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Indian woman who braved temple protest arrested for ‘exposed thigh’ on her Facebook picture

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A case registered by police in October claimed the photograph was “sexually explicit” and “wounded the religious feelings of Lord Ayyappa’s devotees”. Her attempts to prevent her arrest failed this week and she was remanded in custody on Tuesday.

The controversy over the temple has tested the limits of the power of the judiciary to intervene in religious affairs, as well as its ability to enforce the decision: both the BJP and Congress party in Kerala have declined to support the state’s Communist government in enforcing the law.

Those who want to ban women from the temple say Ayyappa was known for his celibacy, and that the presence of menstruating women is a profane incursion on a holy site. 

Fathima’s husband told the Times of India: “We don’t understand how a woman’s photo showing her knee would be anti-religious in a country where naked saints are worshipped.” They are applying for bail.

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Ayyapan.jpg

Ayyappan is the Hindu god of growth, particularly popular in Kerala. He is a syncretic deity, the son of Shiva and Mohini – the female avatar of Vishnu. Ayyappan is also referred to as Ayyappa, Sastavu, Hariharaputra, Manikanta, Shasta or Dharma Shasta.

The iconography of Ayyappan depicts him as a handsome celibate god doing yoga and as an epitome of Dharma, who wears a bell around his neck. In the Hindu pantheon, his legends are relatively recent but diverse. For some, he is also an incarnation of the Buddha. He is honored by some Muslims in Kerala, with legends wherein Ayyappan defeats and gains worship of the Muslim brigand Vavar. In the Hindu tradition popular in the Western Ghats of India, he was born with the powers of Shiva and Vishnu to confront and defeat the shape shifting evil Buffalo demoness Mahishasuri. He was raised by a childless royal couple, and grows up as a warrior yogi champion of ethical and dharmic living. In the South Indian version, Ayyappan images show him as riding a tiger, but in some places such as Sri Lanka he is shown as riding a white elephant.

Ayyappan popularity has grown in many parts of India, and the most prominent Ayyappan shrine is at Sabarimala, nestled in the hills of Pathanamthitta of Kerala. The shrine receives millions of pilgrims every year in late December and early January, many of whom prepare for weeks before and then climb the hill barefoot, making it one of the largest active pilgrimage sites in the world. The pilgrimage attracts a wide range of devotees, from diverse social or economic backgrounds, except women in their fertile age given Ayyappan is believed to be the celibate deity. Ayyappan may share a historical relationship with the Tamil deity Aiyanar. The most significant festival linked to him is the Makaravilakku (Makara Sankranti), observed around the winter solstice.

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The name Ayyappan (sometimes spelled as Ayyappa or Aiyappan) may be related to the similar sounding ancient term Arya. The Sanskrit term Arya (Pali: Ariya) is found in ancient texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, where it means the "spiritually noble, extraordinary, precious ones

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