The anger of devotees of Lord Ayyapa over the Supreme Court verdict regarding entry of women of all ages to the temple premises including those falling in the age group of 10-50 years has become evident. The Sabarimala temple is going to open its doors in the evening today. The state of Kerala had already become tense and now the protesting devotees have turned the area around the Sabarimala temple into a warzone. Interestingly, it is the women devotees who are leading these protest from the front. It seems that women devotees from Kerala understand the true reason behind this restriction imposed on the women between the 10-50 age group and that it is intricately connected with the beliefs concerning Lord Ayyapa.
Before the Supreme Court verdict came, which allowed entry of women into the temple, women falling in the age group of 10-50 years were denied entry into the temple. This was a tradition as the temple celebrated Lord Ayyapa’s celebacy, who according to beliefs had refused to marry goddess Malikappurathamma. The Lord Ayappa had said that he could marry the goddess only if there comes a time when Kanni Ayyappans (those who visit the temple for the first time) stop coming to visit him. Thus, Lord Ayyapa remained a celibate. It is believed that Lord Ayyapa did not want young women to come and see him out of his affection towards the goddess. Therefore, the tradition of women not visiting the Lord has been present for thousands of years. It is not so much in the nature of prohibition for that matter, but something that is intimately connected with the history and beliefs of the temple.
On Tuesday, thousands of protesters began their protest on the issue of Sabarimala verdict in Kerala. These female protesters are dissuading and trying to prevent other women within the age group of 10-50 years from entering the temple. As it has turned out the leaders of these protest are local women who are not only arguing with other women and urging them not to visit the temple but also screening the vehicles approaching the temple in order to ensure that women do not enter the temple. These protests go on to show a sense of disappointment towards the apex court verdict as the protesters, led by women devotees believe that the verdict and consequent entry of women in the temple undermines their faith. The protesters consisting of local tribals have formed a protective ring around the Sabarimala temple and are trying to stop the breach of temple traditions which celebrates Lord Ayyappa’s celibacy. It is believed that Lord Ayyapa had given these tribals the right to protect the temple. The tension around this issue has reached such a level that even threats of “mass suicides” have been reported.
Meanwhile, the Communist government in Kerala has been adamant on implementing the verdict immediately, without caring for the tense situation that is unfolding on the ground. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that no one would be allowed to block devotees from proceeding to Sabarimala. He has also stated that the government will ensure facilities to all women devotees desirous of going to Sabrimala and added, “we will not allow anyone to take law and order into their hands. Those who wish to visit Sabarimala for worship are free to go there. The government will not submit a review petition against SC verdict.” The state government is showing this careless attitude even after the Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the hill-shrine had hinted that it could request the Supreme Court to give more time for implementing the verdict. This shows total apathy of the Kerala government and it is only exacerbating an already tense situation.
These protests strongly show the general mood of the local people, especially the women, who were disenchanted by the verdict allowing entry of women within 10-50 years of age, to protect the age old tradition which celebrates the legacy of Lord Ayyapa’s celibacy. The Hindu unity over this issue is not specific to any particular class but cuts across the barriers of gender, caste and class. They have united together in order to safeguard their beliefs and an age old tradition of the Sabarimala temple which the Kerala government seems to be hell bent on destroying.