Thiruvananthapuram: Thousands of Lord Ayyappa devotees Saturday took to the streets in Kochi against the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all age groups into Sabarimala temple, even as activist Trupti Desai announced plans to visit the hill shrine soon.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, which decided to implement the ruling, held a meeting here to evaluate the preparations carried out for pilgrims arriving at the temple which will open for monthly poojas on October 17 evening.
Though the government has not reacted to Desai's planned trip to the temple yet, it has evoked sharp reactions from Ayyappa devotees and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is campaigning against the entry of women into the hill shrine. Padalam royal family member, Sasikumar Varma criticised Desai and urged the social activist to refrain from making any "provocative' move. He also asked the Left government to take steps to prevent any law and order situation.
Desai, the 'Bhumata Brigade' leader, said in Mumbai that she along with a group of women would visit the temple "shortly" to offer prayers. "We will visit Sabarimala shortly. The ongoing agitation by devotees is the violation of the Supreme Court verdict. I appeal the agitating devotees to welcome those women who come for worship at the hill shrine," she told Malayalam TV channels. "I want to ask the Congress and the BJP whether they are against the fundamental rights of women. The parties should also explain their stand on this," Desai said.
Holding placards bearing pictures of Lord Ayyappa and chanting his hymns, the protesters marched through the busy roads of Kochi, the state's commercial hub, after launching the stir from the famed Shiva temple there. The faithful, a large number of them women, urged both the Central and the state governments to intervene in the matter to protect the sanctity of the centuries-old rituals and traditions of the hill shrine.
Meanwhile, the 'Long March' led by BJP-headed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) reached Kollam district Saturday. Party state president, P S Sreedharan Pillai, who lead the rally, said Desai was visiting Sabarimala as she perceived it to be a challenge rather than a pilgrimage.
"It is a dangerous approach. She should desist from visiting the shrine and should not make Sabarimala a tension zone," he said.
"I do not know whether she is a devotee or not. But she is coming to add fuel to the fire," Pillai added.
Claiming that the NDA rally was getting tremendous support from all sections of people, the leader said the march would reach the state capital on October 15. It was because of the success of the NDA long march that the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF was forced to launch counter-campaigns and family get-togethers to explain the Left government's stand on the Sabarimala issue, Pillai added.
Activist Rahul Easwar, who already announced hunger strike at Sabarimala during the five-day monthly pooja period, said they would stop Trupti Desai if she attempts to visit the Lord Ayyappa Temple. "Ours will be a Gandhian mode of protest. Hundreds of devotees will lay down on roads leading to Sabarimala if Trupti Desai attempts to visit the shrine," he said.
Kerala has been witnessing a series of agitations by various devotee groups and Hindu outfits against the Pinarayi Vijayan government's decision to implement the apex court order without going for any review petition. Besides BJP, the opposition Congress was also against the government's decision not to go for the review and extended support to the devotee's stir.
On September 28, a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by the chief justice Dipak Misra, lifted the ban on the entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine.