The Travancore Devasom Board (TDB), which manages operation of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, has given more time to Tantri Kantararu Rajeeveru to explain why a “purification” ritual was conducted after two women devotees visited the Lord Ayyappa shrine in the early hours of 2 January. The Sabarimala tantri, the chief priest of the temple, had been earlier given 15 days to furnish his explanation.

“Till Sunday he was at Sabarimala. Now that he is free, he might have to take opinion from others before he gives his reply. So we gave him another 15 days’ time,” board president A Padmakumar said which speaking to the media in Thiruvananthapuram.

“Generally when a normal purification ritual is done, the tantri does not need to take the permission of the TDB, but what happened on January 2, was not a normal one,” Padmakumar added.

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Two women Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini, both aged below 50, entered the Sabarimala shrine on 2 January, becoming the first women of reproductive age to do so since the Supreme Court gave its verdict that all women could offer worship to Lord Ayyappan at the hill temple.

The temple of Lord Ayyappa, the ‘celibate’ god, bans all women of menstruating age (10 to 50 years) from entering its premises.

After Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini defied the ban, completed a ‘darshan’ at 3.30 am on 2 January, and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed this, the temple had been shut for an hour around 10.30 am for “purification rituals”.

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The TDB had then sought an explanation from Sabarimala Tantri Rajeeveru asking why its permission was not sought before the purification was ordered, giving him 15 days `to comply.

On January 4, after the notice had been served, Padmakumar had said the purification ritual went against the Supreme Court’s September 28 directive.

CM Vijayan had asked the TDB to take a serious look into the matter. He had said Rajeeveru had every right as an individual to differ with the court order and he could well have quit his post in protest.

Action against the tantri would depend on the explanation he comes up with.

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Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court is set to hear a plea challenging the TDB’s notice to the tantri. A petition filed against the order said the board no right to question the decisions of the tantri so far as the temple rituals were concerned. The petition said the notice was illegal and violated the religious freedom of Ayyappa believers.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court was to hear on 22 January pleas seeking a review of its Sabarimala verdict of 28 September. However, the hearing  may not take place on the designated day as one of the judges on the bench hearing the matter is on medical leave.

(With agency inputs)