The Sabarimala temple in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district is set to close at 10 pm on Monday after five days, bringing an end to the first period of pilgrimage since the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict last month allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine.
Women of menstruating age have traditionally not been allowed into the temple, but the Supreme Court order put an end to the restriction last month.
A woman was forced to turn back on Monday as protestors blocked the police jeep she was travelling in at Vattapara on its way to Pamba, reported Online Manorama. Kozhikode resident Bindu T Vasu, accompanied by two male devotees, had approached the police for protection as she attempted to offer prayers at the shrine. Crowds even gathered outside her parents’ house in Kottayam to protest her temple visit, although they later withdrew the agitation.
There have been protests outside the shrine since Wednesday, when the temple gates opened to devotees for monthly rituals for the first time since the court’s order. Protestors have blocked women devotees, activists and journalists who have tried to enter the temple since Wednesday.
On Sunday, four women were forced to stop their trek to the shrine. Two women were blocked at Neelimala, the entry point to the trekking path, one at Nadapanthal and another at Pamba. The first three women were taken back to Pamba, an important landmark on the route to Sabarimala.
A 52-year-old woman was able to enter the Sabarimala temple on Saturday only after she showed protestors proof of her age. The situation had grown tense outside the shrine after rumours claimed the woman was younger than 50 years.
The police also turned away a Dalit woman in her 30s who had come to Pamba to visit the shrine on Saturday. The police told Manju, a leader of the Kerala Dalit Federation, that she could not proceed to the temple due to security reasons. She vowed to return either on Sunday or Monday.
Meanwhile, the police on Monday told journalists reporting from Pamba to leave the area as they have information about attacks on reporters, NDTV reported. The temple administration has also written to the government, saying it would lock the temple and stop rituals if traditions are broken.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader PK Krishnadas and two others were arrested on Monday for violating Section 144 at Nilakkal, where prohibitory orders have been in place since Friday. Nilakkal is a halting place for devotees heading to Sabarimala.
A report by the Travancore Devaswom Board will highlight the practical difficulties in implementing the Supreme Court order allowing the entry of all women, said Kerala minister AK Balan in Kozhikode on Monday. The report is likely to be submitted to the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court either on Monday or on Tuesday, reported Mathrubhumi.
“There are many issues that hinder implementing the Supreme Court order,” he said. “The Travancore Devaswom Board will submit the report in the court by highlighting the practical issues to implement the order.”
Sabarimala is open to the public during the first five days of each month in the Malayalam calendar, which is the reason it opened last Wednesday. It also attracts lakhs of pilgrims during the Mandala, Makaravilakku and Vishu seasons. While the Mandala season starts on November 17 this year, Makaravilakku starts in the second week of January 2019 and Vishu on April 14.
Days of monarchy are over, says minister
On Sunday, state Minister for Power MM Mani and Public Works Minister G Sudhakaran criticised the Pandalam royal family after they said the shrine should be closed if women in the menstruating age group enter it, The Indian Express reported. The royal family, which enjoys traditional rights over the conduct of rituals at the temple, has been at the forefront of the agitation against the Supreme Court’s order.
“How can a thantri [priest] threaten that he could close down the temple in the manner a shop owner says during a hartal [strike],” said Sudhakaran. “What is the right of the royal family to issue such a direction?” Sudhakaran was the Devaswom minister when the previous Left Democratic Front government informed the Supreme Court that the state favoured the entry of women of all age groups to Sabarimala.
Mani reminded the royal family that the days of monarchy were over. “They should understand that a democratic government is in office now,” he added. “The thantri, who threatened to close down the temple, is only a salaried person.”
The royal family’s executive committee President Sasikumara Varma, however, said they have the right to direct the priest to close the temple. “Those who have doubt about the power of the family can inspect the documents,” he added. “The thantri had accepted the direction realising our right to do so.”