Sabarimala temple opens on second day of annual Mandala Pooja; 10 women told to return from Pamba after Kerala govt refuses to provide police protection

  • The Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala was thrown open to devotees at 5 pm on Saturday for the Mandala Pooja festival amid heavy security

  • Earlier, police had sent back 10 women aged between 10 to 50 from Pamba base of the Ayyappa Temple

  • The women had come from Andhra Pradesh to offer their prayers as a part of a 30-member group

The Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala opened on the second day of the annual Mandala Pooja on Sunday, days after the Supreme Court deferred a verdict on a petition seeking review of its judgment allowing the entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 years into the shrine, referring the case to a larger seven-member bench.

was thrown open to devotees at 5 pm on Saturday for the Mandala Pooja festival amid heavy security.

Earlier, police had sent back 10 women aged anywhere between 10 to 50 from Pamba, reported ANI. The women had come from Andhra Pradesh to offer their prayers, even as confusion over the Supreme Court verdict on allowing entry to women of menstruating ages continued.

Devotees had started arriving at Nilakkal and Pamba from various parts of Kerala and neighbouring states on Saturday morning, but were allowed to leave for the shrine only by 2 pm. The pilgrims will be allowed to climb the 18 holy steps after the padi puja to have darshan. The portals of the hill shrine, located in a reserve forest in Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, were opened for the two-month-long Mandalam Makaravilakku pilgrimage season around 5 pm.

Women can enter temple shrine, but state govt will not provide police protection 

Although women will be allowed entry in the temple, as the Supreme Court's 2018 order still stands, the Kerala government has decided not to provide police protection to women of the prohibited age group who plan to visit the temple.

Several ministers in the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet have said that law and order must be maintained and "women activists should be keep away from the Sabarimala temple".

Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran on Friday said that "This (Sabarimala shrine) is not a place for activism and the LDF government would not support those who make announcements about entering the hill shrine for the sake of publicity".

Those who want to visit the temple can procure a court order to enter the temple, he said.

In view of this, Pune-based women's right activist, Trupti Desai, who last year tried to defy the centuries-old ban on entry of women and was eventually sent back after protests from devotees, said she would be visiting the temple regardless of being denied police protection by the Kerala government.

But there have been conflicting reports about the day Desai wanted to visit the temple and offer prayers. Few publications have said that she would go to the shrine after 20 November, but PTI reported she would be reaching on 17 November.

"If women need protection to trek the hills, police should provide the same. Whether government gives protection or not we will be reaching on 17 November to offer prayers," Desai said.

 Sabarimala temple opens on second day of annual Mandala Pooja; 10 women told to return from Pamba after Kerala govt refuses to provide police protection

File image of the Sabarimala temple. Reuters

Law Minister AK Balan said if anyone tries to hamper the darshan of the devotees, the government would take strong action.

"If someone thinks that they can exploit the devotees by spreading lies and turn them against the government, let me tell you, it's not going to happen," he said.

Attempts by around a dozen women, including activists and journalists in the 10-50 years age group, to climb the sacred hills had come to nought last year as frenzied devotees of Lord Ayyappa heckled and hassled them and forced them to retreat.

However, defying protesters, two women, in their 40s – Bindu Ammini and Kanakadurga, had entered the Ayyappa temple in January this year and offered prayers scripting history.

Kerala witnessed outrage by right-wing outfits after Supreme Court's 2018 verdict to allow women inside sanctum sanctorum

The state and temple precincts had witnessed frenzied protests by right outfits and BJP workers in 2018 after the LDF government had decided to implement the Supreme court's verdict of 28 September to allow women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine.

For centuries women in the menstruating age group of 10- 50 years were barred from entering the temple.

However, this year, even though the top court has not stayed its verdict on entry of young women into the shrine while posting various petitions on the matter to a larger bench, the government is exercising caution.

The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Thursday said a seven-judge bench will re-examine various religious issues, including the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple and mosques and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

A 3:2 verdict decided to keep pending the pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding the entry of women into the shrine, and said restrictions on women in religious places was not restricted to Sabarimala alone and was prevalent in other religions as well.

All arrangements in place for pilgrim season 

The CPM-led LDF government has made all preparations to make it a hassle free pilgrimage. Kandararu Mahesh Mohanararu would open the sanctum sanctorum and perform the pujas.

AK Sudheer Namboodiri would take charge as the Sabarimala Melsanthi and MS Parameshwaran Namboodiri as Malikapuram Melsanthi.

The resting places for the devotees at Nilackal, Pamba and Sannidhanam has already been set up along with medical, water and toilet facilities. Over 10,000 police personnel would be posted in phases in and around the Lord Ayyappa temple for security purposes during the pilgrim season.

The temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples in Kerala, is situated on a hilltop about 4000 feet above sea level – Sabarimala. The devotees have to trek through difficult paths in the forest as the vehicles can go only up to pamba.

With inputs from TK Devasia, a Kerala-based journalist, and PTI 

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Updated Date: Nov 17, 2019 09:14:21 IST