Tension gripped the temple town of Sabarimala once again in the backdrop of reports that a group of 50 women, all below the age of 50 years, are set to visit the shrine of Lord Ayyappa on Sunday under the aegis of 'Manithi', a Chennai-based outfit. The temple is seeing a heavy footfall of devotees with the annual ‘Mandala Puja’ scheduled to take place on December 27 and also after the police eased certain restrictions. However, the prohibitory orders are still in place. "As many as 1,12,260 devotees have visited the shrine and offered prayers on Friday. It is the highest head-headcounter the annual season began this year," the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) said in a statement.
The rush of pilgrims is expected to rise manifold in the coming days. The Mandala Puja, which marks the culmination of the 41-day 'vratha' (penance), would be held on December 27 at the Lord Ayyappa temple. It is also the first phase of the Sabarimala pilgrimage.
Here are the LIVE updates:
01.00 pm: BJP leader Sobha Surendran (pic 1) continues sit-in hunger strike protesting against the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 in the temple.
11.25 am: Police at Pampa detain Lord Ayyappa devotees protesting against the entry of women devotees into the Lord Ayyappa shrine.
11.22 am: We are here since 3.30 am. Police had said that they will provide us with protection but now they are not providing us protection to trek to the temple, says Selvi, member of the women's devotees group who is currently at Pampa base camp, said Selvy, a member of 'Manithi'.
Selvi, member of the women's devotees group who is currently at Pampa base camp to trek to #SabarimalaTemple: We are here since 3.30 am. Police had said that they will provide us with protection but now they are not providing us protection to trek to the temple. pic.twitter.com/jDk8ORltOO— ANI (@ANI) December 23, 2018
11.09 am: Lord Ayyappa devotees hold a protest before the group of women devotees who are gathered at Pampa base camp.
09.29 am: A group of women devotees gathers at Pampa base camp to trek to the temple.
09.25 am: Kerala High Court has appointed a three-member committee including two judges to observe the activities of Sabarimala Temple. The committee will take the decision and the government will implement it, says Kerala's Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran.
Kerala's Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran: Kerala High Court has appointed a three-member committee including two judges to observe the activities of #SabarimalaTemple. The committee will take the decision and the government will implement it. (File pic) pic.twitter.com/4BrRKCT5tY— ANI (@ANI) December 23, 2018
09.04 am: Pathanamthitta district magistrate has extended Section 144 till 27th December. The order 144 prohibits unlawful gathering and protest between Elavungal and Sannidanam.
08.50 am: Group of women devotees reached Pampa base camp in the early morning hours to trek to #SabarimalaTemple, said, "Please give us way, we will visit the temple and return back soon."
Kerala: Group of women devotees reached Pampa base camp in the early morning hours to trek to #SabarimalaTemple, said, "Please give us way, we will visit the temple and return back soon." pic.twitter.com/VqgTSXK5Aw— ANI (@ANI) December 23, 2018
08.00 am: A group of 11 women, below the age of 50 years, tried to trek the hilltop shrine. Though they attempted to trek through the traditional forest path, about five kilometre from the temple complex, they could not go forward as devotees started 'namajapa' (chanting of hymns of the lord) protest against them. The women, members of the Chennai-based 'Manithi' outfit, are now squatting on the road. Police have thrown a security ring around them.
06.55 am: Ayyappa devotees protest outside Kottayam Railway Station following reports of women devotees' visit, police present at the spot.
Selvy, a member of 'Manithi', said the group comprised women from different states, including Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka and Kerala. She said they have written to the office of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in this regard. The reports of the women’s group set to visit the temple triggered right-wing groups in Kerala to surround and block the women when they reach the state. Hindu Aikya Vedi, a right wing group led by controversial leader KP Sasikala has declared that they will block the women when they reach Kottayam- a district neighbouring Pathanamthitta where the temple is situated, as reported by The News Minute. They believe that the women only want to visit the temple to break traditions.
The police also confirmed that the women's group will make an attempt to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa shrine. "As per the information, the group will reach Kottayam at around 10 am. They have not asked for any special security. "When they reach Nilackal, the base camp, and if there is any law and order situation, we will deal with it accordingly," a police official told PTI.
In a 4:1 verdict, the Supreme Court had on September 28 removed the ban on the entry of women of menstrual age. The verdict of the apex court was challenged by several right-wing groups and there have been several intense protests against the implementation of the top court order. After the verdict, several women have made unsuccessful attempts to trek to Lord Ayyappa’s shrine. On Friday night, a 43-year-old woman devotee from Andhra Pradesh, who came along with a group of pilgrims to offer prayers at the Sabarimala Temple, was stopped and sent back by the police midway, citing security reasons. The Supreme court agreed to hear petitions by the right-wing groups on January 22 in an open court.