Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 13 : Even as the Supreme Court is expected to give its verdict on the various review petitions any time, all arrangements are in place for the two-month-long festival season of the famed Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala that opens for pilgrims early on Sunday.
It was on September 28 last year, that the apex court allowed women of all ages to enter the temple and following that it was a free for all between right-wing forces which stood guard and chased away women in the age group of 10 and 50, with the Kerala Police trying their best to see that the verdict was adhered to in letter and spirit.
But despite all the confusion, on January 2 this year, two women managed to enter the temple and pray with the support of the police.
This led to utter confusion and after that things cooled down and no further attempts of women in the banned age group took place.
The top court is now expected to give its final verdict after 64 review petitions have been filed asking the apex court to ensure that traditions and culture of the famed temple is protected.
Even as the present Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is to retire on Sunday, the final verdict is expected anytime before that and incidentally it's on Sunday early morning that the temple officially opens for the 'Mandalam' season that extends till January 21.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has already completed his final review of the arrangements.
Following which the usual security cover that's deployed every season also has been announced and as in the previous years, around 2,500 policemen and women would be posted for two weeks in and around the temple complex.
State Minister for Devasoms (the body that looks after temple affairs) Kadakampally Surendran is also reviewing the arrangements on a daily basis and by now various facilities like 40 drinking water counters, over 800 drinking water taps, five emergency medical centres, oxygen parlours besides 1,500 washrooms have also been set up in and around the temple complex.
Around 6,500 pilgrims at a time can stay back in and around the temple complex.
Situated in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level, Sabarimala temple is four kilometres uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district, which is around 100 kms from the capital city.
The temple is dedicated to the Hindu celibate deity Ayyappan, also known as Dharma Sastha, who according to belief is the son of Shiva and Mohini, the feminine incarnation of Vishnu.
The temple is accessible only on foot from Pamba.
Devout pilgrims observe celibacy for 41 days before going to Sabarimala. Every pilgrim carries with him a kit ('Alrumudi' - which contains coconuts which are broken just before climbing the 18 steps) on his head during the pilgrimage and without it none are allowed to go up the holy 18 steps at the 'Sannidhanam'.
Incidentally in yesteryears, the temple used to open only during the two-month Mandalam season, but now that has changed and it's open for a few days in the beginning of every Malayalam month.
-- The story has been published from a wire feed without any modifications to the text