Millennium Post

Devotees prevent woman at Sabarimala; police file cases

Sabarimala (Ker): Tension prevailed at the Lord Ayyappa temple here Tuesday as nearly 200 frenzied devotees tried to prevent a woman pilgrim, whom they suspected to be of menstrual age, from entering, prompting police to register cases against them.

Though there is hardly any rush of pilgrims during the annual "Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal", the hill temple witnessed an unprecedented flow of devotees this time when it was opened for the two-day special puja Monday evening.

Clapping and chanting 'Ayyappa saranam', a huge crowd of devotees surrounded Lalitha Ravi (52), suspecting her to be of menstrual age, but police intervened and escorted her out.

The woman showed her Aadhaar card to them to prove that she did not belong to the "traditionally barred" age group of 10-50 years.

Police later escorted her to the shrine to offer prayers along with her other women relatives.

Hailing from Thrissur, Lalitha came to the hill temple with 19 relatives, including women, for her grandson's 'chorunnu' (rice giving ceremony).

Police at sannidhanam said a case has been registered against 200 "identifiable" persons in connection with the incident, based on her complaint.

Despite prohibitory orders, devotees and right-wing activists gathered in huge numbers at Sannidhanam, the shrine complex.

When the situation went out of control, senior RSS leader Valsan Thillankeri, who has been camping at the shrine complex since Monday, pacified the angry agitators and asked them to maintain calm and cautioned against alleged "unruly elements", who could intrude to create trouble at the hill shrine.

He claimed he addressed the devotees to help the police.

Valsan also courted a controversy for allegedly violating the key tradition of the Sabarimala shrine by climbing the sacred 18 steps without carrying the customary 'irumudikkettu' (sacred offerings to Lord Ayyappa) on his head.

TV channels aired visuals of the Sangh leader standing on the golden steps, leading to the sanctum sanctorum.

However, he rejected the charges and said he did carry the offerings while climbing the holy steps.

Girls below 10 years of age and women above 50 have frequently prayed at the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple in the past.

However, the entry of women of all ages has become a sensitive issue after the September 28 Supreme Court verdict.

A group of young women from Andhra Pradesh had to return from the base camp, Pamba, following protest this morning.

Another batch of women from the state, aged above 50, were prevented by devotees at 'nadappandal', the area near sacred 18 steps, as they did not carry the 'irumudikettu'.

But police later escorted the aged women to the shrine complex after convincing devotees.

A cameraman of a Malayalam television channel was attacked, allegedly by devotees while taking visuals of the protest.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said "certain people" were trying to destroy the peaceful atmosphere in Sabarimala.

"They are trying to prevent devotees arriving there for darshan. Real devotees and society will identify such forces," he told reporters in Kozhikode when his reaction was sought about the developments in Sabarimala.

A 30-year-old woman, who had reached the base camp at Pamba with her husband and two children on Monday, went back early this morning without offering prayers.

She had told police that it was her husband who was keen that she should worship at the Ayyappa temple.

Several journalists had been attacked by devotees when the doors of the Sabarimala temple were opened for six days on October 17 for the first time since the Supreme Court allowed the entry of women of all age groups into the hill temple.

Attempts by over 10 women, including activists and journalists in the 10-50 years age group, to script history came to nought as frenzied devotees of Lord Ayyappa heckled and hassled them and forced them to retreat.

The Ayyappa temple opened Monday for the second time in three weeks for a two-day special puja amid unprecedented security over apprehension of protests by those opposing the Supreme Court order, allowing women of menstrual age there.

Hundreds of police personnel, including armed commandos, are keeping a tight vigil in the temple complex and nearby areas to prevent any untoward incident.

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