Recently, Kannada actress Jayamala admitted to entering the sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimalai Temple. Since Lord Ayyappa is considered to have taken a vow of celibacy, menstruating women (women between the age of 10 and 50) are not allowed inside the temple. The revelation of Jayamala has sparked off a huge debate, with the temple officials asking for a probe into the matter. Equally, it has given way to indignation among people, especially those concerned over women's rights over this discrimination against women.
The main question to ponder here, is whether this practice needs reform, whether entry into the temple should be thrown open to all. The main point is that of impurity. Mentruating women are considered impure. If this is indeed the case, then there is a very strong argument for maintaining the status quo. Even apart from menstruating women, not everyone is allowed into the temple. Before a person can enter into the temple, he or she must follow a vrath (or vow) for a period of 40 days. Following this vow strictly is no easy task, and the one who maintains this vow for 40 days is considered to have purified himself sufficiently to seek the grace of God. This is, of course, no idle set of regulations, but has sufficient philosophical validity without ascribing to dogma. The topic of impurity itself can be the basis for a series of articles, so for the purpose of this discussion, I will just accept the need for self-purification as prescribed.
The main point of contention here is whether or not menstruating women are impure. Since neither am I a religious scholar, nor am I a seer, I do not know what the answer is. But if I were to hazard an answer, I would say that menstruating women are not impure. Philosophically, Shiva and Shakti (male and female) are always potrayed together, one does not exist without the other. The female aspect of divinity is considered just as important as the male aspect. In ancient times, India had many women seers, some of whom have even composed a part of the Vedas! In recent times, we have Mata Amritanandamayi, who is considered to be a saint. Would such enlightened beings, who have already seen God, be denied admission to a temple? Even if they are menstruating? I think not! Ergo, why should an ordinary women be denied admission? After all divinity is supposed to permeate all of the material universe, including menstruating women.
Just my 2 cents on this issue, but whether or not any reform will happen is anybody's guess.