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'Purification' ritual at Sabarimala after 2 women in their 40s enter hill shrine sparks debate; protests erupt in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram

Massive protests were reported in Kochi and Thiruvanathapuram and other districts in Kerala after reports claimed two women under the age of 50 have entered Sabarimala late on Tuesday night. Sabarimala was shut till 11.30 am on Wednesday after chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that two women entered Sabarimala. According to reports, a "purification ritual" was conducted at the temple. Reports, however, have still have not confirmed whether the "purification ritual" will be the norm here onwards at the temple.

The temple which opened at 3 am was closed at 10.30 am to perform the ritual. Normally, the shrine closes at 12.30 pm. While the purification ceremony was on, devotees were asked to move out of the shrine. According to reports, the shrine reopened an hour later after completion of the ritual.

Prominent writer NS Madhavan demanded to remove Sabarimala thanthri for "misogyny and serious contempt of court" after a row kicked off over women devotees' entry into the Sabarimala temple on Wednesday.

The women, both below the age of 50, entered the shrine on the intervening night of 1 and 2 January, which has traditionally been off-limits for women of menstrual age for decades, and offered prayers. Identified as Bindu and Kanakadurga, the women began the trek to the temple at midnight with police escorts and reached the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine at 3.45 am, reports said.

Bindu, a college lecturer and Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation activist from Kozhikode district's Koyilandy, and Kanakadurga, a civil supplies employee from Angadipuram in Malappuram, had come to Sabarimala on 24 December after 11 women activists of a Chennai-based organisation were prevented from reaching the shrine and chased away by devotees chanting Ayyappa mantras.

Meanwhile, Devasom board minister Kadagampilly Surendran and Kerala state health minister and CPI(M) leader K K Shailaja were shown black flags by Bharatiya Janata Party workers in Guruvayur and Kannur, respectively, reports said. There were still confusion, however, over reports claiming that two women entered the shrine. The Kerala Police is looking into media reports and police sources in Thiruvananthapuram, quoting DGP Loknath Behara, said details were being collected on the issue. Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) President A Padmakumar said he had no information about the two women offering prayers at the temple. TDB officials have been asked to view CCTV footage to verify their claim, he said.

The Sabarimla head priest, Kandaru Rajeevaru, ordered to shut the temple till 11:30 am for purification rituals after reports of women's entry into the temple were confirmed. Reacting to the development, Pandalam erstwhile royal Shashi Verma told News18 that the women's entry into Sannidhanam was not historic, but against the customs of Sabarimala. "Customs of the temple should be maintained. We are not in the favour of changing rituals, he said, adding that the temple will have to be "purified". Soon after Verma's statement, the shrine doors were shut for pilgrims and priests began conducting "shuddhi kalasham" (purification ritual). Despite the Supreme Court's historic ruling on 28 September last year, permitting women in the 10-50 age group, no children or young women in the 'barred' group were able to offer prayers at the shrine following frenzied protests by devotees and right-wing outfits. CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told media that the two women have entered the shrine as per the apex court order and the closure of the shrine was against the law of the land. "People should accept the development as a reality," Balakrishnan said. The Hindustan Times quoted the women as saying that they were accompanied on Wednesday by two dozen police personnel.

 Purification ritual at Sabarimala after 2 women in their 40s enter hill shrine sparks debate; protests erupt in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram

Two women enter Sabarimala temple.

Vijayan confirmed the news to reporters at Thiruvananthapuram airport. "It is a fact that the women entered the shrine. Police are bound to offer protection to anyone wanting to worship at the shrine," he said. A video of their journey that is doing the rounds on social media shows that the women did not climb the 18 sacred steps that pilgrims who take the 41-day vow and carry the sacred 'irumudikettu' offering use, The Indian Express reported. Instead, they used a side entrance that VIPs and the media use to get directly in front of the sopanam and then into the sanctum of the temple. BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya questioned if Kerala government had "desecrated" the shrine. "Have the Communists desecrated Sabarimala shrine by facilitating entry of women of restricted age group into the temple? Devastating, if true," he tweeted.

RSS ideologue and BJP national general secretary (organisation) BL Santosh hit out at media for terming the devotees' trek as "historic". "Remember that Aurangzeb , Genghis Khan, Jai Chand were also part of history . For what do people remember them? Shame on you (media)," he said.

This development comes two days after three lakh women lined up to form a 76-kilometre-long "Women's Wall" from Poozhithala in Azhiyoor to the Vaidyarangadi bypass junction in Kozhikode district on Monday. According to The New Indian Express, women of all age groups and from all backgrounds participated in large numbers in forming the "wall". This included Kudumbashree members, ASHA workers, students, members of women's organisation, social activists, film stars and other eminent personalities.

Women in the menstrual age group of 10 to 50 years are traditionally barred from entering the Sabarimala Temple. But the 28 September order of the Supreme Court lifted this ban, allowing women of all age groups to pray at the shrine. The landmark verdict was followed by massive protests, with devotees blocking women from entering the temple even now.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 02, 2019 16:23:38 IST