As doors to Sabarimala temple opened Monday for a two-day ritual, Chithira atta vishesham, a woman in her late-twenties who reached Pamba with the hope to visit the shrine returned after police told her about the risks involved.
The temple opened under massive security cover aided by enforcement of Section 144, which will be in force till Tuesday night, when the temple doors close. Unlike other years when few devotees visited the temple during this period, thousands flocked to Nilakkal and Pamba base camps.
Anju arrived at Pamba with her husband and two children, hoping to visit the shrine, but later decided to return, a police officer at Pamba police control room confirmed.
The couple, who hail from Cherthala in Alappuzha, spoke to top police officers who reportedly conveyed to them the security concerns involved.
“When we told them of the security risks, the woman understood and agreed that she would return home. But her husband was insistent that the family climb the hill and visit the temple,” said a police officer.
For hours, journalists stood outside the control room waiting for police to make a statement on whether they would provide security cover to the woman and her family. In the end, police conveyed the woman’s decision to return.
Anju is the first woman in the 10-50 years age group to attempt to climb the hill after the temple opened for Chithira atta vishesham. This is the second time temple doors have opened after the Supreme Court’s historic verdict, lifting age restrictions on entry of women to the temple.
Meanwhile, with Section 144 in force, women police personnel and commando units were posted in Nilakkal and Pamba to counter any violent move by those protesting against the apex court’s ruling. Policemen were also deployed at Erumely, an important halting point for pilgrims.
A section of pilgrims were angry over the fewer number of buses plying between Nilakkal and Pamba. One of them said, “Why is the government hell bent on harassing devotees like us? There are thousands of us and very few buses.”
The police later spoke to KSRTC officials and arranged more buses. Private vehicles, except those of the media and government officials, are not allowed to Pamba because of inadequate parking facilities.
Senior BJP leader M T Ramesh, who proceeded to climb the hill as a pilgrim, criticised the government for turning the temple into a fortress. He told reporters, “Sabarimala must be a site of peace and non-violence. Devotees must be able to pray to Ayyappa in peace without being harassed by police. The government must abandon acts of waging war on devotees.”
Ayyappa Dharma Sena chief Rahul Eashwar, who has been campaigning against the apex court order and has been arrested twice over different incidents, also climbed the hill to offer prayers. “November 13 is a very important date for us. We are very hopeful. I want to climb up the hill, visit the temple and take blessings of Lord Ayyappa,” he said.
On November 13, the apex court will hear a review petition on its verdict on women’s entry.
RSS leader from Kannur Valsan Thillankery too was seen. He said, “If traditions are violated, naturally there will be protests by the devotees. Devotees must not be seen as terrorists here. Section 144 should not have been imposed.”
He said RSS and other Hindu outfits are ready for talks if the government takes the initiative. “The government must abandon its stubbornness,” he added.