Thiruvananthapuram: Successive governments in Kerala have been pressing the various Union governments demanding the famed Sabarimala temple be elevated to that of a national pilgrim centre but instead is now the focus of an avodable type of international after a Supreme Court directive that women of all ages be permitted into the pre-12th century shrine that attracts the world's largest pilgrimage.
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple, including those from the hitherto banned age group of 10 to 50 years.
The Left Democratic Front government led by the CPI-M has been trying to implement the verdict even as the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and several Hindu groups are up in arms against it.
The temple usually opens for five days at the beginning of every Malayalam month and then from November 15 to January 20 is home to the festival season comprising the Mandala puja session and the Makaravilaku session.
Ever since the verdict, around three dozen women from the hitherto banned age group have tried and failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple, following protests from the believers.
At dawn on January 2, two Keralaite women in the hitherto banned age group managed to pay obeisance, with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirming this.
Thereafter, the Sabarimala tantri (head priest) closed down the temple for an hour at 10.30 a.m and conducted "purification' rituals" something that has never happened before during the two-month-long festival season.
Deeply hurt by the manner in which the Kerala Police enabled the the two women to enter the temple, an angry Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of Hindu groups that has the backing of the BJP and RSS, called for a statewide shutdown the next day that led to widespread violence across the state, the likes of which has not been seen in the recent past.
Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra stated on Monday that close to 40,000 people have been booked for creating violence in the state in the past few days and 1,869 cases have been registered.
Till Monday, 5,769 people have been arrested, of which 789 have been remanded while 4,980 people have been let of on bail.
In the violence that broke out, the homes of BJP Rajya Sabha member V. Muraleedharan and several other BJP leaders were attacked, as were the residences of top CPI-M leaders including, party legislator A.M.Shamsheer.
The approximate damages caused due to the violence has been estimated at around Rs 10 crore, with close to 100 state owned-buses also being damaged.
What has come as a shocker to the state government is the strong position taken by the powerful Nair Service Society (NSS), the socio-cultural body of the Hindu Nair community, which condemned what it Vijayan's role in staging a pre-scripted display of breaking the customs and traditions of the Sabarimala temple.
But CPI-M State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan hit back at the NSS for playing into the hands of the Sangh parivar, cautioning it against fall into a trap laid by the saffronites.
But Vijayan, ever since the verdict, has stood rooted to the stand that there is no other go but to abide by it.
"Had the ruling been otherwise, we would have stuck to that, as the state government has no vested interest at all. No one should forget that we are a party with many women members. We have always said that we are not at all determined to take women to Sabarimala. We only did as any state government would have done after a ruling of the Supreme Court," Vijayan.
But State BJP president P.S.Sreedharan Pillai slammed Vijayan's party for all the happenings in the state.
"On one hand they have the power of governance and on the other hand they instigate violence. We demand that a judicial probe be ordered into all the happenings after the announcement of two women having darshan (paying obeisance) at Sabarimala," Pillai said.
Condemning both the BJP and the CPI-M, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress said these two groups, one which is in power in the state and the other at the Centre are hand-in-glove to create a ruckus in Kerala.
"The need of the hour is that both these groups should ensure that peace return to Kerala," Chennithala said.
With the temple now set to close on Jan 20, all eyes are now on the Supreme Court, which is set to hear on January 22, the numerous revision petitions against its September 28, 2018 verdict.
In all this, while the demand for a national pilgrimage tag has rescinded into the background, the Sabarimala temple could have certainlly done without the international attention it has attracted.
(Sanu George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)