Sabarimala Shrine Opens Today Ahead of Pilgrimage Season; Minister Says It’s Not a Place for Activism
Tight security will be provided during the pilgrimage season, with over 10,000 police personnel being posted in phases in and around the hill temple.
Devotees wait to offer prayers at Lord Ayyappa temple on the first day of Malayalam month of 'Vrischikom,' in Sabarimala, Saturday (PTI)
Thiruvanathapuram: Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court's decision to refer the Sabarimala case to a larger bench, the Ayyappa shrine is set to open on Saturday even as the government said those women desirous of visiting the hill temple should get a "court order" for police protection.
The top court has decided to set up a larger bench to re-examine religious issues, including those arising out of its earlier verdict that lifted a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age visiting the shrine.
With the two-month annual pilgrimage season set to commence from November 17, Kerala Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran on Friday said Sabarimala is not a place for activism and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government will not support those who make announcements about entering the hill shrine for the sake of publicity.
"Sabarimala is not a place for activists to show their activism. There are some people who call a press meet and declare they will enter the shrine. They are doing it just for publicity. The government will not support such trends," he said.
When asked about comments from a few activists saying they will visit the shrine as there was no stay on the September 28, 2018, order of the Supreme Court allowing women of all age groups to enter, Surendran said, "They can approach the apex court, procure an order for police protection, and come. There is still some confusion regarding the order. The government will consult legal experts," he said.
A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has said a larger bench will re-examine several religious issues, including the entry of women into Sabarimala as well as mosques and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
By a 3:2 verdict, it decided to keep pending the pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding the entry of women into the shrine, and said restrictions on women in religious places was not restricted to Sabarimala alone and was prevalent in other religions as well.
Around 65 petitions, including 56 review petitions and four fresh petitions, had been moved in the apex court against its last year verdict.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday had said the Left front government will consult legal experts to get more clarity on the verdict. He said the government was always ready to implement the court order, whatsoever it may be.
Law minister AK Balan said the government will approach competent legal experts on the "confusions" prevailing in the judgment.
"This Sabarimala season will be peaceful. But if anyone tries to hamper the peaceful ‘darshan’ of devotees, the government will take strong action. If someone thinks they can exploit the devotees by spreading lies and turn them against the government, let me tell you, it's not going to happen," he said.
Reacting to the verdict, Bindhu, who along with Kanakadurga had trekked up the holy hills and offered prayers at the shrine on January 2, said the positive aspect of the court's latest order was that it had not stayed the September 28 verdict.
"The Sangh Parivar which welcomed the Ayodhya verdict is bound to accept the Supreme Court verdict in this case also. The government and the police are also bound to help and protect those who want to visit the shrine," she had said.
Kanakadurga has said should would like to go to Sabarimala again if there was no stay on the earlier order.
Pilgrimage season begins
The famous temple will open on November 16 a day ahead of the commencement of the annual two-month-long pilgrimage season.
Tight security will be provided during the pilgrimage season, with over 10,000 police personnel being posted in phases in and around the hill temple. Pathanamthitta district collector has said there is no need to declare prohibitory orders, like last year.
The Ayyappa temple in Pathanamthitta district had witnessed violent protests last year by right wing outfits and devotees over the September 28, 2018, order of the apex court allowing women of all age groups, including those in the menstruating age, to offer prayers.
Unlike last year, when the shrine and the adjacent areas were recuperating from the August deluge that had hit the state, the Devaswom Board this year has made extensive arrangements to receive devotees.
The Board, which manages temples in the state, said resting places for the devotees at Nilackal, Pamba and Sannidhanam areas have already been set up along with medical, water and toilet facilities.
"At Sannidhanam alone, facilities have been arranged for around 6,500 people to rest with their bags containing sacred offerings. Resting area for 9,000 devotees have been arranged at Nilackal where there is a parking area for over 9,000 vehicles also. There are over 1,000 toilets, 120 urinals and 60 bathrooms at Nilackal," a senior official in the Devaswom ministry said.
Similarly at Pamba, the Board has arranged facilities for 3,000 people to rest. It has also set up five emergency medical centres.
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation will deploy 150 buses to transport devotees between Pamba and Nilackal, a distance of around 18 km. The KSRTC has also arranged special services from almost all parts of the state to Pamba and Nilackal.
The annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala commences on the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam, which falls on November 17 and ends on December 27. The temple ‘tantri’ (head priest), Kandararu Mahesh Mohanaru, and ‘melshanti’ (chief priest) AK Sudheer Namboodiri, will open the temple on Saturday at 5 pm.
The new priests will also take charge on Saturday.
(With inputs from PTI)
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