Top Court Hearing Today, As Sabarimala Shuts After Disobeying Its Verdict

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Supreme Court had recently lifted the centuries-old ban on entry of women at Kerala's Sabarimala temple

New Delhi / Thiruvananthapuram:

The Supreme Court's landmark verdict allowing women of all ages to enter Kerala's Sabarimala temple proved to be ineffective, with the doors of the shrine closing on Monday night. This was the first time that the temple – which opens for 5 days every month – allowed access to devotees after the top court's verdict.

Around a dozen women devotees between the ages of 10 and 50, or menstruating age, made brave attempts to pray at Lord Ayyappa's sacred shrine in Sabarimala. However, their efforts were futile as frenzied devotees of Lord Ayyappa, the eternally celibate deity, protested, heckled and hassled them, forcing them to retreat. The reason for them doing so was cited to be "age-old tradition", something which the Supreme Court termed as "religious discrimination" against women.

Most of the women devotees who attempted praying at the Sabarimala temple came just a few hundred meters from its doors, but climbing the last 18 "sacred steps" leading to the temple's sanctum sanctorum proved to be the steepest, with protesters, backed by temple authorities, blocking their way and refusing to budge.

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Meanwhile, 19 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a review of its order on Sabarimala. The top court said yesterday that it will hear the Sabarimala case today and decide when the petitions seeking a review of its Sabarimala verdict will be listed for hearing.

Six days after its opening for this month, the 'Melsanti' or the head priest and other priests stood on both sides of the idol of Lord Ayyappa and recited divine song "Harivarasanam" and began putting off the lamps in the sanctum sanctorum halfway down the rendition. Following this, the big iron gates to the shrine were closed and locked, shutting out, at least for the time being, spirited women devotees of menstruating age from praying at the sacred temple.

During these six days, almost a dozen women devotees tries their best to go to the temple. Six women were prevented from entering the temple Sunday alone.

Kerala women's rights activist Rehana Fathima and Hyderabad journalist Kavitha Jakkal, wearing helmets and khaki, and surrounded by a police contingent, could manage to go up to Valiya Nadappandhal, the queue complex located a few metres away from the holy 'pathinettam padi', the 18 sacred steps, but not beyond.

Several people, including journalists, were injured on Wednesday as police cracked down on protesters who were up in arms against Kerala's Left Front government for its decision to enforce the Supreme Court order.

Fringe groups called a strike the next day and both the Congress, the main opposition party in Kerala, and the BJP, which is seeking to expand its footprint in the state, lent support to the agitation.

Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages Sabarimala temple, is meeting today to discuss how to make an intervention in the Supreme Court while protecting the "interest of devotees".

"The Travancore Devaswom Board has the legal responsibility to protect the interest of devotees. We also have to look at the rituals and customs of the temple. The board will make its intervention in Supreme Court without harming this," its chief A Padmakumar told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.

He said the meeting would decide the "nature" of the report to be submitted to the Supreme Court.

The state's Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran welcomed the Travancore Devaswom Board's decision to approach the Supreme Court with a comprehensive report about the recent developments in Sabarimala.

"It's a good decision…the Travancore Devaswom Board's move is to bring to the notice of the Supreme Court the difficulties faced by the real devotees," Mr Surendran said.

The temple will now open briefly on the evening of November 5 for the next day's 'Chithira Attavisesham' to celebrate the birth anniversary of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last king of Travancore.

The doors of the shrine will open next on November 17 for the three-month-long Mandalam Makaravilakku celebrations when lakhs of devotees from the country and abroad visit the place every year.

If the Supreme Court does not stay or overturn its own verdict by then, enforcing its historic order may prove to be a daunting task for the Kerala government.

(With inputs from PTI)

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