Hartal in Kerala; but Sabarimala pilgrim season rolls out

Pamba / Sannidhanam (Kerala): Thousands of pilgrims offered prayers at Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala early today, the first day of the Malayalam month Vrischikom, even as a 12-hour hartal against the preventive detention of a Hindu Aikya Vedi leader began. 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 the 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.

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 autorickshaws 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, damaging its windows, he told PTI.

In the State capital, passengers had a tough time reaching their destinations due to the hartal. Many patients and their relatives were unable to reach the regional cancer centre and Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital.

Hindu 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, the police said.

The 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 way to the shrine with the traditional ‘irumudikettu’ (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 gathered outside the Ranni police station and Erumeli and began ‘nama japa’ protests Saturday morning.

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.