Tension grows in Kerala as women ready for pilgrimage

Thiruvananthapuram: A fortnight after India’s Supreme Court granted permission for women to go on pilgrimage to the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala — contrary to the long-standing tradition of the temple that permits only men to do so — there is no clarity on the likely scenario on Wednesday when the temple opens for prayers.

However, one woman from Kannur and a few of her friends have decided that they will indeed make the pilgrimage this season.

The temple had traditionally banned girls and women in the 10-50 age group from entering, on the grounds that their menstrual cycle made them ‘impure’. The court quashed that argument.

Tens of thousands of devotees of Ayyappa have held demonstrations in various places in the state, demanding that women’s entry be banned, at least until the apex court takes a call on the review petition filed by some groups that prefer tradition to continue at the temple.

The Communist Party of India Marxist-led Left Democratic Front government in Kerala has said that it has to abide by the apex court’s ruling, and that if women do turn up for pilgrimage, they would be accorded protection as well as the facilities required for the pilgrimage.

Tension has risen for all concerned after news broke out on Sunday about a team of women from Kannur preparing themselves for pilgrimage to Sabarimala, the first women devotees to publicly announce their intention to visit Sabarimala.

Reshma Nishanth, a college lecturer from Kannur district announced the team’s plan to visit Sabarimala. She declined to give the strength of her team, saying there would be three or four others accompanying her.

She said she and her friends were undertaking the 41-day ritualistic prayers and diet, avoiding fish and meat as well as physical proximity to their spouses, preparing themselves for the pilgrimage. Nishanth was reported as saying that she had “extreme desire” to see the deity, Ayyappa.

Nishanth posted her thoughts on social media, saying “there is no man-woman difference in the matter of faith”. She posted her photo, too, showing herself in the traditional black attire worn by Sabarimala pilgrims.

Shortly after she went public with her plan, a group of people gathered in front of her house in protest on Sunday evening. She said they threatened her, prompting her to call for police help.

Nishanth said she had the approval of the apex court to go on pilgrimage to Sabarimala, and the assurance of the state government of adequate protection, adding that she would not reveal the names of her friends who were accompanying her, for security reasons.


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