The Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala closed on Sunday, marking the culmination of the 67-day-long annual pilgrimage season during which massive protests were held over the entry of women of menstruating age. The temple’s sanctum sanctorum was closed at 6.15 am after “darshan” by a representative of the erstwhile Pandalam royal family, PTI reported.

The temple will reopen on February 13 for the monthly pooja in the Malayalam month of Kumbham.

With the temple closing its doors, the Bharatiya Janata Party also ended its 49-day-long hunger strike in front of the state Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. The saffron party had been demanding that the Left Democratic Front government, led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, lift prohibitory orders and restrictions in and around Sabarimala.

The Sabarimala Karma Samiti, which led the protests against the entry of women into the shrine, organised a gathering of devotees, spiritual and cultural leaders in Thiruvananthapuram. The organisation said it would continue the struggle against the dilution of the age-old tradition until it “gets justice”, the Hindustan Times reported.

Speaking at the event, spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi described the controversies around Sabarimala as unfortunate and said a lack of knowledge about temples and worship had caused the problems, Mathrubhumi reported. Every temple has its beliefs and customs and disregarding them adversely affects its affairs, she said.

Amritanandamayi’s presence at the event was criticised by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). “It was not proper on the part of Amma [Amritanandmayi] to attend such a meet,” said Kerala CPI(M) Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

Meanwhile, both the ruling party and the Opposition attacked each other. Vijayan on Sunday described the Sangh Parivar’s protests as “a complete failure”. However, Kerala BJP President PS Sreedharan Pillai claimed the protests wanted to safeguard the traditional faith of devotees and had “won in garnering mass support”.

Marred by protests

The Makaravilakku festival season witnessed widespread demonstrations since the Supreme Court, in September, had allowed women of menstruating age to enter the shrine, scrapping an age-old tradition. The protests were led mainly by Hindutva outfits, many of them belonging to the Sangh Parivar.

Over two dozen women devotees unsuccessfully attempted to enter the shrine during the season. On January 2, civil servant Kanakadurga and law lecturer Bindu Ammini became the first women of menstruating age to enter Sabarimala and offer prayers.

Several mediapersons and women devotees were injured in the protests that followed. A dawn-to-dusk strike called by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, a platform created by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, left one person dead and scores injured.

The Supreme Court on January 18 directed the state government to provide round-the-clock security to the two women, who had gone into hiding after receiving threats following their entry into the temple.

During the hearing, the state government had informed the top court that 51 women of menstruating age had entered the shrine. But the list ran into controversy after several media reports said most of the names and phone numbers mentioned turned out to be of women over 50 years of age or of men.