Hours ahead of the opening of the Lord Ayyappa Temple for devotees, this time for women too, the air is thick with resistance and anticipation at Nilakkal, the main entrance to Sabarimala. Girls and women of menstruating age en route the shrine were stopped or asked to get off vehicles by those who disagree with the Supreme Court decision that has allowed women of all ages to enter the temple.
Several groups of devotees, including elderly women, randomly "screened" cars, buses and taxis at Nilakkal, the base camp about 20 km from the Sabarimala hill top. If they spotted women between the ages of 10 and 50, they asked them to stop right there.
One of the protesting women was heard saying, "No woman belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilakkal when it opens for the monthly puja tomorrow evening."
Local television channels reported that some college students and even women reporters were stopped at the base camp. The police tried to maintain peace in the holy region.
A 32-year-old woman from Kannur claimed she was shamed and abused on social media after she announced her decision to offer prayers at the shrine.
The Lord Ayyappa temple has traditionally barred all women of menstruating age. The diktat followed the belief that menstruating women are "impure". Women are seemingly more rigid about the custom than the men who have been offering prayers at the temple since ages. The women say they will wait till they turn 50 before they enter the celibate god's shrine.
The temple nestled in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats opens tomorrow for the first time since the top court verdict. The doors will be closed on October 22 after the five-day monthly puja during the Malayalam month of Thulam.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has assured that no one would be allowed to block devotees from proceeding to Sabarimala and all necessary arrangements have been made for their safety.
Heavy security has been deployed for the opening, he added and warned of stern action against anyone who tries to create law and order problems.
After a series of intense protests by thousands of devotees and supporters of various right wing outfits in the last few days and the government's decision to implement the top court's order, the BJP's state president PS Sreedharan Pillai had yesterday warned of a bigger agitation if the government failed to resolve the issue in the next 24 hours. The Shiv Sena's state unit added there will be "mass suicides" if women set foot inside Sabrimala.
They want the Kerala government to come out with an ordinance to stop the entry of women to the shrine.
"We will meet each villager in Kerala and chalk out a massive agitation plan to protect the Sabarimala Temple, its centuries-old traditions and the sentiments of Lord Ayyappa devotees," Mr Pillai said.
The chief minister accused the opposition parties of trying to threaten the government. He reiterated that they will not file for a review of the judgment. "Our government has taken a stand on the issue and there will be no discrimination on the basis of gender," Mr Vijayan said.
He also condemned the remark of a BJP supporter and actor Kollam Thulasi that "women who go to Sabarimala temple defying the custom should be ripped apart". A case has been filed against the actor.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the hill-shrine, met the the Tantri (head priest) family, the Pandalam royals and members of the Ayyappa Seva Sangam and others today where the board was urged to file a review petition.
"The board said that they can discuss about review petition on October 19. We came out of meeting because they're not ready to accept our demands," PG Sasikumar Varma, Pandalam Palace managing committee president, said.
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