Tension prevailed at Pamba, the foothills of the Lord Ayyappa Temple in Kerala, on Sunday, December 23 morning as a group of 11 women, below the age of 50 years, tried to trek the hilltop shrine, even as devotees protested against the move.
Though they attempted to trek through the traditional forest path, about five kilometres from the temple complex, they could not go forward as devotees started 'Namajapa' (chanting of hymns of the lord) protest against them.
The women, members of the Chennai-based "Manithi" outfit, are now squatting on the road. Police have thrown a security ring around them.
Women, in the age group of 10-50 years, are traditionally barred from entering the Sabarimala temple. But the Supreme Court, through its September 28 landmark verdict, lifted the curb and permitted women of all age groups to offer prayers at the temple.
"We will continue the protest till we can visit the temple and offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. Police asked us to go back, citing security reasons. But we will not go," Thilakavathi, one of the members of the group, told a television channel.
"Priests of the local temple at Pamba did not cooperate with us and declined to get our 'irumudikettu' (sacred offering to the God) ready as per custom. So we did it on our own," she said, adding that more members of their outfit would reach the state soon to visit Sabarimala.
Of the 11 women, six carried the traditional irumudikettu which is mandatory to climb the Pathinettam Padi' (holy steps leading to sanctum sanctorum). Clad in the customary black dress, the women, led by the outfit's coordinator Selvi, insisted to the police that they want protection to offer prayers at the shrine.
Anxiety had loomed large in and around Sabarimala temple for some days as 'Manithi', the outfit, had declared that a group of 50 women, all below the traditionally barred age of 50 years, would visit the shrine on Sunday, December 23.
Selvy had told a Malayalam TV channel that the group comprised women from different states, including Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka besides Kerala. She had also said they had already written to the office of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and informed him about their plan to trek to the hill temple.
Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala temple since the Kerala government decided to implement the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court permitting women of all age groups there.
Over a dozen women have so far made unsuccessful attempts to trek the holy hills.
Four transgenders, who were earlier stopped from proceeding towards the Lord Ayyappa temple citing security reasons, offered prayers at the hill shrine under heavy police security earlier this week.
The Kerala High Court earlier this month appointed a three-member committee, vesting them with powers to oversee law and order and other problems faced by pilgrims during the ongoing annual season