Protestors on Sunday stopped a group of 11 women from proceeding towards the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala despite police security. The women had set off towards the temple accompanied by police personnel after authorities arrested some protestors for defying prohibitory orders.

The women, members of a Chennai-based group called “Manithi”, were unable to proceed as devotees started chanting Ayyappa hymns in order to force them to stop 5 km away from the shrine. After being forced to head back to Madurai, the women alleged that police had sent them back.

Women between the ages of 10 and 50 are traditionally barred from entering the temple. Although a Supreme Court lifted the restriction in September, no woman of these ages has been able to enter amid massive protests.

The women started a sit-in demonstration at the entry point to the temple after protests against their trek began. Manithi leader Selvi told reporters they would not go back without offering prayers. The group had sought permission from the Kerala Police before starting its journey and had been offered protection.

“We will continue the protest till we can visit the temple and offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa,” PTI quoted a member of the group as saying. “The police asked us to go back, citing security reasons. But we will not go.”

“Priests of the local temple at Pamba did not cooperate with us and declined to get our irumudikettu [sacred offering to Ayyappa] ready as per custom,” she said, adding that more members of the group are expected to reach soon to visit Sabarimala. “So we did it on our own.”

The group consisted of more than 40 women from different states, including Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka and Kerala. Selvi said they had written to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and informed him of their intention to trek to the Ayyappa shrine set to open for its annual “mandala pula” on December 27.

The women were escorted by the police and reached Kerala via the Kambam check-post on Saturday night, Manorama Online reported.

The police on Saturday confirmed that the group will offer prayers at the temple, which had seen massive protests against the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict. Prohibitory orders are in place in and around the temple area.

Ahead of the women reaching Kottayam, devotees on Sunday morning protested outside the city railway station, ANI reported.

Hindu Aikya Vedi President KP Sasikala had warned that the right-wing group will stop the women from proceeding once they reach Kottayam, The News Minute reported. “Wherever these ladies land, they will be surrounded by devotees,” said Hindu Aikya Vedi General Secretary Biju ES. “It will be just like how Trupti Desai was stranded at airport.”

Last month, protestors had prevented women’s rights activist Desai from leaving the Cochin International Airport after she had arrived in the state to offer prayers at the temple.

“We have announced that we will stop the women and won’t allow them to proceed after Kottayam,” Biju had said earlier.

Tensions have run high in the state over the Supreme Court verdict. The temple had opened on November 16 for the third time since the Supreme Court on September 28 allowed women of all ages to enter the shrine. But so far, no woman between the ages of 10 and 50 has been able to enter the temple due to protests.

Citing security reasons, the police had on Friday stopped and sent back a 43-year-old woman devotee from Andhra Pradesh, who came with a group of pilgrims to offer prayers.