The Kerala government and a powerful temple management board have decided not to file review petitions challenging last week’s Supreme Court verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages to the Sabarimala hill shrine.
On Tuesday, around 25,000 women who do not want a change in the temple traditions had held a protest march in Pandalam town that was once the kingdom that governed the Lord Ayyappa temple.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan told a media conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday that the state government had no option but to implement the apex court order.
“This is a country that follows the rule of law. When the Supreme Court orders something, we can only take necessary steps to make sure it is implemented,” said Vijayan, whose Left Democratic Front government had initially opposed the plea in the Supreme Court to allow the entry of women of all ages to the Sabarimala temple but later changed its stance and supported it.
Since legend has it that Ayyappa is a “perpetual celibate”, the temple had traditionally barred the entry of women in the menstruating age group of 10 to 50 years.
Vijayan said women of all ages would be able to enter the temple from the annual pilgrimage season that begins in November. “All facilities will be ready for women to exercise their right, starting from Mandala puja (from November 17),” he said.
But the surprise came from the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which governs temples in southern Kerala. Changing its stand, the board on Wednesday decided not to file a review petition. Although the TDB is an autonomous body, the Kerala government makes appointments to it.
TDB president A. Padmakumar told reporters: “The Devaswom board has decided to implement the Supreme Court order.”
Padmakumar had been the first to float the idea of a review petition after the Supreme Court judgment on September 28. Sources said he was “disciplined” by the chief minister at a meeting on Tuesday for taking a stand without consulting the government.
Padmakumar told Wednesday’s media conference about the “futility” of filing a review petition in a case that the apex court had discussed threadbare. “The five-member bench has taken a decision after due process. So the TDB is under the impression that there is no point in filing a review petition.”
The turnaround was immediately criticised by Pandalam Palace, the former custodian of the Sabarimala temple. P.G. Sasikumar Varma, president of the Pandalam Palace Managing Committee, expressed disappointment. “We had expected the TDB to file a review plea.”
He reminded Padmakumar of his oath of office to protect Hindu temples and their rituals. “While ministers take oath on the Constitution while being sworn in, the TDB president reads out an oath to protect all the rituals and systems of the temples under his governance,” Varma said.
The leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress, met Varma in Pandalam in the evening and offered all support to the cause.
Thousands of devotees had marched in Pandalam town on Tuesday evening against changing the temple’s traditions.
Deepa Varma, a member of the Pandalam Palace Organising Committee, told The Telegraph on Wednesday that the march was “spontaneous”, not organised.
“We just wanted a few people to express their grief at the court verdict that would now allow women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple. While we expected around 2,000 women, more than 25,000 gathered at the town,” Deepa said.