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Sabarimala Court Cut: When the SC discussion of Lord Shiva's love of abhishek began to lose the audience

When law mingles with religion, results can be unpredictable...
When law mingles with religion, results can be unpredictable...

The hearing of the petition seeking right to worship to women at Sabarimala, Kerala, in the Supreme Court has often led to inquisitive questions from the bench about Hinduism, spirituality, and tradition.

11 July, when the case was listed before a new bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and two new Judges, namely, justices C Nagappan and R Banumati, was no exception.

Speculation was rife on why the composition of the old bench comprising justices Dipak Misra, Kurian Joseph and Gopal Gowda was changed abruptly, especially when almost half of the hearing was complete.

When senior counsel Indira Jaising wondered whether there could be some clarity from the bench on whether the counsel need to restart their arguments afresh, for the benefit of the two new judges on the bench and whether the matter could go back to the old bench, there was no direct answer from the bench.

Justice Dipak Misra, as if to answer her doubts, said he could not speak on behalf of his brother and sister, and they may like to hear the arguments afresh from the counsel.

Justice Dipak Misra then rather unexpectedly asked the counsel to reflect on whether the matter should be referred to the Constitution bench. The counsel for the respondents, KK Venugopal and V Giri felt the reference would be ideal, given the complex and substantial Constitutional questions involved in the case.

The amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, disagreed saying that the question of balancing one fundamental right with another, which Justice Misra was posing as a substantial question of law in the case, was already settled in the case of Venkatarama Devaru in the 1950s.

The two fundamental rights which appear to be in conflict here are the right to equality under Article 14 and Article 25, which guarantees the right to practice religion in a particular way.

As if to suggest a compromise, Justice Misra then said even if the bench were to refer the case to a Constitution bench, it would pass a detailed judgment with reasons why the Judges were compelled to refer the issue to the Constitution bench.

Question of milk

It was at this point, that one counsel asked whether it is fair to question the religious practice which insists that a deity who happens to be a Brahmachari (celibate) can be worshipped only by those who, at least, act like a Brahmachari.

The question led Justice Misra to go on a tangent for at least 15 minutes, with a pointed question on why Lord Shiva loves abhishek - the worship of idols with liquids.

This prompted a detailed response from senior counsel, K Parasaran, who, with his erudition in Sanskrit, appeared to give a detailed answer.

Still not satisfied, Misra quipped: “Mr Parasaran, you have still not answered my question.”

Misra then appeared to attempt an answer himself, asking why hot milk is not used by devotees for performing abhishek over Lord Shiva.

When the irrelevance of the question to the case began to make some lose interests in the proceedings, Justice Misra abruptly put a stop to the discussion, and adjourned the case to 7 November, in view of the impending hearing of the Nirbhaya case from next week, which is likely to take several weeks to complete.

Photo by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lord_Shiva_Statue_at_Murdeshwara.JPG Vamshireddy

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