Thousands of pilgrims offered prayers at Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala early Saturday, the first day of Malayalam month of 'Vrischikom. Pilgrims, including children, queued up in large numbers since the temple opened at 3 am. The temple had opened Friday evening for the two-month-long annual pilgrim season as a stand-off continued over the entry of menstrual age women into the shrine.
All regular pujas began this morning under the supervision of the new Melshanti (chief priest) Vasudevan Nampoothiri. Meanwhile, right-wing Hindu outfits have called for a dawn to dusk hartal in Kerala Saturday in protest against arrest of a senior Sangh Parivar leader who was on the pilgrimage to Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple.
Sabarimala Row: SC to consider fresh pleas after deciding petitions seeking review of its Sept 28 judgement
HIGHLIGHTS on Sabarimala Temple Row:
5:00 pm: RSS leader alleges 'brutal crackdown' on Hindus in Kerala
Brutal crackdown on the Hindus of Kerala by the state police continues unabated under CPM instructions and support. Prominent Hindu leaders like KP Sashikala teacher, Brahmachari Dr BhargavaRam, Prthivipal Adv .P Sudheer has been taken into custody#Protect_Sabarimala pic.twitter.com/SiVdpeiJ6N— J Nandakumar (@kumarnandaj) November 17, 2018
4:00 pm: Kerala BJP condemns the preventive custody of activist K P Sasikala
ഇരുമുടിക്കെട്ടുമെന്തി ദർശനത്തിനെത്തിയ ഹിന്ദു ഐക്യവേദി നേതാവ് ശശികലടീച്ചർ, ശബരിമല ആചാര സംരക്ഷണ സമിതി കൺവീനർ പൃഥ്വിപാൽ, ബിജെപി പട്ടികജാതി മോർച്ച സംസ്ഥാന അധ്യക്ഷൻ പി.സുധീർ ഉൾപ്പെടെ നിരവധി പേരെ യാതൊരു പ്രകോപനവും കൂടാതെ അറസ്റ്റ് ചെയ്ത നടപടിയിൽ ബിജെപി ശക്തമായായി പ്രതിഷേധിക്കുന്നു.— BJP KERALAM (@BJP4Keralam) November 17, 2018
The Aikya Vedi state president, K P Sasikala, who was on a pilgrimage to the Ayyappa shrine, was taken into "preventive custody" near Marakkootam, close to Sabarimala, at 2.30 am after she allegedly defied the orders, police said.
Police had decided not to allow devotees enter the temple premises when it was closed for the night.
Sasikala was stopped by them late Friday night when she was on her way to the shrine with the traditional "Irrumudikettu" (offerings to Lord Ayyappa carried by devotees on their head) as the temple would have been closed by the time she would have reached there.
She was later taken to Ranni police station.
Sudheer, leader of another outfit, was also taken into preventive custody.
Aikya Vedi protesters, meanwhile, gathered outside the Ranni police station and Erumeli and began "Nama Japa" protests Saturday morning.
Condemning the police action, BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the state government's effort is to "destroy" the Sabarimala pilgrimage
"Government wants to destroy the traditions of Sabarimala. Why was Sasikala and Sudheer arrested? The BJP will strengthen its protests and support the hartal," Pillai told reporters at Kozhikode.
VHP state president S J R Kumar alleged that Sasikala was "arrested".
"Some other activists have been taken into preventive custody," Kumar told PTI at Kochi.
Amid unprecedented security, Kerala State Transport Corporation buses were bringing pilgrims from Nilackal to Pamba and no services had been stopped, KSRTC sources said. Shops and hotels near the temple complex were open.
However, normal life was hit elsewhere in the state as the hartal progressed; buses and auto-rickshaws remained off roads in several areas.
KSRTC Managing Director Tomin J Thachankary said the corporation was running buses in Sabarimala with police protection to help pilgrims reach the temple.
In Balrampuram near Thiruvananthapuram, protesters attacked a KSRTC bus and damaging its windows, he told PTI.
In the state capital, passengers had a tough time in getting vehicles to reach their respective destinations due to the hartal. Many patients and their relatives were unable to reach the regional cancer centre and Thiruvananthapuram medical college hospital.
The temple opened Friday evening, for the third time since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry of women of menstrual age, though no girl or woman pilgrim in the 10-50 age group has been able to offer prayers because of resistance by devotees and activists opposing any change in the temple tradition.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the shrine, has made it clear that it would approach the apex court either Saturday or Monday, seeking more time to implement its September 28 verdict permitting women of all ages to offer prayers at the Sabarimala temple.
Devotees are facing difficulties at Pamba as floods destroyed the facilities there.
Muthu Karthick, a pilgrim from Chennai, said there are no facilities at Pamba... No water, toilets are filthy causing difficulties to devotees," he lamented.
However, at the Sannidhanam (temple complex) the facilities are better.
The temple complex and nearby areas had witnessed violent protests by Ayyappa devotees against the entry of young women when it was opened for last month's poojas from October 17-22.
At least 12 women had made a vain attempt to trek the hills soon after the Supreme Court verdict permitting women in the 10-50 age group to offer prayers at the shrine.
Over 3,345 protesters who prevented women from entering the shrine have been arrested since October 26 while 517 cases have been registered at various police stations across Kerala.
On September 28, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by then chief justice Dipak Misra in a 4:1 judgment had lifted the centuries-old ban on the entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine.
Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the Sabarimala shrine, would move the Supreme Court on Monday seeking more time to implement its order allowing women of menstrual age to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa temple.
The TDB's move comes a day after the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, at an all-party meeting, took a firm stand that it was bound to implement the top court order and rejected suggestions by opposition parties that it seek time from the court.
"We will move the Supreme court on Monday through Advocate Chandra Uday Singh" TDB President A Padmakumar, told PTI.
The board had Friday said it would move the apex court either Saturday or Monday seeking more time to implement the September 28 verdict of the top court allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the Sabarimala shrine as it wanted the devotees to have peaceful 'darshan'.
The temple and surrounding areas have come under unprecedented security for the season which draws lakhs of devotees to offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa.
The Supreme Court is slated to hear petitions seeking review of its September 28 order in January, but has refused to stay it.