As the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple closed late on Monday after five days of monthly pujas, the Sannidhanam, the deity’s abode, remained beyond reach for women of menstruating age.
Protests by devotees and Hindutva groups that continued since Wednesday have, so far, rendered ineffective the September 28 Supreme Court order which lifted restrictions on the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years.
Respite for the CPM-led state government, caught between the commitment to implement the top court’s judgment and threats of an emerging law and order crisis, could be short — the temple opens for the mandalam season of pilgrimage on November 16.
On Monday, another woman who sought police security for her visit to the temple was forced to abort her plan following protests. Bindu, SC/ST activist from Kozhikode, could not even make it to Pampa, the entry point of the trek to the shrine. Protesters stopped the KSRTC bus she was travelling in and made her return.
Five women from Andhra Pradesh — all in their 40s — were stopped by devotees at Pampa. The women — Padmavati, Ramana, Bhagyalakshmi, Mastana and Chinnamma — are members of a pilgrim group from Eluru in West Godavari district.
It is learnt that the company which organised their tour did not inform them about ongoing protests against the Supreme Court judgment.
Police had earlier said that many women aged under 50 years were arriving from other states at Sabarimala without information about the agitation.
Checks on vehicles were intensified on Monday at Nilakkal, the base camp. Protests against the court order continued in other parts of the state. While Sangh Parivar outfits maintain that woman activists are trying to use Sabarimala as a political platform by entering the temple, the past couple of days also saw devotees being turned away due to the agitation .
Since pujas in the Malayalam month of Thulam started on Thursday, about 15 women were denied entry to the temple due to the protests. Prohibitory orders were imposed in seven areas including Nilakkal, Pampa and the Sannidhanam till Monday night but protesters have managed to form groups and station themselves on the two trekking paths to the shrine and the nadappanthal (pilgrims’ walkway near the Sannidhanam).
The agitation by BJP leaders, defying the orders, has continued and cases have been booked against the protesters.
Many devotees to the shrine said acrimony around the Supreme Court judgement marred their spiritual experience. For the state government, the bigger challenge will be in defusing tension that continues to build around the issue.
The annual pilgrimage season at the temple will commence with the mandala puja on November 16. The temple will close on December 27 and reopen — for the makaravilakku season — on December 30. The makaravilakku season ends on January 20, 2019.