The gates of the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala opened on Saturday for the two-month-long Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season.
Reportedly, Kandararu Mahesh Mohanararu opened the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine of Lord Ayyappa at 5 pm and performed pujas.
Hundreds of devotees visited the shrine from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and other neighboring states, even as the dispute over the entry of women continued.
Devotees allowed to trek to shrine from 2 pm
According to PTI, devotees were allowed to start the trek up to the hill shrine, located in a reserve forest in Pathanamthitta district, at 2 pm on Saturday.
Thereafter, they climbed the 18 steps to the temple with irumudikettu (sacred offerings to Lord Ayyappa) after priests performed the "padi puja."
New priests AK Sudheer Namboodiri (Sabarimala) and MS Prameshwaran Namboodiri (Malikapuram) then took charge.
SC referred larger bench in Sabarimala case
To recall, the Supreme Court on Thursday delivered its verdict over a batch of petitions challenging the 2018 SC order, lifting the ban on entry of menstruating women into the temple.
The petitions argued that Lord Ayyappa is a celibate and hence menstruating women—aged 10-50—are banned.
The SC has referred the case to a larger seven-judge bench and did not stay its 2018 verdict.
10 women devotees sent back from Sabarimala shrine
Earlier on Saturday, 10 women from Andhra Pradesh were denied entry into the Sabarimala Temple while the Kerala government remained non-committal about offering protection to women devotees.
Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran on Friday said, "(Sabarimala) is not a place for activism. This is not a place for activists like Trupti Desai to show their strength. Let them go get a court order."
Verdict in 2018 wasn't final: Save Sabarimala Campaign spokesperson
Meanwhile, speaking to NDTV, Save Sabarimala Campaign spokesperson Rahul Easwar argued, "The matter could be finalized after a seven-member bench of the SC decides on a few other things, which means one thing's clear to us all, that the verdict in 2018 wasn't final."
He added, "What's stopping people like Trupti Desai from waiting for a few months before the final verdict comes out?"
'God never told us not to come. This isn't activism'
However, Pune-based women's rights activist Trupti Desai said, "I am also a pilgrim. God never told us not to come. This is not activism. We have the court's order too. The government should respect the court order and give us protection."