Tension prevailed as a group of 11 women below the age of 50 years tried to trek to the Sabarimala hilltop shrine even while devotees protested the move.
A group of 11 women attempted to trek through the traditional forest path to the Lord Ayyappa Temple on Sunday but were halted about five kilometres from the temple complex as devotees chanted hymns in protest. Defying prohibitory orders, hundreds of devotees had gathered to protest.
The women, members of Chennai-based "Manithi" group, were held up since early morning by the protestor and were given protection by the police.
Selvi, the coordinator of the women's group insisted the women would not return without darshan. "Police is asking us to go back in view of the protests. But, we won't go back without darshan," she told reporters.
Women in the age group of 10-50 years are traditionally barred from entering the Sabarimala temple. The Supreme Court, in its September 28 landmark verdict, lifted this curb and permitted women of all age groups to offer prayers at the temple.
The women's group reached Pamba by 3:30 am through the Idukki-Kambamedu route in Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Thilakavathi, another member from the group, said they would wait until they could offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. "Priests of the local temple at Pamba did not cooperate with us and declined to get our 'irumudikettu' (sacred offering to the God) ready as per custom. So we did it on our own," she said, adding that more members of the group would reach the state soon to visit Sabarimala.
Clad in the customary black dress, the women, led by Selvi, insisted they needed police protection to offer prayers at the shrine. Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president, A Padmakumar expressed hope that no untoward incident would take place.
Anxiety loomed large in and around Sabarimala for some days after the 'Manithi' group declared that a group of 50 women, all below the traditionally barred age of 50 years, would visit the shrine on Sunday.
Selvi said they had written to the office of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and informed him about their plan to trek to the hill temple.
Kerala has witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala Temple since the Kerala government decided to implement the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court permitting women of all age groups. Over a dozen women have so far made unsuccessful attempts to trek the holy hills.
Four transgenders, who were earlier stopped from proceeding towards the Lord Ayyappa temple citing security reasons, offered prayers at the hill shrine under heavy police security earlier this week. The Kerala High Court earlier this month appointed a three-member committee, vesting them with powers to oversee law and order and other problems faced by pilgrims during the ongoing annual season.