"Is it possible for women to trek kilometers through the forest path and stand amongst the packed crowd?"
Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar Sunday said "real women devotees" of Lord Ayyappa were unlikely to visit Sabarimala temple and only "women activists" will reach the hillock shrine, in view of the recent Supreme Court verdict.
The apex court had on September 28 lifted the ban on the entry of women aged between 10-50 years to the forest shrine, holding that the centuries-old Hindu religious practise was illegal and unconstitutional.
After a meeting with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Thiruvananthapuram, Padmakumar said the TDB will seek 100 acres of forest land from the Centre to provide more amenities for devotees as part of implementing the top court order.
The board, which manages the shrine, will also consider filing a review petition, citing the difficulties and challenges faced by it in implementing the order in the present context, he said.
Expressing disappointment over the verdict, Padmakumar said the apex court had taken into account only constitutional, fundamental and gender issues while considering the entry of women into the shrine.
The unique geographical aspects and specific circumstances at the hill temple should have also been considered, he said.
"During the last annual pilgrim season, devotees had to stand in queue for over 17 continuous hours on a particular day due to the unprecedented rush," Padmakumar told PTI.
Around 5.5 lakh devotees had been at the shrine during the last 'Makaravilakku' day on January 14.
"Is it possible for women to trek kilometers through the forest path and stand amongst the packed crowd?" he said.
The TDB chief said the real devotees who respect the traditions and rituals of Sabarimala and know the circumstances there were not likely to visit the shrine.
"Only some women activists are expected to trek the holy hill in the name of the verdict," he said.
The TDB, however, will provide all possible facilities for women devotees who will reach the shrine from October 16, when it opens for this year's three month long annual pilgrimage season, Padmakumar said.
It will be very difficult and challenging for the board to provide any special amenities for devotees in the present context, he said.
"So, we will request the Centre to provide us 100 more acres of forest land from the Periyar Tiger Reserve to implement the verdict. The Supreme Court's permission is also necessary for that," Padmakumar said.
Detailing its challenges, from crowd management to security, he said no more constructions were possible in the premises of the shrine which is located in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats region.
Steps will be taken to demarcate some of the existing toilets and lodging facilities for women devotees, the TDP president said.
The board has also plans to set up a new viripandal (dormitory), which can accommodate at least 10,000 people, considering the influx of women devotees.
"The work will begin by January and will be completed by the next pilgrimage season in 2019," he said, adding a meeting will be held here on October 3 to discuss further steps to be taken by the Board in view of the court verdict.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Congress, which had earlier hailed the verdict, Sunday urged the TDB to file a review petition.
"The social impact and the practical difficulties posed by the verdict should be taken into account," Opposition leader in the assembly, Ramesh Chennithala told a press meet.