Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Sabarimala Temple Turns Into Fortress Ahead of Special Puja at Sabarimala

The unprecedented security arrangements have been made in the backdrop of protests by devotees and Hindu outfits opposing the entry of women of all age groups at the hill shrine.

 

Sabarimala, Nov 5: It seemed the Gods were in need of security in Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple as hundreds of police personnel, armed commandos, surveillance cameras and mobile jammers turned Sabarimala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa, into a virtual fortress, hours before it opens Monday evening for a special puja.

The unprecedented security arrangements have been made in the backdrop of protests by devotees and Hindu outfits opposing the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s decision to implement the landmark Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine.

Not  surprisingly, the security arrangements have not gone down well with the devotees and right wing activists who protested at several places against the restrictions at Sabarimala, considered the sacred grove of Lord Ayyappa, a celibate.
The temple was opened at 5 pm and closed at 10 pm Monday for the “Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal” puja slated for Tuesday, marking the birthday of the last king of the princely state of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.

The Kerala High Court on Monday said devotees and media personnel should not be blocked from visiting the Sabarimala temple and the government should not interfere in the day-to-day activities of the shrine.  The court’s remarks come on a day when the Lord Ayyappa shrine is scheduled to re-open for a special ‘puja’.

This is the second time the hill temple will open for ‘darshan’ after the Supreme Court allowed entry of women of all age groups into it.

Frenzied protests had rocked the temple last month and around a dozen women in the age group of 10-50 were prevented from reaching the shrine as protesting devotees sought to “protect” their customs and beliefs. The situation led to a pitched battle between police and the agitators as thousands took to the streets against the decision of the LDF government to implement the court orders.

Taking note of the violent protests, the court said a department-level inquiry must be ordered to check the role of policemen who had damaged devotees’ vehicles.

The Pandalam royal family, which is closely associated with the Ayyappa shrine, said it was “pained” at the heavy security in and around Sabarimala. “Saddened that devotees will have to offer prayers at the shrine amid thick police cover,” it said.

Protesting the apex court verdict, a ‘prayer yagna’ will be held, the family said.

Activist Rahul Easwar, president of Ayyappa Dharma Sena that is among the outfits spearheading the protests, in a video message said, “Like police, we are also fully prepared”.

Easwar, belonging to the Thazhamon family of Sabarimala thantris, was arrested twice last month in connection with the protests in and around Sabarimala against the government’s decision to implement the court verdict and also for making certain remarks and is out on bail.

The government and police machinery was placed on high alert to avoid any untoward incidents in and around the shrine, where ban orders under CrPC 144 are in force till Tuesday night.

Pathnamthitta Superintendent of Police T Narayanan had Sunday told PTI that all arrangements have been made for devotees to ensure smooth ‘darshan’.

Around 2,300 personnel, including a 20-member commando team and 100 women, have been deployed for the security of the devotees.

At least 15 women police personnel, who are over 50 years of age, have been deployed at the ‘Sannidhanam’ (temple complex), police said.

TV footage showed devotees locked in a war of words with police at several places along the route from Nilackal to Pamba, the key base camps on way to the shrine.

Hindu outfits, agitating against entry of women of menstrual age into Sabariamala, Sunday had urged media houses not to depute women journalists under 50 to cover the issue.

The BJP and various Hindu outfits are on a warpath against the Left-front government over its decision not to seek a review of the top court verdict lifting the ban on entry of women in 10-50 age group.

So far, 3,731 people have been arrested and 545 cases registered in connection with last month’s protests and violence. Around a dozen women in the age group of 10-50 were prevented from reaching the temple and police and the agitators fought a pitched battle last month over the LDF government’s decision to implement the court order.

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