In India, many temples and places of worship are located on mountain tops and so cannot be easily reached. Devotees have to undertake arduous journeys to go there, sometimes braving hostile weather as well. Old people who cannot trek it on their own, arrange to be physically carried on the backs of animals or the shoulders of younger people.
However, even if devotees can make it to the gates of the places of worship, access to the holiest of holies is not always assured, regardless of whether the place is on a high mountain or flat terrain. Entry may be restricted on the basis of religion, caste, and gender. Women may be stopped from going beyond a certain point, or they may be barred on certain days. Money power also comes into the picture as it can be used to jump queues or get special privileges.
Currently in India, there is a growing feeling of resentment against such age old restrictions, and activist groups are trying to fight their way through legal battles and community actions. It is hoped that they will eventually succeed, and society will move closer to the goal of equal rights and non-discrimination in all matters.
However, gaining entry into places of worship is not like forcing one’s way into an airport or a prohibited area or a high-security zone. Coming to God involves not only the body but the spirit and soul as well. When we stand before our God, should we not consider whether our degree of holiness would be acceptable to him? When we face our God, would the uncleanness of our spirit make him turn his face away from us?
The issue of unrestricted temple entry is not new. It has already been raised and addressed in the Bible. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in his holy place?”, David had asked. And his own answer was, “He that has clean hands and a pure heart, he who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalm 24:3-5) While fighting for the rights of the body, it is important to fulfil the responsibilities of the spirit and the soul.