Rise in number of girl kids trekking up Sabarimala

Rise in number of girl kids trekking up Sabarimala

This year, more girls under 10 are talking the arduous trip

More men are taking along their little daughters to Sabarimala, thinking they may have no chance to make the pilgrimage again till they are 50. DH photos by B H Shivakumar

Following the Supreme Court ruling allowing the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple, the number of girls being taken on the arduous trek has gone up, according to eyewitnesses.

Men pilgrims think their daughters may not be able to visit the shrine for at least 40 years once they cross 10, given the resistance in Kerala to the recent court decision allowing entry of women into the shrine.

Many families want to make sure girls make a trip to the Kerala shrine before they are barred. Girls and women in the menstruating age not allowed inside the temple, a restriction the Supreme Court has now struck down.

But the trip is arduous and not easy for tender feet.

“It is a lot of fun for the children initially; they see it as a holiday of sorts and think they can enjoy the walk and take a dip in the river. But soon their energy levels drop,” says a photographer who went to the shrine recently.

Many children give up halfway, complaining of hunger and fatigue. They sit by the roadside and refuse to walk further, an eyewitness says.

The older companions cajole them, pick them up in their arms, or force them to walk. “Most children are too young to understand the significance of what they are doing,” he says.

Visitors to Sabarimala say the number of non-menstruating girls making the trip appears higher this year, thanks mainly to the controversy and the subsequent agitation.

Sandhya Surendran, lawyer based in Bengaluru, made the trek when she was nine years old.

“It was more like a picnic for me. Though the trek itself wasn’t very strenuous because we kept taking breaks, the temple was crowded and I got pushed around a lot. There was barely any space to stand and pray,” she recalls.

Amenities basic

The Sabarimala route and shrine have no dedicated spaces for children. The rooms are basic and bathrooms are not very clean, says a frequent visitor.

What tour operators say

*The proprietor of Shree Ayyappa Tours and Travels says he expects regular tourist bookings this year, despite the unrest in Kerala over the Supreme Court ruling.

*The percentage of young children is typically low, because it is difficult to manage them in the crowd, he says.

*“We see 150-200 kids from all parts of Karnataka, below the age of 10, making the trip to Sabarimala every year,” says the manager of Shabari Travels. There is no minimum age for entry of children into the shrine.

*Venkatesh R of Venkatesh Services says many travel in private cars, and so it is difficult to estimate how many young girls are visiting the shrine this season.

Special days

The ‘Mandala Pooja Mahotsavam’ is from November 16 till December 27. The ‘Makara Vilakku Mahotsavam’ will take place from December 30 to January 20, 2019. ‘Makara Vilakku,’ the big day, is on January 14, 2019.