Amid tight security, thousands of pilgrims offered prayers at the Lord Ayyappa shrine early Saturday, the first day of Malayalam month 'Vrischikom,' even as a BJP leader was taken into preventive custody as the day wore on and removed from Nilackal, the base camp.
Earlier, a 12-hour dawn-to-dusk hartal called by Hindu outfits against the preventive detention of a right-wing woman leader caught devotees unawares and disrupted life in Kerala.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine, said it would move the Supreme Court Monday seeking more time to implement the apex court order allowing women of all age groups to pray at the temple.
BJP general secretary K Surendran was taken into preventive custody Saturday night and removed from Nilackal, as he tried to leave for the hill shrine, the police said.
BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the police action against Surendran has created an "extremely dangerous" situation.
He said he has informed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh about the "seriousness" of the situation.
BJP workers will observe a "protest day" in the state tomorrow and block traffic on the highways, he said.
Chanting Ayyappa mantras, BJP activists are staging a protest in front of the Chittar police station in Pathanamthitta district where Surendran has been detained.
In Thiruvanathapuram, BJP workers took out a march to the Secretariat and blocked traffic protesting the police action against Surendran.
Police used water cannons to stop them.
Mary Sweety, a 46-year-old woman, who had made a vain bid to trek to the shrine when it was opened last month, tried her luck again, but beat a hasty retreat after protesters blocked the bus she was travelling in at Chengannur, about 30 km from Pampa, late Saturday.
She has been sent back to Thiruvananthapuram, police sources said.
The temple had opened Friday evening for the two-month-long annual pilgrimage season as a stand-off continued over entry of menstrual age women into the shrine.
All regular pujas began this morning under the new Melshanti (chief priest) Vasudevan Namboodiri's supervision.
Pilgrims, including children, queued up in large numbers since the temple opened at 3 am.
Police is maintaining strict vigil in and around the temple complex and are using drones to monitor the movement of pilgrims at Nilackal, the base camp.
Elsewhere, life was disrupted following the shutdown over the preventive detention of Hindu Aikya Vedi state president K P Sasikala early Saturday.
DGP Loknath Behara met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and briefed him about the law and order situation.
"Security arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of the devotees so that they can have a smooth darshan, keeping all rituals intact," IGP Vijay Sakhare said.
On the large presence of police personnel,Pathnamthitta collector P B Nooh said "there are many khaki clad policemen around. That is for the safety and security of devotees."
The temple complex and nearby areas had witnessed protests from devotees when it was opened for monthly pujas for eight days in October and early this month against the LDF government's decision to implement the apex court verdict allowing women of all age groups to pray at the shrine.
Social activist Trupti Desai, who arrived at Kochi airport Friday en route to Sabarimala, was forced to return to Maharashtra following over 13-hour protests from devotees.
About 500-odd women in the 10-50 age group had booked for darshan through a police online portal. However, police sources were tightlipped when asked if any women had sought protection to offer prayers.
At various places, hartal supporters forcibly downed shops' shutters, prevented vehicles from plying causing hardship to people.
A CPI(M) leader's son and his journalist daughter-in-law were attacked allegedly by protesters trying to enforce a shutdown at Kuttiady in Kozhikode district Saturday.
Party district secretary P Mohanan's son Julius Nikithas and wife Saniyo Manomi, working with a leading Malayalam news channel, were attacked as they were going to a hospital in a car to visit a patient, police said.
Sasikala was taken into preventive custody at 2.30 am Saturday after she allegedly defied directions not to spend the night near the temple complex.
Police had decided not to allow devotees enter the temple premises when it was closed for the night.
Sasikala, who was on a fast at the Ranni police station, protesting her detention, was later produced before the sub-divisional magistrate, who is also the Thiruvalla Revenue Divisonal officer (RDO), and granted bail.
She later told reporters that if her health permits, she would like to go to Sabarimala.
Devaswom (temple administration) minister Kadakampally Surendran hit out at the Hindu outfits and the BJP, saying the hartal was a "proclamation of war" against Ayyappa pilgrims.
Slamming hartal supporters, Opposition leader in the state assembly, Ramesh Chennithala described it as "needless" and "unpardonable" and flayed BJP for extending support.
BJP president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the detention of Sasikala and others was "illegal".