Under a massive security cover along with the enforcement of Section 144, the Sabarimala hill shrine in Kerala opened its doors at 5 pm for two days for a special ritual, called the ‘Chithira atta vishesham’ on Monday.
It has earlier witnessed violent protests by Hindu outfits against the Supreme Court order that permitted women of all ages to enter the temple. The police arrested at least 3,700 people in various cases related to the protests.
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Section 144 had been imposed on the Sabarimala temple and the base camps of Pamba and Nilakkal as early as Sunday and will remain in force till Tuesday night when the temple doors will close. Strong police forces with female cops and commando units, were seen in Nilakkal, Pamba and Erumely to quash any move of violence by protesters.
However, unlike previous years when few devotees visit the temple during this period, thousands of people flowed into the Nilakkal and Pamba base camps.
Senior BJP leader MT Ramesh criticised the government for turning the hill shrine and its premises into a fortress.
Prominent RSS leader from Kannur Valsan Thillankery also visited the temple. He remarked, “If traditions are violated, then there will be natural protests by the devotees. Devotees must not be seen as terrorists here. Section 144 should not have been imposed in a temple like Sabarimala.”
The temple will close at 10 pm Tuesday after a two-day ritual known as “Chithira atta thirunal”. It will open again for the two-month-long annual festival on November 17. On November 13, the apex court is due to hear a number of review petitions pending before it against the verdict on women’s entry at the temple.
Meanwhile, Malayalam news channels aired a video clip in which the BJP Kerala chief P S Sreedharan Pillai purportedly said that the temple’s chief priest consulted him before threatening the closure of the shrine if women in 10-50 age group entered it.
The BJP Kerala chief’s remarks on Sabarimala triggered a storm in political circles.
Pillai is a practicing lawyer in Kerala High Court. He later clarified at a BJP Yuva Morcha event in Kozhikode on Sunday that the priest like several other people came to him to seek legal clarification. Pillai said the priest had consulted him on whether closing the Ayyappa temple if women try to enter the temple would lead to contempt of court. Pillai had said he assured the tantri that there would be no contempt and thousands of believers were with him.
On October 19, Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru threatened to shut the sanctum sanctorum if two young women, escorted by police, were allowed to reach the ‘Sannidhanam’ (temple complex).
In the video, Pillai was also heard telling party workers: “Sabarimala issue is a golden opportunity for us.” And claimed that the agitation was “BJP’s agenda”.
As anticipated, his remarks drew sharp reactions from the CPI(M)-led ruling LDF and Opposition Congress.
CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan accused the BJP of using the tantri and other priests for creating trouble at Sabarimala. Industries Minister E P Jayarajan, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala slammed Pillai for his remarks.
They said that it was a serious matter and demanded a high-level probe into what he called “all conspiracies” related to Sabarimala and the stand taken by the BJP. The agitation was “well planned” by BJP and the fact that the party could “influence” the priest was “serious”. The real agenda of BJP had been exposed through the video.
Reacting to Pillai’s remarks, Vijayan posted on Twitter: “Evidence has surfaced that BJP leaders in the state connived to create trouble in Sabarimala. It must be noted that their state president himself was involved in the ruse. This is highly condemnable.”
Asked about his purported remarks, Pillai said: “It was a public address and there is nothing controversial in the statements. I am a lawyer and many persons, including the temple priest, have called me seeking legal advice. There is nothing wrong in giving advice. However, I don’t want to give any further explanation.”