Thiruvananthapuram: Women devotees intending to visit the disputed Hindu Sabarimala temple, in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, were left with no clarity about worshipping there as the shrine opened its doors for peak season pilgrimage on Saturday.
Tradition bars women of menstruating age from visiting the temple, but last year India’s Supreme Court found there was gender discrimination in that tradition and threw open the pilgrimage to all devotees.
Earlier this week, however, the apex court decided to refer the matter to a seven-judge constitutional bench, without staying its earlier ruling.
For women devotees — and male worshippers who are planning to visit the hill shrine while being accompanied by women — there is total confusion about women’s entry into the temple.
While the state government has not specifically clarified the matter, it is not openly backing the right of women to worship at the temple as it did last year.
This is considered a political U-turn.
The Left Democratic Front government’s emphatic efforts to facilitate worship by women devotees at the temple last year is believed to have gone against it in the parliament elections earlier this year.
High priests for tradition
The outgoing and incoming high priests at the Sabarimala temple on Saturday opined that tradition should be preserved.
Outgoing high priest V.N. Vasudevan Namboothiri said he had “a desire to protect the temple’s tradition. These are traditions that have been continued for centuries”.
Incoming high priest, A.K. Sudhir Namboothiri welcomed the government stand and said the government’s decision was “a great relief” and that it would be “beneficial” to ensure a peaceful pilgrimage season.
State police chief, Loknath Behera said there would be lesser restrictions at the shrine, adding that the police would wait for legal advice from the state advocate general before taking further security measures at the temple.
This year, 1,200 policemen have been posted for duty during the Sabarimala pilgrimage season, a smaller number than the previous year when the temple premises were witness to clashes between traditionalists and those who supported women’s entry into the temple.
Devotees to block women
However, if women worshippers do turn up, traditionalists have decided to block them at the temple.
Nearly three dozen women have applied online for darshan at the temple this season, and social activist from Maharashtra, Trupti Desai has announced she will be visiting the temple this pilgrimage season, too.
The Sabarimala Karma Samithi, which works towards protecting tradition at the temple, has vowed to hold treks to the shrine every day during the pilgrimage season to ensure that no one breaks tradition there.