A day before the Lord Ayyappa temple is thrown open to pilgrims for monthly ritual, tension looms large at Nilakkal " the main gateway to Sabarimala " as devotees on Tuesday stopped vehicles and prevented women of the "banned" age group from trekking to the holy hill.
The shrine located on the mountain ranges of the ecologically fragile Western Ghats opens tomorrow for the first time after the recent Supreme Court order permitting women of all age groups there.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, told reporters that no one would be allowed to block devotees from proceeding to Sabarimala. We will not allow any one take law and order in their hands. The government will ensure facilities to devotees to go to Sabarimala Temple and offer prayers. Government will not submit a review petition. We've said in court that we'll implement the order," Vijayan was quoted as saying by ANI.
Unlike other Hindu temples in the state, the Sabarimala temple is not open all-year-round. Devotees are only allowed to visit the shrine and offer prayers for the first five days of every month, according to the Malayalam calendar, and during the annual 'mandalam' and 'makaravilakku' festivals between mid-November to mid-January. However, the temple which is dedicated to Hindu deity, Lord Ayyappa, is open to people of all religions.
Various stakeholders were invited by the Travancore Devaswom Board to have a discussion and reach a consensus. The patrons, including the Tantri (head priest) family, Pandalam royals and Ayyappa Seva Sangam, were supposed to discuss the preparations ahead of the three-month-long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrim season starting 17 November. However, the meeting received a tepid response when all stakeholders failed to reach a consensus. Pandalam royal family and high priests of the temple walked out of the meeting, Firstpost was told. The royal family and tantris demanded that the Travancore Devaswom Board should file a review petition in the Supreme Court immediately. The board, however, refused to accept the demand. The board reportedly agreed to file a petition after 19 November, following which, the royal family and the tantris walked out.
Kandararu Maheshwararu Tantri, chief priest of Sabarimala temple said that there would be violence if women between the ages of 10 and 50 try to enter the Sabarimala shrine. He said, "At no time before, has Kerala united like this. This is to us what Jalikattu was to Tamil Nadu. See the protests that are unfolding in the streets. Lakhs of people, most of them women, are up in arms against the order. In fact several Hindu outfits have rallied in the vicinity. This anger could easily escalate into violence if a few egotistic women try to enter Sabarimala."
The Sabarimala Temple, one of the several Lord Ayyappa temples in Kerala, is specifically dedicated to the celibate form of the deity. Historically, women between the ages of 10 to 50 (the typical duration of time when a woman menstruates) were not allowed to enter this particular temple. However, women are free to worship the shrine in most other temples of the deity.
However, this changed on 28 September, when a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, lifted the ban on the entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine, and held that such a practice was violative of their right to worship.
Activists from more than 30 organisations will converge at Nilakkal and Pampa, the base of the hill from where the devotees trek to the temple, to resist the entry of the women between the ages of 10 and 50. Some of these are:
- Shiv Sena - The party's Kerala unit has vowed to prevent women from entering the hill shrine. They have sent a suicide squad persuade women against entering.
- Ayyappa Dharma Sena - The Ayyappa Dharma Sena, which is headed by Rahul Easwar, grandson of late high priest Kandararu Maheswararu will form a human shield to prevent women of the menstruating age group from entering the temple. They plan to form a human shield to prevent women's entry
- Tribal communities - Mala Arayan, a tribal group whose ancestors settled in the hills surrounding Sabarimala, will set up a vigil at 18 hills through which devotees enter the hill shrine. Members of another tribal community who live in the forest tracts at Sabarimala, Malampandaram, are already on an indefinite satyagraha.
Amid the 30-odd groups protesting against the Supreme Court's verdict allowing women to enter the temple against tradition, are some of the local tribes. Mala Arayan, a community whose ancestors settled in the hills surrounding Sabarimala, has set up a vigil at 18 hills through which devotees enter the hill shrine. The community, which is considered as being a close aide of Lord Ayyappan, holds a few traditional rights in the rituals.
Members of another tribal community who live in the forest tracts at Sabarimala, Malampandaram, are already on an indefinite satyagraha. The leader of the tribe, Parasuram Thannickkal, said they will persuade the women not to enter the temple. He said that their protest will continue until an amicable solution to the issue is found.
A 51-year-old woman hailing from the Malayulladan community attempted suicide at Nilakkal around 1.15 pm, when one of the woman pilgrims refused to give up her quest to enter the shrine. The protester identified as Ratnamma tried to hang herself from a tree, however, the fellow protestors foiled the attempt. The woman said she was protesting attempt by someone to defy the customs and traditions of the temple.
Groups of women devotees including senior citizens, clad in traditional sarees, could be seen stopping each and every vehicle at Nilackal, the base camp located about 20 kms away from Sabarimala hill top. Besides private vehicles, devotees even stopped and inspected Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses and asked young women to get out of it.
Very few police personnel were present when the incidents happened. One of the woman agitator said, "No woman belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilackal and offer worship at the shrine" when it opens for the monthly pooja on Thursday evening.
The temple would be closed on October 22 after the five-day monthly puja during the Malayalam month of Thulam. Chanting 'swamiya saranam Ayyappa' matras aloud and clapping their hands, women devotee had been inspecting vehicles at various points en route to Sabarimala since last evening.
Local television channels reported that some college students, who were sporting black colour dresses, were asked to get out of a bus they were travelling in, by devotees alleging that they were on their way to Sabarimala.
Ayyappa devotees wear black colour dress and a bead chain during the pilgrimage. Women journalists, who tried to reach the hill temple as part of their official assignments, were also stopped at the base camp.
Vijayan, however, warned of stern action against those who prevent devotees. "Stern action will be taken against anyone who prevents devotees from going to Sabarimala," Vijayan told reporters here.
Vijayan also made it clear that the government has no intention to file a review petition and would implement the apex court order. The chief minister said the government has taken a stand on the issue that there should not be any discrimination on the basis of gender.
However, the government has clarified that it would not bring in any law to put its policy into practice. "But, will go by what the Supreme Court says," Vijayan said. Referring to the statement of BJP President P S Sreedharan Pillai that government would be responsible for any law and order situation on the issue, Vijayan said it was the saffron party that was trying to create problem in the state.
The chief minister also condemned the remark of a BJP supporter and actor Kollam Thulasi that "women who go to Sabarimala temple defying the custom should be ripped apart". A group of devotees continued their sit-in dharna in front of secretariat here to protest the government's decision to implement the top court order.
Kerala has been witnessing intense protests including prayer marches and mass rallies by Lord Ayyappa devotees and right wing outfits against the implementation of the Apex court verdict. All protest rallies had witnessed mass participation of women especially that of senior citizens.
The Shiv Sena's state unit recently warned of "mass suicides" if women of the "banned" age group visits Sabarimala. Police have booked actor-turned-BJP supporter, Kollam Thulashi for his controversial remarks.
A 32-year-old woman, hailing from Kannur, had Monday complained that she was being slut-shamed and subjected to threats and abuses on social media after she announced her decision to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa shrine. Though the government had earlier considered to deploy women police personnel at Sannidhanam, the temple complex and the 'pathinettam padi,' the sacred 18 steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum, the plan was dropped later following protests of devotees.