India’s Sabarimala temple opens, women turned away

The gates of the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, located in the India’s southwestern state of Kerala, opened for the two-month-long pilgrimage season amid tight security on Saturday as police prevented some women from entering the Hindu temple complex.

According to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency, police turned away at least 10 women on Saturday who were trying to enter the temple.

The opening comes two days after India’s Supreme Court decided to delay a verdict on lifting a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age (10 to 50) from entering the temple. The women who were turned away by police were reportedly in this age group.

The Sabarimala temple, one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage centers in the world, annually holds a 41-day Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season. However, the temple has traditionally barred women as some Hindu leaders consider menstruating women to be impure.

That was until 2018, when a five-judge bench of the top court ruled that the ban could not be considered an essential religious practice and women of all ages should be able to offer prayers at the shrine.

But on Thursday, after examining about 60 petitions that sought to reimpose the ban, the court ruled that a larger, seven-judge court would look at the case, as well as three other pending cases of gender discrimination in the minority Muslim and Parsi communities.

“The entry of women into places of worship is not limited to this temple only,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said while reading out the ruling.

The 2018 decision relating to the Sabarimala temple enraged conservative Hindu groups and sparked protests in India, a still deeply religious country. Though the Indian government decided to implement the ruling, many devotees refused to abide by the ruling and attempted to block some women from visiting the complex.

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