Challenges galore as new Sabarimala season is set to begin

Challenges galore as new Sabarimala season is set to begin

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It could well be the first time in the history of the Lord Ayyappa Sabarimala temple that the nearly-two-month-long festival season is opening amidst such grave uncertainty. (Photo: IANS)
By Sanu George
Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 14 (IANS) It could well be the first time in the history of the Lord Ayyappa Sabarimala temple that the nearly-two-month-long festival season is opening amidst such grave uncertainty.
The festival season, which opens on the evening of Friday, November 16, for the Mandala Mahotsavam, will run till January 20, 2019, when the doors are finally closed. There is, in between, a three-day break from December 27.
The uncertainty has been caused by the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court which lifted the temple's traditional ban on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 -- who, it is believed, disturb the temple's celibate deity. It was a decision that was hailed by liberals and women's activists, but caused disquiet among devotees.
After the verdict, the ruling Communnist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front government in Kerala announced it will implement the apex court's ruling, pitting it directly against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous Hindu groups which have been up in arms against the verdict.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has also taken the position that the age-old traditions and customs of the famed shrine should not be diluted.
Besides, members of the Pandalam Royal family, that has an emotional connect with Sabarimala and are the official custodians of the temple's jewellery, have also have come out against the Supreme Court ruling on the grounds that the temple's unique traditions must be respected and observed.
Capping it all was the strong position taken by the Sabarimala Tantri family -- the priests in charge of the temple -- which went to the extent of stating that it will have no qualms in closing down the temple if its traditions are violated.
The temple town has already witnessed two rounds of protests by those opposed to breaking traditions and, despite the presence of a 2,000-plus-strong police force, 15 women in the hitherto banned age group had to beat a hasty retreat without being able to climb the hallowed 18 steps to have their darshan of the deity.
And on Tuesday, with the Supreme Court sticking to its September 28 decision and with all the players, including the Left Front government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, reiterating their original stands, it is evident that the upcoming season would well be an eventful one.
The only glimmer of hope to have emerged came after the top court refused a stay on its September 28 order, when the Vijayan government announced it was ready to hold an all-party meeting to discuss the Sabarimala temple issue on November 15, a day before the festival season opens.
Vijayan is slated to have a meeting with representatives of the Pandalam Royal family and Tantri families soon after the all-party meeting.
While state BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai has said a final decision on participating in the all-party meeting remains to be taken by the party, the two families linked to the shrine have welcomed Vijayan's initiative and have announced that they will be present.
Vijayan has been under fire for not having called an all-party meeting earlier, with critics suggesting that had such an exercise been conducted soon after the September 28 verdict, much of the tension and violence in the temple town could have been avoided.
In any case, there is a lot of expectation from the all-party meeting. If it fails to come to an amicable solution, the famed temple town may well witness unprecedented tension and even violence -- especially as 550 women in the banned age group have registered to have a darshan through the "Virtual Q" system.
--IANS
sg/sac

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

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