Ugly scenes as Indian temple prepares to accept women

Mob attempts to block first entry of women of menstruating age to sacred Hindu temple

A family of four from Andhra Pradesh state, including at least one woman, were shielded by police after protesters shouting slogans prevented them from reaching the temple.

The Supreme Court ruling enraged traditionalists, including supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Pilgrims and protesters have complained of police excesses, complaining that the cops had damaged their vehicles. "Antharashtriya Hindu Parishad" led by Pravin Togadia and the "Sabarimala Samrakshana Samithi", an outfit of devotees, have called a 24-hour-long hartal starting midnight.

Hours ahead of opening of the hill shrine for the monthly prayer, police said they would not let anyone block the movement of devotees.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has tweeted, "Sabarimala has a uniqueness that other temples lack; it allows entry for people of all faith".

Television pictures showed men surrounding and hitting a vehicle that appeared to contain a woman journalist, while another reporter was shown being encircled and shouted at while on air.

The temple will open this evening.

Delhi-based Suhasini Raj, along with her colleague, a foreign national, managed to go past the Pamba gateway, just before the climb to the hilltop shrine, but was stopped midway by angry devotees who formed a human wall before her.

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"No one should be able to change the way this temple has functioned for centuries", he told AFP. "Ayyappa needs to be respected".

Activist Rahul Easwar, a front-ranking leader of the protesters and votary of the continuance of the tradition barring girls and women between 10 and 50 years from entering the temple, a custom which the Supreme Court overturned on September 28, was arrested at Pamba.

Two years ago, activists successfully campaigned to end a ban on women entering the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra state.

Lord Ayappa, the presiding deity of the temple, is considered to be celibate by the devotees.

Local TV crew said she is in her late 40s and if she climbed the hill, she would be the first woman of the menstrual age group to visit the Sabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa after the Supreme Court order permitting women of all age groups to enter the shrine.

The Sabarimala chief priest, Kandararu Maheshwararu Tantri, 25, warned this week that "anger could easily escalate into violence if a few egotistical women try to enter".

He claimed to have the support of several "scientists" that concurred with the view that the "positive energy" in a temple can be polluted by the entry of menstruating women. Around 500 police personnel, including women, have been deployed to ensure a safe passage to the pilgrims to the Lord Ayyappa temple.

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