Sabarimala temple to close today, will reopen on 17 Nov: Devaswom Board to submit situation report to Supreme Court

Amid continued protests by Ayyappa devotees and the royal family of Pandalam against the implementation of the Supreme Court's order to allow women of all ages to enter and pray in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) (the custodian of the temple) has decided to submit a detailed report about the events that unfolded in Pampa and Nilakkal over the last five days to the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court.

A Padmakumar, TDB president, told the media in Thiruvananthapuram that the board would soon approach their legal counsel for preparing the report on what has been happening in the temple after it opened for devotees on 17 October. "We have no intention to play political games with Sabarimala," he said. Sabarimala temple would be closed on 22 October after a five-day monthly prayer during the Malayalam month of Thulam. The temple will reopen on 17 November for two months.

Padmakumar added that the board will discuss the details of the situation report today. "Details on when we would submit it and the content of the report can be revealed only after talking to the board's counsel," Padmakumar told Firstpost.

File image of Sabarimala temple. PTI

File image of Sabarimala temple. PTI

Meanwhile, protesting women have said that no women belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilackal and offer worship at the shrine. According to police sources, 12 women in the 10-50 age group have so far been prevented from entering the sanctum of the temple.

On the first day of worship itself, Madhavi, a woman from Andhra Pradesh tried to climb the Sabarimala Hills to reach the Lord Ayyappa temple but was returned to Pamba following protests by male devotees. She was provided security by the police to climb the hills but was forced to return after protests. Another woman named Liby, belonging to the Alappuzha district and said to be in the below 50 years age group, was on the way to the shrine armed with the Supreme Court order but was stopped from proceeding at the Pathanamthitta bus terminal by passengers. The passengers including women chanting Ayyappa mantra urged her not to violate the centuries-old custom of the shrine where women in the menstruating age group are not allowed.

A couple from Tamil Nadu, aged 45 and 40, was also their way to Pamba when they were forced to get down from the KSRTC bus allegedly by some activists of the Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti. Although the couple had said that they would go only up to Pamba and not climb Sabarimala, the activists prevented them.

Some women journalists also faced the ire of a section of protesters and their vehicles attacked on 17 October. The women reporters of two national TV channels were on their way to Pamba for news coverage but were blocked by a violent crowd which was seen banging their cars while shouting that they go back as a tense situation prevailed in the area. The journalists were forced to get out of the vehicles by the crowd of men as the police intervened and escorted them to safety. In another incident, a woman reporter of an English online media organisation was asked to get down from a state-owned KSRTC bus.

On 18 October, a Delhi-based woman journalist of The New York Times, Suhasini Raj was stopped midway by the devotees. The journalist who accompanied by her male colleague, a foreigner, descended the hills from Marakkoottam area in the face of mounting protest by Ayyappa devotees. A case was registered against the devotees who allegedly prevented her trekking and forced her to climb down the hills. The journalist later said she and her colleague decided to return after they were stopped by an "aggressive mob" which hurled stones at them. "While we were midway to the temple, the mob got very huge and very aggressive and started pelting stones and something hit me on my shoulder," she said. And thus they returned as they didn't want "anybody to get hurt", local media quoted her as saying.

Later, two women (one in her late 20s) including a reporter from Hyderabad and an activist from Kerala, also tried to trek to the shrine in a failed attempt to enter the temple. A large number of devotees blocked the young women and the police team escorting them at Valiya Nadappandhal, the queue complex located a few metres away from the holy 'pathinettam padi' (the 18 sacred steps), leading to the sanctum sanctorum. Meanwhile,  the 'tantri' (head priest) took a stand that he would close the temple if the women were escorted into the sanctum sanctorum.  Though the women had earlier insisted they should reach the shrine, police later convinced them about the gravity of the situation and conveyed the stand taken by the government and the head priest and they agreed to turn back. But as the two were returning, a 46-year-old woman also made an attempt to trek the forest path from downhill Pamba to the temple complex but retracted following protests.

On 20 October, however, a massive protest broke out near the Sabarimala Sannidhanam following rumours that a woman from Tamil Nadu below 50 years of age had climbed the hills to offer prayers to the presiding deity. The situation turned tense in the area, where section 144 was clamped, as devotees gathered in large numbers at 'Valiya Nadapandhal' to protest against the woman's entry into the temple. However, the tension was defused after the woman, who had come with her family members, convinced the protesters that she was above 50 years of age, and proceeded to the shrine. The woman carrying 'irumudikkettu' (holy bundle) climbed the 18 holy steps amid security cover to reach the temple and have 'darshan'.

On the other hand, activist Rehana Fathima's house was allegedly vandalised by unidentified persons while she was attempting to reach the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala on Friday, police said. She, along with Hyderabad-based journalist Kavitha, had made a failed attempt to reach the temple with heavy police protection. The houses of a 46-year-old woman from Kazhakkoottam in Thiruvananthapuram district, who had also made an attempt to trek the forest path from downhill Pamba were also allegedly attacked by unidentified people. The woman's houses at Thumba and Murukkumpuzha were reportedly attacked soon after she made the attempt to climb the holy hills. She, however, gave up the attempt following protests from devotees.

A Dalit woman activist Manju, who is also the leader of Dalit Mahila Federation, was planning to visit the Sabarimala shrine on Saturday, but put her plans on hold following heavy rains on Sunday. Manju left Pamba in the evening, saying she was a devotee and would come here to climb the hill "on a convenient date." She said police had offered all sorts of assistance to her to visit the shrine. Police had earlier said it was verifying the background of the woman, said to be in her late 30s, and a decision regarding her trekking would be taken Sunday morning.

On the same day, devotees prevented two Telugu-speaking women from climbing the holy hills. The protesters chanting Ayyappa mantra stopped the women, said to be in their 40s, at the foothills itself. The women were accompanied by their relatives.  The police, which took the women to safety, said that the duo informed the security forces that they came to Sabarimala without knowing the customs of the temple. A 47-year old woman also reached up to the 'Nadappandhal' close to the sanctum sanctorum but was prevented by the devotees chanting "Swamiye Saranam Ayyapa" after three others were stopped en route to the hills. The woman, who complained of uneasiness, was brought to a hospital here by the police. An elderly woman devotee who was present at the spot said as the identity card of the woman showed she was born in 1971 and had not attained the 'permissible age", the other devotees started chanting Sarana mantra.

Meanwhile, the BJP demanded a special assembly session to seek the Centre's intervention, while Congress sought an ordinance by the NDA government. The Pandalam royal family, the traditional custodian of the Sabarimala temple, alleged the CPIM-led LDF government was trying to destroy the sanctity of the shrine of the "Naishtik Brahmachari" by taking women in the menstrual age group there. Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Ramesh Chennithala of Congress urged the Centre to bring an ordinance to overcome the Supreme Court verdict.

Whereas, CPM politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai claimed the devotees opposing the apex court verdict were in a minority and they did not have the support of the entire Kerala society.

However, the Sabarimala Karma Samithi intensified its agitation against the CPM-led government's "hasty" move to implement the court order. Thousands of people participated in the "namajapa yatra" (protest march chanting Ayyappa mantra) to police stations across the southern state against alleged police action on the samithi activists near Sabarimala last week. Hundreds of women participated in a protest march held in Erumeli, a key pilgrim centre connected with Sabarimala.

On Sunday, hundreds of people, including Keralite women, also took out a march in Raipur and vowed that females in the banned age group from their families would not enter the famous Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. Besides Keralites, members from Andhra Association and Tamil Association also participated in the procession, which culminated into a public meeting in the Ayyappa temple premises in Tatibandh, he said.

On the whole controversy, actor Rajinikanth said that there should be no "interference" in temple traditions being followed for a long time.

Kerala has been witnessing massive protests by Lord Ayyappa devotees opposing the entry of girls and women of menstrual age into the Sabarimala temple since the government decided to implement the apex court order. The devotees had intensified the agitation at the shrine complex and nearby areas including the base camps, Nilackal and Pamba, since the shrine was opened for the five-day monthly puja on 17 October.

With inputs from agencies


Updated Date: Oct 22, 2018 11:27 AM

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