Protests erupted on the second day of the reopening of the Sabarimala temple after the entry of a 52-year-old woman devotee to the hill shrine was opposed by agitating devotees claiming that she was below 50 years of age.
The woman from Thrissur, offered prayers at the temple under police protection after she was forced to show her Aadhaar card to prove her age. She had come along with her family.
Amid the protests, journalists were heckled and a cameraperson was injured at the base camp in Pamba. Amrita TV cameraman Biju was injured during protests over the entry of the woman devotee.
Earlier on Monday, a 30-year-old woman had reached the base camp of Sabarimala temple and sought police protection to offer prayers at the hill shrine after it opened for a two-day special puja, an official said.
The woman, Anju, identified herself as a native of Cherthala in Alappuzha district. She along with her husband and two children approached the Pamba police soon after the temple was opened.
TV channels aired the visuals of Anju and husband talking to police personnel at the control room.
As the news spread, a large number of devotees gathered at a local auditorium at Pamba and began chanting Lord Ayyappa matras to protest the arrival of the young woman.
Scores of devotees climbed the sacred Pathinettam Padi to enter the Sabarimala Temple on Monday to offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa on the first day of the two-day special pilgrimage amid heavy security.
This is the second time the hill temple would open for ‘darshan’ after the Supreme Court allowed entry of women of all age groups into it.
The shrine which opened its doors at 5:30 pm on Monday will close at 10:30 pm on Tuesday.
A thick security cover is in place in and around Sabarimala, which had witnessed protests last month after the Supreme Court permitted women of the menstrual age group to offer prayers at the shrine.
Around 2,300 personnel, including a 20-member commando team and 100 women, were deployed to ensure smooth ‘darshan’ and security of devotees. At least 15 women police personnel, who are over 50 years of age, have been deployed at ‘Sannidhanam’ (temple complex).
At 8 am on Monday, the police opened the barricade and started allowing devotees to walk to Pamba – the base town of the temple. Hundreds of pilgrims at Nilackal and Erumely were seen arguing as they faced repeated obstacles from the police for advancing.
What irked them the most was the policemen’s insistence to check their identity proofs and the need to answer several questions as they tried to reach the sanctum sanctorum.
At Erumely, all pilgrim vehicles were stopped. The devotees protested and shouted Lord Ayyappa slogans as they arrived at a bus depot of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), demanding transport to proceed to the hilltop shrine.
The Supreme Court on September 28 overturned a centuries-old practice that barred women of menstrual age (10-50 years) from entering the hill temple, where celibate deity Lord Ayyappa is worshipped.
The temple which opened its doors for a five-day monthly pooja on October 17 witnessed massive protests by various devotee groups and Hindu outfits against the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s decision to implement the apex court order without going for any review petition.
Though attempts had been made by some young women, including an activist, to enter the temple of the ‘Naishtik Brahmachari’, the eternally celibate deity, the devotees backed by priests stood their ground, saying they would not allow the tradition to be breached.