Kochi: The historic entry of two women devotees at the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala on Wednesday was marred by the death of a man protesting their entry and the temple shutting down for "purification" ritual post their entry.
The women, in their 40s, became the first female pilgrims of menstruating age to have achieved the feat after the Supreme Court overturned a traditional ban on women's entry last year.
The women — Bindu (42), a CPI(ML) activist from Koyilandy in Kozhikode district, and Kanakadurga (44), a civil supplies employee from Angadipuram in Malappuram — said that they began climbing the steps to Lord Ayyappa shrine around midnight and reached the temple at 3:45 am for darshan.
Chandran Unnithan, 54, who was injured in stone pelting at Panthalam in the morning, passed away at Believers church hospital Thiruvalla at around 11 pm.
He was participating in a protest march by Sabarimala Karma samithy against the entry of two women at Sabarimala. Samithy has accused the CPM to be behind the attack as, they allege, the stones came from an area near the CPM area committee office in Pandalam Mavelikkara route.
After the duo released a video of their visit, CM Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that the devotees prayed at the temple.
"There were protests earlier, but today two women entered Sabarimala shrine. We have given a standing order to police to provide all possible protection to any woman who wants to enter the temple," he said.
Kanakadurga told CNN-News18 that they arrived at Pamba around midnight and proceeded without police protection. "We reached Sannidhanam and climbed the sacred stairs. We did not face any protests from any quarters. Devotees were present there but they did not block our way or questioned us," she said.
The Sabarimala head priest, Kandaru Rajeevaru, had ordered to shut the temple till 11:30 am for "purification" after reports of women's entry into the temple were confirmed.
Reacting to the development, Pandalam erstwhile royal Shashi Verma said that the women's entry into Sannidhanam was not historic, but against the customs of Sabarimala. "Customs of the temple should be maintained. We are not in the favour of changing rituals, he said, adding that the temple will have to be "purified".
Soon after Verma's statement, the shrine doors were shut for pilgrims and priests began conducting "shuddhi kalasham" (purification ritual).
BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya questioned if Kerala government had "desecrated" the shrine. "Have the Communists desecrated Sabarimala shrine by facilitating entry of women of restricted age group into the temple? Devastating, if true," he tweeted.
RSS ideologue and BJP national general secretary (organisation) B L Santosh hit out at media for terming the devotees' trek as 'historic'. "Remember that Aurangzeb , Genghis Khan, Jai Chand were also part of history. For what do people remember them? Shame on you (media)," he said.
Meanwhile, a team of Kerala police has been deployed outside the women's residence, fearing protests.
The women had last year also attempted to trek to Sannidhanam, but were forced to return due to protests. Eleven other women activists of a Chennai-based outfit were prevented from reaching the shrine and chased away by devotees chanting Ayyappa mantras.
Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the shrine after the CPI(M)-led LDF government decided to implement the apex court verdict allowing all women to offer prayers at the temple.
The right-wing groups have been opposing the entry of young women, saying they are with the devotees.
Four trans-women recently offered prayers at the temple while the attempt by over a dozen young women have been foiled by protesting devotees so far.