Fresh protests broke out at Sabarimala temple on the third day of the two-month-long pilgrimage season as hundreds of devotees gathered at Nadapanthal area on Sunday and agitated against the restrictions imposed by police.
According to a Times of India report, as many as 80 devotees were arrested by the Kerala police.
Due to early incidents of violence at the hill-top shrine, police imposed strict restrictions on devotees at the Sannidhanam, including not allowing them to stay back in the night.
The devotees, who were asked to leave the Sannidhanam, gathered at Nadapanthal, a covered pathway to the hill-top shrine, formed a group and started reciting prayers.
Police were then seen trying to pacify the protesters. The temple had opened on Friday evening for the two-month-long annual pilgrimage season even as a stand-off continued over the entry of menstrual age women into the shrine.
So far, more pilgrims have arrived from other states than from within Kerala.
The pilgrims offered prayers at the Lord Ayyappa shrine early Sunday, the third day of the Malayalam month ‘Vrischikom’.
Though the devotees were relieved to get more time for ‘darshan’ due to less crowd, many were unhappy at not being allowed to spend some more time at the sannidhanam (temple complex).
Some pilgrims also expressed anguish over the fact that it took them over two hours to reach Pamba from Nilakkal, which is just 18 km away.
“We reached Nilakkal at around 4 am. But we had to wait till 6 am to catch a bus to Pamba. Otherwise, everything was fine for us. We had a good darshan," Coimbatore resident Palaniswami, who was heading a group of 21 people, told PTI.
However, when PTI contacted the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) office at Pamba, they dismissed the devotees' claims about delay in service and said many buses were running with vacant seats.
Police have introduced several restrictions this time, Palakkad resident Renish said, adding that "devotees are treated as criminals by making them undergo strict security procedures".
"My mother, who is old, had to go through heavy security procedures. They checked our bags and even water bottles as if we are criminals," Renish said.
Inspector-General of Police Vijay Sakhare, in charge of the security of the hilltop shrine, had said on Saturday that security was tightened due to the recent incidents of violence.
"Most people have apprehensions about the restrictions imposed by police. To top that, there was a hartal on Saturday and today some parties are observing a protest. All these reasons have resulted in less crowd at the Sannidhanam," a top Devaswom official said.
(With PTI inputs)
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