Devotees brave rain to offer prayers at Sabarimala

(Eds: Adds details, combines related story) Sabarimala(Ker), Nov 17 (PTI) Braving rains, thousands ofdevotees offered prayers at the Lord Ayyappa temple here onSunday, the second day of the annual two-month-long Mandala-Makaravilakku puja pilgrimage season.

After chief priest A K Sudheer Namboothiri opened thesanctum sanctorum at 3 a.m and performed special poojasincluding 'Neyyabhishekam' among others, the hill shrine wasthronged by large number of devotees throughout the day.

The 'Nadapanthal' (area where people queue up fordarshan) and 'Sannidhanam' witnessed huge crowd despite theheavy rain in the evening.

Police Control room officials said a total of 25,125footfalls were recorded till 5 p.m on Sunday.

'Arrangements were fine.. but the rain was unexpected.

Many including children got drenched,' a devotee from AndhraPradesh told PTI.

The temple was opened for the annual pilgrim season onSaturday, days after the Supreme Court decided to refer to alarger bench re-examination of religious issues includingthose arising out of its 2018 verdict lifting a centuries-oldban on women of menstruating age visiting the hill top shrine.

Though the apex court did not stay its earlier orderallowing entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple, at least10 women, part of a 30-member group from Andhra Pradesh weresent back from nearby Pamba on Saturday as they were found tobe in the age group of 10-50 years.

The Kerala government, which had provided protection tosome women devotees who visited the temple last year, has thistime made it clear that it would not encourage women who wantto enter the shrine for publicity.

Kerala Law Minister A K Balan on Sunday said there was a'de facto' stay of the September 28, 2018 apex court orderallowing women of all ages to enter Sabarimala temple and thestate government could act only on the basis of the court'sverdict.

'In this case, a constitutional government can act onlyaccording to the orders of the court. Now we have a newproblem. The question was whether the verdict of November 14stayed the earlier order. De jure there is no stay.... but defacto there is a stay.

'The 2018 order has been stayed in effect even though itwas not officially mentioned,' Balan told reporters.

'De jure' means existing or holding a specified positionby legal right while 'de facto' means existing or holding aspecified position in fact but not necessarily by legal right.

The state and temple precincts had witnessed protests byright wing outfits and BJP workers last year after the LDFgovernment had decided to implement the Supreme Court verdictof September 28, 2018 allowing women of all age groups tooffer prayers at the shrine.

Meanwhile, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran helda high-level meeting with the officials of all departmentsconcerned with Sabarimala and discussed various mattersrelated to the temple.

He also said small vehicles would be allowed to ply tillPamba and the KSRTC bus stand would adopt a queue system and aconductor would be appointed in the bus from Nilackal, basecamp, to Pamba.

During the last season, private vehicles were allowedonly till Nilackal, which is around 18 kms from Pamba, due tothe frenzied protests by a section of devotees and the right-wing outfits.

The Travancore Devaswom board, which manages temples inthe state, has made elaborate arrangements to provide allpossible amenities to devotees.

The unprecedented floods in August last year had playedhavoc with the pilgrimage season with most of the facilitiesfor the devotees being damaged. PTI RRTROH ROH