In a U-turn, the Kerala government on Thursday decided not to allow devotees into the famous hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala when it opens for the monthly ‘pujas’ from June 14 after its high priest opposed permitting the public citing rise in COVID-19 cases.
Announcing the decision after a meeting attended among others by the priest, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran also said a 10-day festival planned to be held from June 19 at Sabarimala has been postponed for the second time.
It was to have been held in March this year, but put off due to the coronavirus situation. The government had last week allowed reopening of temples and other places of worship for devotees from Tuesday, over 75 days after they remained out of bounds for them since March 24 when the first phase of national lockdown to contain COVID-19 was enforced.
It had also said the Sabarimala shrine would open on June 14 for the five-day monthly routine pujas and devotees would be allowed during that period and also for the festival.
But the volte face came a day after temple thantri (priest) Kandararu Mahesh Mohanararu shot off a letter to the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which administers the shrine, against allowing devotees in view of the rise in coronavirus cases in the state in the past one month. “The thantri had given a letter seeking to postpone the festival and not to allow devotees citing the virus spread and rising number of cases. We agreed with the thantri…. The temple will remain closed for the devotees. The priest and necessary staff will be allowed to conduct the daily rituals,” the minister told reporters. Devotees from other southern states also visit the hill shrine in large numbers.
The move to open temples for devotees has also come under attack from Union Minister V Muraleedharan who dubbed it ‘hasty’, setting off a war of words between him and the LDF government which said it was in line with the Centre’s guidelines.
The latest decision on Sabarimala shrinewas taken at the meeting called by Surendran and attended by TDB president N Vasu and the thantri. The earlier decision to allow the devotees was taken after holding discussions with various stakeholders, including religious and community leaders and the priests, and it was then resolved that a strict protocol would be implemented with only 50 people to be allowed into the shrine at a time, the minister said.
“The devotees to Sabarimala are mainly from Andhra and Tamil Nadu. The Thantri had expressed concern on the rising numbers of COVID-19 patients in the state and we decided to keep it closed for devotees,” he said.
Mohanaru, also present at the press meet, said with the increasing positive cases, the situation in the state has changed. “The decision to conduct the festival in June was taken on the basis of my letter. At that time the COVID-19 situation in our state was not as bad as what we have now,” he said.
Earlier, Surendran said the TDB had sought the opinion of the Thanthris of Sabarimala and declared that they have agreed to the opening of the shrine. Various temples under the TDB opened for devotees on Tuesday along with some churches and mosques in various parts of the state. While the famed Lord Krishna temple at Guruvayoor opened its doors by following the various norms laid down by the government, the Shree Padmanabha Swamy and Attukkal temples in the state capital were among those which remained shut. (PTI)