Heavy rush of pilgrims in Sabarimala, 2 women sent back

Sabarimala (Ker), Nov 18 (PTI) Amid heavy rush ofdevotees to the Lord Ayyappa temple here, police on Mondaysent back two women devotees from Andhra Pradesh at Pamba asthey were in the 'barred' 10-50 age group.

On Saturday, 10 women were turned back at Pamba,5 km from the shrine, when the temple opened for the annualMandala-Makaravilakku puja.

Police checked the two women's identity cards and sentthem back as they were found to be in the 'barred' age group,police sources said. Females in this age group havetraditionally been barred from praying at the shrine.

In a show of support for believers, a nine-year-oldKeralite girl, who came to the temple complex from Karnataka,had a placard around her neck inscribed with the words'Ready to wait. Will visit the shrine after attaining 50years.' Hailing from Thrissur, Hridyakrishnan said she hadvisited the shrine thrice and would have darshan of LordAyyappa only after she reaches 50.

Her father, Harikrishnan said devotees are those whoprotect traditions and beliefs.

On Saturday evening, at least 10 women, who were partof a 30-member group from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, weresent back, as they were found to be in the 'barred' age group.

The state and temple precincts had witnessed protestsby right wing outfits and BJP workers last year after the LDFgovernment had decided to implement the apex court's verdictof September 28, 2018 allowing women of all age groups tooffer prayers at the shrine.

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court recentlyreferred to a larger bench the matter related to entry ofwomen into the hill temple and other issues related to variousfaiths.

Though the top court did not stay its earlier orderallowing entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple, the LDFgovernment in Kerala this time said the shrine is not a groundfor activism and made it clear that it would not encouragewomen who want to visit the temple for publicity.

With devotees thronging the temple complex, Chiefpriest A K Sudheer Namboodiri opened the sanctum sanctorum at3 a.m on Monday and performed special pujas including'Neyyabhishekam' (ghee offering), among others.

The portals will close at 11 pm and reopen for themorning pujas.

Meanwhile,the Travancore Devaswom Board, which managesthe shrine, said revenue collection on the opening dayregistered a growth of Rs 1.28 crore compared to last year.

Revenue from Hundi collection and sale of 'aravana'and 'appam' prasadams touched Rs 3.32 crore compared toRs 2.04 crore last season, TDB president N Vasu said.

The TDB had suffered a loss of Rs 100 crore last yearduring the pilgrimage season as there was a severe dip inarrival of devotees and sale of prasadams.

Vasu said there were facilities to provide 'Annadanam'(offering of food) to around 40,000 devotees per day.

Efforts are on to make Sabarimala temple complexplastic free and a campaign is being held in the southernstates to inform pilgrims to avoid plastic in the'irumudikettu' (sacred bundle containing offerings toAyyappa), he said.

The August floods and the protests by a section ofdevotees and right wing outfits on the women entry issue hadled to a sharp decline in arrival of pilgrims.

This year, there has been a heavy rush of devoteeswith long queues being seen since Saturday and over 80,000pilgrims have offered prayers, temple sources said.

DGP Loknath Behera said a three-tier security systemwas in place to ensure that it was a hassle free and safepilgrimage for the devotees. PTI UD BNBN BN