl, holding a rosary in her right hand.

The surrounding od this place really calls for some tranquility and solace. The sea around the holy structure makes it a perfect place to visit and get lost in the serenity of this place.