Ahead of the pilgrimage season at the Lord Ayyappa shrine commencing on November 17, the focus has now shifted to the LDF government in Kerala over allowing women in the 10-50 age group to offer prayers as the Supreme Court has decided to keep pending the pleas seeking review of its verdict.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said the verdict needs to be studied in detail.
"I request the opposition not to indulge in any political exploitation of the issue like last year," he told reporters.
When asked if young women will be allowed at the shrine, he said "This is not the time to comment about it."
The state had been rocked by violent protests, spearheaded by right wing outfits and BJP in 2018, when the LDF government decided to implement the September 28 verdict of last year allowing women of all age groups to pray at the temple, where the deity, Lord Ayyappa is a "Naishtika Brahmachari" (perennial celibate).
Head priest of the Sabarimala temple Kandararu Rajeevaru said the apex court decision to refer the verdict to a seven-judge bench "gives hope".
"This will strengthen the beliefs of devotees," he said.
The BJP and Congress wanted the government to exercise restraint and not to allow women in the 10-50 age group to go to the hill shrine, which would hurt devotees' sentiments. Senior BJP leader and former state president of the party in Kerala, Kummanam Rajashekaran said the government must not allow entry of young women at the shrine.
"If police try to help any women to enter the temple, there will be grave repercussions as it affects the faith of devotees. The government must show restraint and wait for the larger bench's verdict. In case women pilgrims in the banned age group try to offer worship, the government must prevent them from doing so," he said.
Describing the verdict as "victory of devotees", Union minister V Muraleedharan said the apex court has understood the grievances related to Sabarimala darshan, the traditions and the various methods of worship prevailing there.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the party's politburo, meeting on November 16 and 17, will go through the Sabarimala and other recent verdicts in detail.
"Since the apex court day had not stayed its September 28 judgment of last year allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the Sabarimala temple, that judgment continues to stand," he said.
"From what I can understand, the court has not stayed the earlier judgment. If they have not stayed the judgment the verdict stands. We need to get more clarity on that part," Yechury told reporters at Kozhikode.
Asked if the CPI(M) stand on the matter had changed, the Marxist leader said "we have said whatever the SC decides, we will implement."
LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan said the UDF had earlier "exploited" the apex court's September 28 verdict.
"The state government will make all efforts for the devotees to visit the shrine peacefully.The government's primary objective is to maintain peace.
When the verdict in the Ayodhya issue came, people responded peacefully," he said.
While Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala wanted the state government "not to create issues" by providing security and taking young women to offer prayers at the hill shrine, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said Thursday's verdict will help in protecting the faith of devotees.
Pandalam Royal family member Sasikumar Varma, one of the petitioners, said the court has understood the feelings of the devotees and transferred the petitions to be reviewed by a seven-judge bench. Reacting to the verdict, Bindhu, who along with Kanakadurga had trekked the holy hills and offered prayers at the shrine, scripting history on January 2, said the positive aspect of the order was that the court had not stayed the September 28 verdict.
"The Sangh Parivar which welcomed the Ayodhya verdict is bound to accept the SC verdict in this case also. The government and the police are also bound to help and protect those who want to visit the shrine," she told the media.
Kanakadurga alleged the decision to leave the matter to the seven-judge bench was "politically motivated."
"If there is no stay, I would like to go there again," she said.
The women trekked the hill shrine a day after the state government organised a 620-km-long human wall of women from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram to uphold gender justice.
The CPI(M)-led government had on January 18 filed an affidavit in the apex court, saying 51 young women had entered the temple during the last pilgrimage season.
However, as controversy erupted later as names of men were found in the list, the government informed the assembly that only two women in the age group of 10-50 years had offered prayers at Sabarimala.
Protesting the September 28 verdict, around 65 petitions including 56 review petitions and four fresh writ petitions were moved in the apex court.
The Supreme Court on Thursday said a seven-judge bench will re-examine various religious issues, including the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple and mosques and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi pronounced the majority verdict by which it was decided to keep pending the pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding the entry of women into the shrine. The portals of the Sabarimala temple will be thrown open from November 16 and the annual two-month-long pilgrimage season will begin from November 17.