(Image source from: NDTV.com)
The Sabarimala temple in Kerala is set to open for a special puja on Monday evening, weeks after ferocious protests rocked Kerala against the entry of women of ages into the shrine.
Police said 2,300 personnel, including a 20-member commando team and 100 women, have been deployed to ensure smooth 'darshan' and security of devotees, a move that came in for criticism from the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress for such fortification.
The authorities added that if necessary, around 30 women police personnel in the rank of circle inspector and sub-inspector and above the age of 50 would be deployed at 'Sannidhanam' (temple complex) for security.
This is the second time the shrine will open for 'darshan' after the Supreme Court permitted entry of women of all age groups into it.
Manic protests had rocked the place of worship last month and around a dozen women in the age group of 10-50 were obstructed from reaching the shrine as dissenting devotees sought to defend their customs and beliefs.
The situation led to a pitched battle between police and the agitators as thousands took to the streets against the decision of the LDF (Left Democratic Front) government to implement the court orders.
The shrine will open at 5 p.m. for the "Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal" special puja slated for the next day, marking the anniversary of the last king of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, and close at 10 p.m. on that day.
Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru and chief priest Unnikrishnan Namboodiri will jointly open the doors of the temple and light the lamp at the 'Sreekovil' (sanctum sanctorum).
Dismissing reports that media was being restrained from going to Sabarimala, Kerala Director General of Police Loknath Behara said there was no bar on entry of journalists.
The Pandalam royal family, closely associated with the Ayyappa shrine, said it was "pained" at the heavy security in and around Sabarimala.
"Saddened that devotees will have to offer prayers at the shrine amid thick police cover," it said.
Protesting the apex court verdict, a 'prayer yagna' will be held, the family said.
In the meantime, the Sabarimala Karma Samiti, a platform of right-wing outfits, including VHP, appealed to media houses not to depute women journalists in the menstrual age group to report the evolution in Sabarimala.
In its letter to editors, a copy of which was released to the media, it said even the entry of women journalists belonging to this age group as part of their job was also likely to aggravate the situation.
Activist Rahul Easwar, president of Ayyappa Dharma Sena that is among the outfits spearheading the protests, in a video message said, "Like police, we are also fully prepared".