Ninety-five days after the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the entry of women at Sabarimala hill shrine in central Kerala, two women, offered prayers at the temple in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Temple traditions and rituals barred women of menstruating age at the shrine citing the celibate nature of Ayyappan, the presiding deity.
Bindu Ammini, a resident of Koyilandy in Kozhikode district, and Kanakadurga, a native of Angadipuram in Malappuram district, both women in their mid-40s, entered the temple with the escort of police personnel around 3:45 am on Wednesday. They had previously attempted to climb the hill on December 24, before being blocked by protesters. According to reports, both women had stayed at a secret location, vowing not to return home until they offered prayers at the temple.
Videos shot on cell-phone purportedly by male colleagues of the two women showed them entering the shrine through an entrance reserved mainly for VIPs, media and staff personnel. They did not climb the sacred 18 steps, called ‘pathinettampadi‘, used by pilgrims undertaking the 41-day vow and carrying sacred offerings known as ‘irumudikettu.’ The police escorting them wore plain clothes.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed the entry of the duo at the temple and underlined that the police force was duty-bound to give protection to anyone who asked for security.
Kadakampally Surendran, the minister in-charge of temple administration, said he was unaware of the women entering the temple until one of his aides showed him the videos circulating on WhatsApp. He added that the entry of the women was in line with the Supreme Court verdict.
After the news of the women entering the temple became public, the state police provided protection to their families back home. The family of Kanakadurga was shifted to a secret location fearing attack by protesters.
Hours after the entry of women was confirmed by the police and temple administration, the thanthri (priest) carried out ‘purification rituals’ by closing the sanctum sanctorum. A top official of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) said purification rituals are carried out in instances of blood being spilt on the temple premises, children urinating, or even in this instance, of menstruating women entering the shrine. However, Surendran, the temple administration minister, said the move of the priest to temporarily close the sanctum for purification rituals amounted to violation of the Supreme Court verdict.
Massive protests in Kerala
Meanwhile, protests have erupted at different places in Kerala, mainly under the aegis of the RSS-backed Sabarimala Karma Samithi, against what they term the ‘violation of temple customs and traditions.’ The BJP organised protest marches to the secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram and road blockades in Kollam and Ernakulam. The Congress has also vowed to organise agitations throughout the state.
BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai called Vijayan a ‘modern-day Aurangzeb who was out to destroy Hindu temples’. “The ruling administration in Kerala consists of cheats. The way the women were taken to the temple smacked of an planned, organised conspiracy. The stand of the BJP has been vindicated. The ruling CPM was out to destroy the traditions of Sabarimala. Ayyappa devotees and the larger public will react strongly to this,” Pillai told reporters.
Congress state president Mullappally Ramachandran at a press conference said the two women who climbed the hill at Sabarimala were not ‘true devotees, but activists.’ “This was a drama. They were true devotees, they were activists. This move has hurt the sentiments of believers. Congress party and the UDF will organise strong protests against this. We have always said that we stand with believers and we cannot turn away from that position,” said Ramachandran.
The Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said today’s events are a result of the chief minister’s ‘adamant nature’. “It’s a cruel conspiracy to hurt the sentiments of believers. Where were these women staying? These women were taken to the temple on the directions of the chief minister,” Chennithala alleged.