Tamil Nadu had passed an ordinance to supersede a Supreme Court ban on jallikattu, a traditional bull-taming sport.
Bengaluru: The various parties to the Sabarimala dispute finally find themselves on the same page: That the row kicked up by the Supreme Court order allowing all women into the sanctum sanctorum needs to be settled before the Makar Sankranti season begins in January next year.
The stakeholders — temple managers Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) and several organisations on the one hand, and the Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government on the other — had so far struggled to see eye-to-eye on the emotive issue, which has emerged as a flashpoint in Kerala and led to several protests.
Mid-January is the time around two to three crore devotees land at the temple to offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa.
On Makar Sankranti, which falls on 15 January next year, the Sabarimala temple organises a special puja, where many believe that Ayyappa asserts himself with the famous ‘Makara Jyothi (celestial lighting)’.
Efforts to find a solution to the controversy over the Supreme Court order have led Kerala to look across its southeastern border to draw a lesson from water rival Tamil Nadu, which found itself locked in a similar predicament quite recently.
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“I feel this time a solution is possible,” former Travancore Devasom Board chairman Prayar Gopalkrishnan, who led the protests near the shrine, told The Print.
Gopalkrishnan said there could be two remedies to the row: The first one is to emulate what the Tamil Nadu government did to assuage the protests against jallikattu, a traditional bull-taming sport played during Pongal.
When the Supreme Court, citing the sport’s cruelty, reiterated its ban on jallikattu in January 2017, the Tamil Nadu government promulgated an ordinance that overrode the order.
The ordinance had helped defuse the protests across Tamil Nadu, with the ensuing bill stating that jallikattu was an event conducted in keeping with tradition and cannot be banned.
“The Kerala government has to move for an ordinance to settle Rule 3(B) or see if there are ways of avoiding it [ordinance],” said Gopalkrishnan, referring to the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965. Rule 3(B) allows a religious denomination to ban the entry of women aged 10-50 into a shrine.
“If the ordinance is passed, that may settle the first issue. The second issue is that Ayyappa is a deity, that every Ayyappa devotee has his own right,” he added.
“So if the central government passes an ordinance stating that every deity has its own right… these are the two remedies that I see as of now,” Gopalkrishnan told ThePrint, as he climbed the hilly path towards the Sabarimala shrine.
Devotees who have filed review petitions against the Supreme Court order hope to invoke Rule 3(B) to get relief from the order. The case is due to come up for hearing on 13 November.
Meanwhile, the erstwhile Pandalam royals held a special puja at Sabarimala on Monday and Tuesday, for which the temple again turned into a fortress. The ‘Sree Chithira Atta Thirunal” puja is meant to mark the birth anniversary of the last king of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.
Despite the prohibitory orders in force in areas around Pamba, Nilackal, Elavungal and Sannidhanam, several Hindu outfits have reached the area to “protect the temple’s sanctity”.
“We are 6,000 Ayyappa devotees who are here already, and we will not allow any woman to enter [the temple],” said Pratheesh Vishwanath, national secretary of the Antarashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), the Hindutva outfit headed by Pravin Togadia.
“A lady from Alappuzha is with police right now, but police may not be able to guarantee her security as we are here in large numbers,” he added.
“We are expecting some relief from the Supreme Court as the matter comes up for hearing on 13 November… and we hope that this issue does not drag for long,” he said. “If the court decision based on the review petition is not in our favour, we will pressure the state and central government for an ordinance.
“There is no other solution as this will definitely have a big effect on the Sankranti season,” Vishwanath added. The AHP said they would be bringing in “another ten thousand supporters” in the next 24 hours to rally around the temple.
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‘Ban all women’
Congress MP Anto Antony, who represents the Pathanamthitta constituency, where the temple is located, has written to the Prime Minister, urging him to issue an ordinance against the ban too.
Speaking to the media earlier this month, he said, “I have urged the PM to issue an ordinance to stop the entry of women of all age groups into the hill shrine, where Lord Ayyappa’s character is that of a naishtika brahmachari (eternal celibate).”
“I have got no response from the Centre yet,” he added.
The Left Democratic Front government led by the CPI(M) has so far said they will ensure that the SC order is implemented in letter and spirit.
Even so, the last time the temple was opened between 17 and 22 October, several outfits under the banner ‘Save Sabarimala’ managed to prevent women’s entry by either stopping them midway and heckling them or resorting to physical and verbal abuse. They even attacked journalists at the site to cover the event.