Sabarimala: Amid tight security, the Lord Ayyappa temple here would open for the two-month long pilgrim season this evening, with the CPI(M)-led LDF government making all preparations to make it a hassle free pilgrimage.
Kandararu Mahesh Mohanararu would open the sanctum sanctorum and perform the pujas.
A K Sudheer Namboodiri would take charge as the Sabarimala Melsanthi and M S Parameshwaran Namboodiri as Malikapuram Melsanthi.
The pilgrims would be allowed to climb the 18 holy steps after the padi puja and have darshan.
The portals of the hill shrine, located in a reserve forest in Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district of the state, would be opened for the two-month-long Mandalam Makaravilakku season this evening around 5 pm.
Devotees have started arriving at Nilackal and Pamba from various parts of Kerala and neighbouring states, but would be allowed to leave for the shrine only by 2 pm.
The state and temple precints had witnessed frenzied protests by right outfits and BJP workers last year after the LDF government had decided to implement the Supreme court's verdict of September 28, 2018 allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine.
For centuries women in the menstruating age group of 10- 50 years were barred from entering the temple.
However, this year, even though the top court has not stayed its verdict on entry of young women into the shrine while posting various petitions on the matter to a larger bench, the government was excercising caution.
It has decided not to give police protection to women in 10-50 age group to trek the holy hills to reach the temple.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran has made it clear on Friday that Sabarimala was not a place for activists to display their activism and said the government would not encourage such women who want to visit the shrine for publicity.
Those who want to visit the temple can procure a court order to enter the temple, he said.
Social activist and Bhumata bridge leader, Trupti Desai, who was not allowed to offer prayers last year and had to return from Kochi airport due to protests from devotees, said in Mumbai that she would be visiting Sabarimala on Sunday.
"If women need protection to trek the hills, police should provide the same. Whether government gives protection or not we will be reaching on November 17 to offer prayers", she said.
People like Trupti Desai should not make use of the opportunity to exhibit their strength, the minister said adding sabarimala is not a place for such dramas.
Maintaining that this pilgrim season would be peaceful, Law Minister A K Balan said if anyone tries to hamper the darshan of the devotees, the government would take strong action.
"If someone thinks that they can exploit the devotees by spreading lies and turn them against the government, let me tell you, it's not going to happen," he said.
Attempts by around a dozen women, including activists and journalists in the 10-50 years age group, to climb the sacred hills had come to naught last year as frenzied devotees of Lord Ayyappa heckled and hassled them and forced them to retreat.
However, defying protesters, two women, in their 40s-- Bindu Ammini and Kanakadurga, had entered the Ayyappa temple in January this year and offered prayers scripting history.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which is managing the Ayyappa shrine, has also sought legal opinion on the apex court directive.
The board has made elaborate arrangements to provide maximum amenities to the devotees.
The unprecented floods during August last year had also played havoc with the pilgrimage season with most of the facilties for the devotees being destroyed.
The resting places for the devotees at Nilackal, Pamba and Sannidhanam has already been set up along with medical, water and toilet facilities.
Over 10,000 police personnel would be posted in phases in and around the Lord Ayyappa temple for security purposes during the pilgrim season.
The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi Thursday said a larger bench will re-examine various religious issues, including the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple and mosques and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
A 3:2 verdict decided to keep pending the pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding the entry of women into the shrine, and said restrictions on women in religious places was not restricted to Sabarimala alone and was prevalent in other religions as well.
The temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples in Kerala, is situated on a hilltop about 4000 feet above sea level- Sabarimala.
The devotees have to trek through difficult paths in the forest as the vehicles can go only up to pamba.