With two women aged under 50 entering and praying at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala in the early hours of Wednesday, the tantri of the hill shrine shut the temple for “purification”. The Sabarimala tantri said the shrine was reopened an hour later after priests performed the “purification rituals”.

When the two women, Bindu and Kanakadurga, said on Wednesday that they prayed at the temple where entry of any woman of menstruating age (10 to 50 years) was hitherto banned, many had doubted the claim. However, after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed this, saying the two women indeed “had  temple darshan”, the chief priest and temple tantri had a meeting and decided to shut the shrine to perform “purification rituals”.

They also met the Pandalam royal family before taking the decision.

Kantararu Rajeeveru, the tantri, said the temple was shut around 10.30 am and opened an hour later.

Angry reactions poured in from several quarters, including opposition parties, as the news of the women’s entry into the abode of Lord Ayyappan spread.

Meanwhile, Industries Minister EP Jayarajan said the tantri had no right to close the temple.

“This is a challenge to the judiciary. The government only did its role in upholding the Supreme Court directive,” IANS quoted him as saying. “This is a victory for women’s rights. Women have entered Sabarimala temple earlier too,” he added.

Kerala CPI-M secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan too said there was no reason to shut the temple.

“Those who should observe the temple rules are themselves violating it,” he said, adding: “The role of the government is to abide by the Supreme Court order and it has done just that. The police did their job of providing security to the women.”

READ | Sabarimala temple closed for purification after two women under 50 enter shrine

Opposition leaders cutting across party lines, however, warned that CM Vijayan would have to “pay a heavy price”.

Calling for protests against the Left government, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said: “Vijayan will have to pay a heavy price for this.”

Congress leader K Sudhakaran called Vijayan “a fascist”. “These two women are not believers. They are activists. They never went through the customary rituals that any true devotee does before embarking on the pilgrimage. These women did not have the customary holy kit carried by pilgrims,” he said.

State BJP general secretary MT Ramesh said Vijayan would have to pay “a heavy price” for violating the temple traditions.

“What they did was to act like cowards. In pitch darkness, they took the two women,” he said, adding that protests would be held in Kerala on Wednesday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, Nair Service Society general secretary Sukumaran Nair thanked the temple priests for “closing down” the shrine. “We will now follow the legal route against what has happened,” he said.

Rahul Eashwar, a member of the temple tantri family, called the incident “most unfortunate”.

As per tradition, women and girls in the age group of 10 to 50 are barred from entering Sabarimala temple. The Supreme Court struck down the ban in September. Nearly 40 women belonging to this “banned” age group have since tried to undertake the holy trek to the hill shrine but have failed due to protests. The apex court is set to hear revision petitions against its verdict this month.

Bindu and Kanakadurga said they entered the temple aided by policemen in civilian clothes, and had a ‘darshan’ at 3.30 am. The two had made an attempt on December 24 too but were prevented by others.

Speaking to the media over telephone, Bindu said: “The government had assured us all help. We reached the base camp and went up the pathway and we had darshan at 3.30 a.m. We, however, did not climb the hallowed 18 steps, instead went through the way normally used by VIPs.”

Protests have started in Kerala against this act by the two women.

In Guruvayoor, BJP activists protested in front of Devasom Minister Kadakampally Surendran when he came to attend a programme there.

Protests took place in Kannur too where Health Minister KK Shailaja was attending a function.

(With agency inputs)