A calm atmosphere at the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala marked the second day of the two month-long annual pilgrimage season, even as the rest of Kerala witnessed protests against the arrest of BJP General Secretary K Surendran while on his way to the temple.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine, will file a petition in the Supreme Court Monday seeking more time to implement the court's Sept 28 verdict allowing women of all ages to offer worship at the shrine, board president A Padmakumar said.
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So far, no women in the 10-50 age group has sought police protection to trek the holy hills, though over 500 odd young women have made online bookings for darshan.
Facing flak over inadequate facilities and severe restrictions for devotees at the temple complex, Padmakumar also said no unnecessary curbs would be there and the "small issues" being faced now should be seen as "starting troubles".
Briefing reporters at Thiruvananthapuram after a meeting with DGP Loknath Behara and M V Jayarajan, the Private Secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, he said the devotees would be allowed to perform the "Neyyabhishekam" ritual from 03.15 AM to 1230 PM daily.
"The police, board or government will not take any step causing hardships to the pilgrims", but police would take action against those coming to Sabarimala with an intention to protest, he said.
More parking facilities and bio-toilets will be provided at Nilackal and Pamba, he said. Meanwhile, the State Human Rights Commission observed
there was gross violation of human rights of the devotees and directed authorities to ensure all necessary basic facilities for them and sought a report within two weeks.
The temple had opened Friday evening for the 64-day annual pilgrimage season as the stand-off continued over entry of menstrual age women into the shrine. So far, more pilgrims have arrived from other states than from within Kerala.
On the second day of the Malayalam month 'Vrischikom', the pilgrims offered prayers at the shrine early Sunday.
Though the devotees were relieved to get more time for 'darshan' due to less crowd, many were unhappy at not being allowed to spend some more time at the "sannidhanam" (the main temple complex).
Meanwhile, BJP workers blocked traffic on the national highways for over an hour across the state protesting against the arrest and remand of Surendran. In vatakara, a KSRTC bus was stoned, police said.
Surendran, who was taken into preventive custody as he tried to proceed to the Lord Ayappa temple, was Sunday produced before a magistrate and remanded to 14-day judicial custody after he was charged with non-bailable offences.
Condemning the manner in which Surendran was arrested, Union Minister Alphons Kannamthanam said it was "despicable" and described the police action as "condemnable".
"There is need to take a path of consensus on matters relating to Sabarimala, he said in a Facebook post. Implementing things which were against people's interest had no place in democracy, he said adding the people's verdict was for five years not life long, he said.
CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged the BJP's "agenda" was to create violence.
The Congress, which deputed a three-member delegation to Sabarimala, accused the CPI(M)-led state government of creating a 'terror-like atmosphere' in the name of security of the hill shrine.
The delegation comprising former state ministers Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, Adoor Prakash and V S Sivakumar took stock of the situaion in the temple complex. Prakash slammed the state government and the board for not making required facilities for devotees at Sabarimala.
Spearheading a campaign against the Kerala government over the Sabarimala issue, BJP state unit chief P S Sreedharan Pillai alleged the state government was making the Ayyappa shrine "a centre of dispute to destroy its uniqueness".
Condemning the police action against "peacefully agitating" devotees, he said BJP will extend all possible assistance to the protesters to protect the hill shrine from the "hidden agenda of atheists".
Devotees complained about long wait to get bus and the security screening.
"We reached Nilackal at around 4 AM. But we had to wait till 6 AM to catch a bus to Pamba. Otherwise everything was fine for us. We had a good darshan," Coimbatore resident Palaniswami, who was heading a group of 21 people, told PTI.
However, when PTI contacted the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) office at Pamba, they dismissed devotees' claims about delay in service and said several buses were running with vacant seats.
"Most people have apprehensions about the restrictions imposed by police. To top that, there was a hartal Saturday and today some parties are observing as a protest. All these reasons have resulted in less crowd at the Sannidhanam," a top Devaswom official said.
The temple complex and nearby areas had witnessed protests by devotees when it was opened for monthly pujas for eight days in October and early this month against the LDF government's decision to implement the apex court verdict allowing women in the previously banned 10-50 age group to
pray at the shrine.