Sabarimala: The Sabarimala temple in Kerala was shut on Wednesday after two women from the hitherto banned age group prayed there and was reopened an hour later after the priests performed "purification rituals".
The dramatic pre-dawn entry by the two women, Bindu and Kanaka Durga, aided by policemen in civilian clothes led to angry reactions from opposition parties.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that two women had prayed at the temple. "Yes, it's true. The women have had temple darshan," he said in Thiruvananthapuram.
As the news spread, the chief priest and temple tantri held a meeting and also met the Pandalam Royal family and decided to shut the hill shrine to conduct "purification rituals".
Kantararu Rajeeveru, the tantri, said the temple closed around 10.30 a.m. and opened an hour later.
Bindu and Kanaka Durga, who said they had 'darshan' at 3.30 a.m., had been prevented on December 24 by predominantly male pilgrims from entering the temple.
Women and girls in the age group of 10 to 50 are barred from praying at the Sabarimala temple in line with tradition. This ban was struck down by the Supreme Court in September.
Speaking to the media over telephone, Bindu said she along with Durga reached the Pamba base camp around 1.30 a.m. and along with a few police officers in civilian clothes went up the pathway.
"The government had assured us all help. We reached the base camp and went up the pathway and we had darshan at 3.30 a.m. We, however, did not climb the hallowed 18 steps, instead went through the way normally used by VIPs," said Bindu.
"We did not have any problems. Barring minor protests, there was no other issue," added Bindu.
Rahul Eashwar, a member of the temple tantri family, earlier said that "corrective rituals" would have to be done. He called their entry "most unfortunate".
Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan said the tantri had no right to close the temple.
"This is a challenge to the judiciary. The government only did its role in upholding the Supreme Court directive," Jayarajan, considered the number two in the cabinet, told journalists.
"This is a victory for women's rights. Women have entered Sabarimala temple earlier too," he added.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala called for protests against the Left government. "Vijayan will have to pay a heavy price for this," he said.
Another Congress leader, K. Sudhakaran, called Vijayan "a fascist" and said the two women who entered the temple were his "puppets".
"These two women are not believers. They are activists. They never went through the customary rituals that any true devotee does before embarking on the pilgrimage. These women did not have the customary holy kit carried by pilgrims," he said.
State CPI-M Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said there was no reason to shut the temple.
"Those who should observe the temple rules are themselves violating it," he said. "The role of the government is to abide by the Supreme Court order and it has done just that. The police did their job of providing security to the women."
The Nair Service Society's General Secretary Sukumaran Nair thanked the temple priests for "closing down the temple. We will now follow the legal route against what has happened".
State BJP General Secretary M.T. Ramesh thundered that Vijayan will have to pay "a heavy price" for violating the temple traditions.
"What they did was to act like cowards. In pitch darkness, they took the two women," he said, adding that protests would be held in Kerala on Wednesday and Thursday.
BJP activists protested in front of Devasom (Temples) Minister Kadakampally Surendran when he came to attend a programme in Guruvayoor.
Similar protests took place when Health Minister K.K. Shailaja came for a function at her home district in Kannur.
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple.
Ever since the verdict, around three dozen women in that age group have tried but failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple due to protests.