Sabarimala temple opens amid tight security

As the shrine opened at 5 pm in the presence of head priest Kandararu Rajeevaru, the large number of devotees present there chanted "Swamiyae Ayyappa". (PTI File Photo)

Braving rains and chanting “Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa”, thousands of devotees on Friday evening trekked the hills and offered prayers before Lord Ayyappa as the temple opened its doors for the 62-day annual pilgrimage season.

The opening day also saw Travancore Devasom Board, which manages the temple, announcing its decision to approach the Supreme Court seeking more time to implement its order allowing women of all age to part inside the shrine. 

Friday passed off peacefully without any incidents of women of menstruating age trying to enter as it was witnessed during last month when the temple opened for a brief period. Activist Trupti Desai, who arrived at the Cochin International Airport on Friday morning, also returned to Mumbai following frenzied protests against her proposed visit to the temple.

As the clock ticked at 5, the much reverted Sanctum Sanctorum of the temple was opened by the outgoing head priest (melsanthi) A.V. Unnikrishnan Namboodiri who was accompanied by chief priest (tantri) Kandararu Rajeevararu. After the Pooja, V N Vasudevan Namboodiri and M N Narayanan Namboodiri were installed as Sabarimala melsanthi and Malikappuram melsanthi respectively.

The TDB, which went into a huddle after the Kerala Government on Thursday said it had no option but to implement the apex court order of allowing women to pray, announced that it will knock on the doors of the Supreme Court latest by Monday. 

Speaking to the reporters after the meeting, TDB President A Padmakumar said a decision was taken to seek more time for implementation of the order. 

”We will bring to the attention of the court issues like allotment of more forest land to arrange additional facilities at the temple,” he said, adding that they will also apprise the court about the protests that took place during October and early this month when the temple opened for a brief period. 

Though there were no protests in and around Pamba and Nilackel, the new base camp for the devotees, there was heavy police personnel -- both in Pamba as well as the trekking path -- and private vehicles were not allowed beyond Nilackel. 

As rains lashed Pamba, Nilackel and Erumeli since morning, devotees were put to a lot of inconveniences as there were no proper shelters since all of them washed away during the August floods that lashed Kerala. Hundreds of devotees were stranded in Pamba and many were seen eating in the open, despite rains. 

On Saturday, priests will perform 'Neiabhishekam’ at 4.30 am after which the devotees who prayed tomorrow would reach Pamba.

Menstruating women are not allowed inside the Sabarimala Temple and though the Supreme Court overturned the custom, none of the women in the age group of 10 to 50 were allowed when the temple opened for a brief period in October and early this month. 

The temple will allow pilgrims, most of whom are from the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, till December 27, 2018.

After a three-day hiatus, the temple will open its doors yet again for the famous Magaravilaku season from December 30, 2018 to January 20, 2019. Magaravilaku, which falls on January 14 this year, is the most important day for Lord Ayyappa and pilgrims can view it from nine places in and around Sannidhanam, the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. 

Women in the age group of 10-50 have been barred from praying at the temple for centuries together and male devotees follow a strict vegetarian diet and observe 41-day 'viradham' (fast) before beginning their 4-km long trek to get a darshan of Lord Ayyappa.

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Sabarimala temple opens amid tight security

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