Sabarimala: RSS leader 'breaks' temple tradition

Sabarimala: RSS leader 'breaks' temple tradition

The Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple. PTI file photo

The Sabarimala row played out on familiar lines on Tuesday – protesters had their show of strength at the Ayyappa Temple, a 50-plus woman was heckled because there were “doubts” about her age, media-persons were targeted and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reiterated that divisive forces would not be allowed to hijack the temple. Even as the state government reiterates commitment to implementing the Supreme Court judgment which allowed entry for women of all ages to the temple, no woman in the 10-50 years age group has managed entry. By evening, the focus shifted to the alleged violation of temple traditions by the protesters themselves.

 RSS leader Valsan Thillenkeri stood on the 18 steps leading to the sannidhanam, the deity’s abode, as he led a protest against the entry of Lalitha, a 52-year-old woman from Thrissur, following rumours that she was aged under 50 years. Thillenkeri was seen in a video – without an irumudikettu, the traditional kit of offerings pilgrims carry to the temple, and his back to the deity – asking protesters to disperse. K P Sankaradas, member of Travancore Devaswom Board which manages the administration of the temple, also landed in a controversy after climbing the 18 steps without the irumudikettu, when the temple opened on Monday.

 Earlier in the day, eight women from Andhra Pradesh, all aged over 50 years, were stopped near the sannidhanam by protesters for having arrived without the irumudikettu. Later, they were escorted by police personnel through another entry point where darshan is allowed without the irumudikettu.

 Tantri (head priest) Kantararu Rajeevaru told reporters that only the priests and members of the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam were allowed to climb the 18 steps without the irumudikettu. Thillenkeri denied the allegations and said he had handed over his irumudikettu to a companion and was only trying to pacify the protesters. In a telling sum-up of the security scenario at the temple, Thillenkeri spoke to protesters on a police megaphone, urging them to keep calm. “We should help women aged over 50 to have their darshan. There are systems in place to make sure that women under 50 don’t get entry,” he said.

 At about 6.45 am, protesters stopped Lalitha near the sannidhanam, over suspicion that she is aged under 50 years and forced her to return. Media-persons were also targeted during the protest which left a TV cameraman injured. Lalitha had the darshan after police clarified to the protesters regarding her age. The temple was opened amid extensive police deployment and prohibitory orders enforced till Tuesday night at the sannidhanam, Elavunkal, Nilakkal and Pampa. Six women aged under 50 years, from Andhra Pradesh, arrived in Pampa in the morning but dropped plans to visit the temple after police informed them about the protests.

 Lalitha had arrived at the temple for the choroonu (a ceremony marking a child’s first consumption of rice) of her grandson, along with other women in her family. Protesters heckled her at the nadappanthal (pilgrims’ walkway) about 100 metres from the 18 steps as police personnel struggled to escort her to safety. Protesters assembled in a matter of minutes and with chants raised as slogans, forced her out of the nadappanthal. Mridul, a male relative of hers, was manhandled. Lalitha was taken to a hospital near the sannidhanam. Later, police officials held talks with the protesters and displayed evidence of the woman’s age, clearing the way for her darshan.

 Now, with protesters targeting women aged above 50 years and media-persons, even when prohibitory orders are in place, the unprecedented security arrangements are proving inadequate. Top BJP and RSS leaders had arrived at the sannidhanam on Monday. Hundreds of activists of RSS and Hindutva outfits were present at the sannidhanam – many of them camped there overnight – on Tuesday. The prohibitory orders did not stop groups of hymn-chanting protesters from staging sit-ins at the sannidhanam. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, maintained that the police are in control. 

 The temple was opened for Sree Chithira Atta Thirunal which marks the birth anniversary of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, last king of the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore. It will close, after regular pujas and abhishekams, at 10 pm on Tuesday.



Sabarimala: Temple opens amid unprecedented security

Woman seeks security for trek; later backtracks 

Sabarimala: a big win for women