The Kerala government has retracted its earlier statement to the Supreme Court in which it had claimed that 51 women of menstruating age had entered the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala during the last pilgrimage season, the Hindustan Times reported.

The U-turn by the government, which admitted that only two women of menstruating age have entered the hill shrine till date, came two days before the Supreme Court is expected to take up a bunch of review petitions challenging its September 28 verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the temple.

On Janaury 18, the government – in response to a petition filed by civil servant Kanakadurga and law lecturer Bindu Ammini seeking police protection – has said in the court that 51 women of menstruating age had entered the temple since September.

On January 2, Kanakadurga and Ammini became the first women of menstruating age to offer prayers at the temple. This was also corroborated by the records maintained by the Sabarimala executive officer, Devaswom Minister Kadamkampally Surendran told the state Assembly on Monday, Mathrubhumi reported.

However, soon after the government counsel made the statement in the top court, several media reports pointed out that most of the names and phone numbers mentioned on the list were of women over 50 years of age or of men.

Asked about the purification rituals performed at the temple after the women’s entry, Surendran said that the Devaswom manual doesn’t allow Sabarimala tantri, or priest, to conduct such rituals when its customs and traditions are violated. The minister said that an explanation was sought from the priest, Kandararu Rajeevaru, and pointed out that the final say on rituals and customs does not vest with the priest alone.

The government told the Assembly that reports of the visit of a Sri Lankan woman in early January was yet to be confirmed.

The Ayyappa temple closed on January 21, marking the culmination of the 67-day-long annual pilgrimage season during which massive protests were held over the Supreme Court’s verdict. The temple will reopen on February 13 for a monthly ritual in the Malayalam month of Kumbham.