Amid heavy rush of devotees to the Lord Ayyappa temple, police on Monday sent back two women devotees from Andhra Pradesh at Pamba as they were in the 'barred' 10-50 age group.
On Saturday, 10 women were turned back at Pamba, 5 km from the shrine, when the temple opened for the annual Mandala-Makaravilakku puja.
Police checked the two women's identity cards and sent them back as they were found to be in the 'barred' age group, police sources said. Females in this age group have traditionally been barred from praying at the shrine.
In a show of support for believers, a nine-year-old Keralite girl, who came to the temple complex from Karnataka, had a placard around her neck inscribed with the words "Ready to wait. Will visit the shrine after attaining 50 years."
Hailing from Thrissur, Hridyakrishnan said she had visited the shrine thrice and would have darshan of Lord Ayyappa only after she reaches 50.
Her father, Harikrishnan said devotees are those who protect traditions and beliefs.
On Saturday evening, at least 10 women, who were part of a 30-member group from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, were sent back, as they were found to be in the 'barred' age group.
The state and temple precincts had witnessed protests by right wing outfits and Bharatiya Janata Party workers last year after the Left Democratic Front government had decided to implement the apex court's verdict of September 28, 2018 allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine.
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court recently referred to a larger bench the matter related to entry of women into the hill temple and other issues related to various faiths.
Though the top court did not stay its earlier order allowing entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple, the LDF government in Kerala this time said the shrine is not a ground for activism and made it clear that it would not encourage women who want to visit the temple for publicity.
With devotees thronging the temple complex, Chief priest A K Sudheer Namboodiri opened the sanctum sanctorum at 3 am on Monday and performed special pujas including 'Neyyabhishekam' (ghee offering), among others.
The portals will close at 11 pm and reopen for the morning pujas.
Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine, said revenue collection on the opening day registered a growth of Rs 1.28 crore compared to last year.
Revenue from Hundi collection and sale of 'aravana' and 'appam' prasadams touched Rs 3.32 crore compared to Rs 2.04 crore last season, TDB president N Vasu said.
The TDB had suffered a loss of Rs 100 crore last year during the pilgrimage season as there was a severe dip in arrival of devotees and sale of prasadams.
Vasu said there were facilities to provide "Annadanam" (offering of food) to around 40,000 devotees per day.
Efforts are on to make Sabarimala temple complex plastic free and a campaign is being held in the southern states to inform pilgrims to avoid plastic in the "irumudikettu" (sacred bundle containing offerings to Ayyappa), he said.
The August floods and the protests by a section of devotees and right wing outfits on the women entry issue had led to a sharp decline in arrival of pilgrims.
This year, there has been a heavy rush of devotees with long queues being seen since Saturday and over 80,000 pilgrims have offered prayers, temple sources said.