Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s decision to refer the Sabarimala case to a larger bench, the Lord Ayyappa shrine is all set to open on Saturday, even as the government said those women desirous of visiting the hill temple should get an order.
The top court has decided to set up a larger bench to re-examine religious issues including those arising out of its earlier verdict that lifted a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age visiting the shrine.
With the two-month long annual pilgrimage season set to commence from November 17, Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran said Sabarimala was not a place for activism and the LDF government would not support those who make announcements about entering the hill shrine for the sake of publicity.
Dismissing reports that police would provide security to women activists who attempt to enter the shrine, he said there was “some confusion” over the latest Supreme Court order and women desirous of visiting Sabarimala should get a court order.
Government would not encourage those women who want to visit the shrine for publicity, he added.
The CPI(M) state secretariat, which met here, discussed the verdict and expressed a similar opinion. “The common emotion of the secretariat was not to allow women to enter the temple till the apex court finalises the verdict. Those who want to enter the temple can approach the court and get a favourable judgment,” a source close to the CPI(M) state leadership said.
Law minister A K Balan said the government will approach competent legal experts on the confusions prevailing in the apex court’s judgment. “This Sabarimala season will be peaceful. But if anyone tries to hamper the peaceful darshan of devotees, the government will take strong action. If someone thinks that they can exploit the devotees by spreading lies and turn them against the government, let me tell you, it’s not going to happen,” he said.
Tight security will be provided during the pilgrimage season with over 10,000 police personnel being posted in phases in and around the hill temple.
Pathanamthitta district collector told the media that there was no need for declaring prohibitory orders like last year. The Ayyappa temple in Pathanamthitta district had last year witnessed violent protests by right wing outfits and devotees over the September 28, 2018, order of the apex court allowing women of all age groups, including those in the menstruating age, to offer prayers at the hill shrine. Unlike last year, when the shrine and the adjacent areas were recuperating from the August deluge that had hit the state, the Devaswom Board this year has made extensive arrangements to receive devotees.
The Board, which manages the temples in the state, said resting places for the devotees at Nilackal, Pamba and Sannidhanam areas has already been set up along with medical, water and toilet facilities.
“At Sannidhanam alone, facilities have been arranged for around 6,500 people to rest with their bags containing sacred offerings. Resting area for 9,000 devotees have been arranged at Nilackal where there is a parking area for over 9,000 vehicles also. There are over 1000 toilets, 120 urinals and 60 bathrooms at Nilackal,” a senior official in the Devaswom ministry said.
Similarly at Pamba, the Board has arranged facilities for 3000 people to rest. The board has also set up five emergency medical centres.
Meanwhile, the Congress-led United Democratic Front demanded withdrawal of the state government’s affidavit in the Supreme Court which it said was filed in favour of women’s entry into the shrine. “Belief and devotees are two factors considered by the Court while hearing this case. The state government and its affidavit is against both. That’s why we demand withdrawal of the affidavit,” opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said.
In another development, N Vasu took charge as the Travancore Devaswom Board president on Friday and said more clarity would have been there if the court had said its 2018 order was stayed. He said it was some anti-social elements and goons who tried to destroy the peace of Sabarimala. “Who threw a coconut on a 52-year-old woman devotee? Who climbed the holy steps at Sannidhanam without the irumudikettu (sacred bundle)? Who threw stones at the Sannidhanam police station? Was it the women? No. So the only option we had last time was to deal with those who went to Sabarimala to destroy its peace,” Vasu said.
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation has decided to deploy 150 buses to transport devotees between Pamba and Nilackal, a distance of around 18 km. The KSRTC has also arranged special services from almost all parts of the state to Pamba and Nilackal. The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Thursday said a larger bench will re-examine various religious issues, including the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple and mosques and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
The annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala commences on the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam which falls on November 17 and ends on December 27. The temple tantri (head priest), Kandararu Mahesh Mohanaru and melshanti (chief priest) A K Sudheer Namboodiri will open the temple on November 16 evening at 5 PM. The new priests will take charge on November 16.
(With PTI inputs)