The Sabarimala temple in Kerala opened at 5 pm on Monday for rituals. Devotees climbed the 18 sacred steps to offer prayers at the temple for the “Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal” puja, ANI reported. The temple will close at 10 pm on Tuesday. Around 2,300 security personnel, including a 20-member commando team, have been deployed in areas around the temple.
A woman, believed to be around 30 years old, has reached the base camp in Pamba, accompanied by her husband and two children, PTI reported. Police have given conflicting accounts – a local official said the woman had sought police protection, while the superintendent of police, Rahul R Nair, denied this. Police claimed that she was not keen to visit the temple and her husband was adamant that the family undertake the pilgrimage. The family will spend the night at a police control room.
This is the second time the temple has opened since the Supreme Court order in September allowed women of all ages to enter the shrine. The first time – from October 17 to October 22 – led to massive opposition, as protestors prevented women aged between 10 and 50 from entering the premises. Not a single woman of menstruating age was able to enter the shrine in the five days. The Kerala Police said they have arrested over 3,731 people and registered 545 cases in connection with the violence in that period.
As the temple opens on Monday, at least 15 women police personnel, all above the age of 50, have been deployed at Sannidhanam, the temple complex. Police have installed face-detection machines at the temple to prevent protestors from entering the shrine disguised as devotees, Firstpost reported. The machine has been fed with images of around 4,000 people who were part of the violent protests that took place in October.
The police have also installed mobile jammers near the temple to prevent the head priest and other shrine officials from interacting with the media and to prevent the telecast of live visuals, reported the Hindustan Times.
Inspector General Ajith Kumar, who is in charge of security at the hill shrine, said adequate security arrangements have been made to allow devotees to see the deity, and “various threat perceptions” have been taken into account, ANI reported.
Several devotees began the trek from Nilakkal base camp to the hill shrine on Monday morning. “There is adequate police deployment here,” Nilakkal base camp in-charge Manjunath H told ANI. “We are not restricting the movement of devotees.”
The Kerala High Court on Monday said devotees and reporters on their way to Sabarimala Temple should not be blocked, ANI reported. The court asked the state government to not interfere in the temple’s daily activities, adding that a department-level inquiry should be conducted against policemen involved in damaging vehicles.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code banning assembly of four or more people have been in force in Sannidhanam, Nilakkal, Elavungal and Pamba areas of Sabarimala for 72 hours since Saturday. Pathnamithitta Superintendent of Police T Narayanan told PTI that arrangements have been made to ensure security of devotees. Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran said so far no woman between the ages of 10 and 50 has approached police for protection to visit the temple.
Some devotees on Monday complained that they were not allowed to leave for Pamba and Sannidhanam. They had arrived at Erumeli on Sunday evening. “We were told that we would be allowed to leave at 6 am,” a devotee told PTI. “Now, they are telling us that KSRTC [Kerala State Road Transport Corporation] buses will be allowed to leave only by 12 pm. We have come to offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. Please allow us to go.”
Around 11 am, the police allowed KSRTC buses to leave from Nilkkal to Pamba after removing restrictions that had been placed on vehicle movement from Nilakkal due to security concerns, Mathrubhumi reported. Devotees who had arrived in Nilakkal staged a protest following which police allowed the vehicles to leave for Pamba.
However, the Pandalam royal family, which is associated with the Ayyappa temple, said it was saddened by the the heavy security deployed in and around Sabarimala. The family said it will hold a “prayer yagna” against the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Meanwhile, Rahul Easwar, president of Ayyappa Dharma Sena which is protesting the Supreme Court verdict, said, “Like police, we are also fully prepared”. Easwar was arrested twice in October in connection with the protests in and around Sabarimala and is currently out on bail.
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress have criticised the Left government for the heavy police cordon at the temple. “No other temple in the country might have faced such an ignominy,” state BJP chief PS Sreedharan Pillai told the Hindustan Times. “Devotees will have to go through five check posts. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is in hurry to allow women to the temple and he will be fully responsible for its outcome also.”
Mediapersons were not allowed to leave Nilakkal for Pamba and Sannidhanam from the base camp till 9 am, PTI reported. “To ensure necessary protection to the media, we are not allowing them now,” said Kerala Director General of Police Loknath Behara. “As soon as security arrangements are complete, media will be allowed in Sabarimala and nearby places.”
On Sunday, a group of Hindu outfits sent a letter to media houses requesting them to not send women journalists to cover the protests at the temple. However, Behara dismissed the reports and said there was no bar on the entry of journalists.
Corrections and clarifications: This copy has been edited to reflect that the temple will remain open till Tuesday, not Monday night.