Braving rains, thousands of devotees offered prayers at the Lord Ayyappa temple here on Sunday, the second day of the annual two-month-long Mandala- Makaravilakku puja pilgrimage season. After the chief priest, A K Sudheer Namboothiri opened the sanctum sanctorum at 3 a.m and performed special poojas including 'Neyyabhishekam' among others, the hill shrine was thronged by a large number of devotees throughout the day. The 'Nadapanthal' (the area where people queue up for darshan) and 'Sannidhanam' witnessed a huge crowd despite the heavy rain in the evening.
Police Control room officials said a total of 25,125 footfalls were recorded till 5 p.m on Sunday. "Arrangements were fine.. but the rain was unexpected.
Many including children got drenched," a devotee from Andhra Pradesh told PTI. The temple was opened for the annual pilgrim season on Saturday, days after the Supreme Court decided to refer to a larger bench re-examination of religious issues including those arising out of its 2018 verdict lifting a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age visiting the hilltop shrine.
Though the apex court did not stay its earlier order allowing entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple, at least 10 women, part of a 30-member group from Andhra Pradesh were sent back from nearby Pamba on Saturday as they were found to be in the age group of 10-50 years. The Kerala government, which had provided protection to some women devotees who visited the temple last year, has this time made it clear that it would not encourage women who want to enter the shrine for publicity.
Kerala Law Minister A K Balan on Sunday said there was a "de facto" stay of the September 28, 2018 apex court order allowing women of all ages to enter Sabarimala temple and the state government could act only on the basis of the court's verdict. "In this case, a constitutional government can act only according to the orders of the court. Now we have a new problem. The question was whether the verdict of November 14 stayed the earlier order. De jure there is no stay.... but de facto there is a stay.
"The 2018 order has stayed in effect even though it was not officially mentioned," Balan told reporters. 'De jure' means existing or holding a specified position by legal right while 'de facto' means existing or holding a specified position in fact but not necessarily by legal right. The state and temple precincts had witnessed protests by right-wing outfits and BJP workers last year after the LDF government had decided to implement the Supreme Court verdict of September 28, 2018, allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine.
Meanwhile, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran held a high-level meeting with the officials of all departments concerned with Sabarimala and discussed various matters related to the temple. He also said small vehicles would be allowed to ply till Pamba and the KSRTC bus stand would adopt a queue system and a conductor would be appointed in the bus from Nilackal, base camp, to Pamba. During the last season, private vehicles were allowed only till Nilackal, which is around 18 km from Pamba, due to the frenzied protests by a section of devotees and the right-wing outfits.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages temples in the state, has made elaborate arrangements to provide all possible amenities to devotees. The unprecedented floods in August last year had played havoc with the pilgrimage season with most of the facilities for the devotees being damaged.