Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
Sabarimala: Hours ahead of the one-day special pilgrimage of the Sabarimala temple, devotees facing Kerala Police’s questions and checking protested on Monday.
The famed temple that witnessed massive protests against the September 28 Supreme Court verdict allowing hitherto banned age group of girls and women to enter the Lord Ayyappa shrine, saw many devotees complain and shout slogans as the police stopped them for checking.
At 8am, the police opened the barricade and started allowing devotees to walk to Pamba — the base town of the temple. With the shrine set to open at 5pm, hundreds of pilgrims at Nilackal and Erumely were seen arguing as they faced repeated obstacles from the police from advancing.
What irked them most was the insistence to check their identity proof and answer questions as they tried to reach the sanctum sanctorum that would close at 10pm on Tuesday.
At Erumely, all pilgrim vehicles were stopped. The devotees protested and shouted Lord Ayyappa slogans as they arrived at a bus depot of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), demanding transport to proceed to the hilltop shrine.
“We have been asked to wait since last (Sunday) night. We are all on a pilgrimage and we have no other intentions. We are not particular that our vehicles should be allowed. The KSRTC should then operate the buses to take us forward,” said an angry devotee, as others echoed his demand.
Following the growing number of protesters, the police has agreed to allow private vehicles from Erumely till Nilackal.
#Kerala: Devotees begin the trek from Nilakkal base camp to #SabarimalaTemple. The temple will open today evening and will be closed after the ‘Athazha puja’ tomorrow evening. pic.twitter.com/nK47UGMang— ANI (@ANI) November 5, 2018
Vishnu Das, 70, was angry at the way the police was managing the pilgrims’ progress. He said it was the first time in his 56 years of visit to the shrine that he has been put into such difficulties.
“The police are out to create trouble and the scene here is as if it’s a battleground. The police is very intimidating. Till last year, there were no issues at all.
#Kerala: Devotees begin to gather at Nilakkal base camp as #SabarimalaTemple is set to open today. Nilakkal base camp in-charge Manjunath H says, “There is adequate police deployment here. We are not restricting the movement of devotees.” pic.twitter.com/OzJDGABRfU— ANI (@ANI) November 5, 2018
The visit to Sabarimala is suppose to bring solace, but this time everything has changed,” said Das, as he was walking towards Pamba.
The arrangements at the temple town is such that all pilgrims arriving on their vehicles have to get down at Nilackal and then take a KSRTC bus to Pamba, about 20 km, and then start the trek to the temple, situated on a hilltop.
Sreekumar Varma of the Pandalam Royal family, the custodian of the jewellery of the Sabarimala temple, said he was hurt by the way things have unfold.
“All along it has been a peaceful pilgrimage to Sabarimala. But today the temple has been turned into a ‘police station’. It pains us all,” said Varma.
The temple town is witnessing one of its stringent security arrangements. There were more than 2,300 police officials posted at various point up the pilgrimage path after the state tookover the shrine’s security on Saturday.
Several metal detectors have been kept at a various points and crowd combating arrangements were also in place. The media was allowed to go up the pathway at 9.15am.
The Kerala government has announced it will implement the apex court ruling pitting it against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous Hindu groups which have been up in arms against the verdict.