sabarimala protests
Devotees, including women protesting against the Supreme Court verdictANI

The main pilgrimage season of Kerala's hill shrine Sabarimala began on Saturday amid high security and tension. The temple will remain open for 42 days until December 27 until it closes after Mandala pooja.

The government has declared prohibitory orders in and around the temple to prevent a build-up of protesters, who have been opposing the implementation of a Supreme Court order opening the forest shrine to women of all ages.

Many pilgrims who arrived overnight in the base stations of Nilakkal and Pampa complained of a lack of basic facilities. The government has not been able to complete the reconstruction of the facilities in these places that were destroyed by the devastating floods earlier this year.

The pilgrims complained that the state transport corporation buses playing between Nilakkal and Pampa were irregular and inadequate. Security personnel are not allowing private vehicles beyond Nilakkal and the pilgrims have to depend on the state transport buses.

Among those arrested in the morning were Hindu Aikyavedi leader KP Sasikala and Vishwa Hindu Parishad's SJR Kumar, who have been detained at police stations in Ranni town. A group of devotees is sitting in protest in front of the police stations demanding their release.

BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai, speaking to newspersons, demanded the release of the arrested leaders and condemned the government for the prohibitory orders in and around Sabarimala that are affecting the pilgrims.

The government has deployed police in force fearing untoward incidents as hundreds of women devotees within the 10-50 age group have sought protection for safe temple visit. The protesters have declared their intention to stop any woman within the 'menstruating age' group from visiting the temple.

Tensions have been mounting since Friday when a group of protesters staged a sit in front of Kochi's Nedumbassery airport to prevent activist lawyer Trupti Desai from visiting the temple. Desai, who landed at the airport early morning along which four other activists, was stuck there for more than 16 hours in the terminal building. She had to return on police advice but vowed to return to complete the visit.

Police have registered cases against about 200 people who staged the protest on the airport premises, citing security reasons.

An all-party meeting that the state government had convened on Wednesday fell through after the main opposition Congress party and the BJP walked out demanding the easing of security around the temple.