For the first time since a Supreme Court verdict allowed the entry of women of all age groups to Sabarimala temple, two women below 50 walked into the shrine before daybreak on Wednesday. As a result, the temple has been shut down for a ‘purification’ ritual.

According to reports, the two women, identified as Bindu and Kanakdurga, who are in their 40s, entered the shrine around 3.45 am on Wednesday.

A video posted by ANI showed two women dressed in black entering the temple. ANI reported that the women were accompanied by police personnel. They had tried to visit Sabarimala Temple in December 2018 but failed amid massive protests.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that the women did enter the shrine.

“It is a fact that the women entered the shrine. Police are bound to offer protection to anyone wanting to worship at the shrine,” he said.

It was after Vijayan’s confirmation that Sabarimala priest Kandararu Rajeevaru closed down the Ayyappa temple.

Reports say DGP Loknath Behra has asked for CCTV footage to be submitted for further examination. He also defended the decision by the police to provide protection to the women.

“It is the responsibility of police to give protection to those who come and we did it. Verifying the age and other details is not our responsibility,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.

Rahul Easwar, activist and leader of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena, however expressed doubts over the claim.

“I don’t think it is true…They might have done that in absolute secrecy. Once we know, we will take appropriate action,” he said.

According to NDTV, Bindu, 44, is a college lecturer and CPI(ML) activist. Kanakadurga, 42, is a civil supplies employee. While Bindu hails from Kozhikode, Kanakadurga is from Malappuram district in Kerala.

There were very few devotees present at the time when the women entered.

The two women reportedly entered the temple via the VIP entry, and completed the visit to the temple before 4 am. They have claimed that the Kerala police ensured their security en route to Sabarimala.

Speaking to the media over telephone, Bindu said she along with Kanakdurga reached Pamba around 1.30 am, and started the trek to the hill shrine along with a few police officers in civilian clothes.

“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,” she said.

The entry of the women comes a day after a state-sponsored human ‘wall’ involving thousands of women was created along a 620-km stretch from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram in support of the entry of all women in the temple.

Protests against the Supreme Court order had so far prevented any woman from the formerly banned age group of 10-50 years from entering the sacred shrine. Devotees believe that the ban, which was in force for centuries, should stay as the deity, Lord Ayyappa, is celibate.

The apex court had on 28 September lifted the ban triggering massive protests by thousands of devotees in the state.

The temple is currently open for the Makaravilakku season which will last till 20 January.

On 30 December, prohibitory orders in Pathanamthitta district were extended till 5 January.