SABARIMALA: A calm atmosphere at the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala marked the second day of the two-month-long annual pilgrimage season, even as the rest of Kerala witnessed protests against the arrest of BJP General Secretary K Surendran while on his way to the temple.
The temple had opened Friday evening for the two-month-long annual pilgrimage season as a stand-off continued over the entry of menstrual age women into the shrine.
So far, more pilgrims have arrived from other states than from within Kerala.
The pilgrims offered prayers at the Lord Ayyappa shrine early Sunday, the second day of Malayalam month 'Vrischikom'.
Though the devotees were relieved to get more time for 'darshan' due to less crowd, many were unhappy at not being allowed to spend some more time at the sannidhanam -- temple complex.
Some pilgrims also expressed anguish over the fact that it took them over two hours to reach Pamba from Nilackal, which is just 18 km away.
"We reached Nilackal at around 4 AM. But we had to wait till 6 AM to catch a bus to Pamba. Otherwise everything was fine for us. We had a good darshan," Coimbatore resident Palaniswami, who was heading a group of 21 people, told PTI.
However, when PTI contacted the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) office at Pamba, they dismissed the devotees' claims about delay in service and said many buses were running with vacant seats.
Police have introduced several restrictions this time, Palakkad resident Renish said, adding that "devotees are treated as criminals by making them undergo strict security procedures".
"My mother, who is old, had to go through heavy security procedures. They checked our bags and even water bottles as if we are criminals," Renish said.
Inspector General of Police Vijay Sakhare, in charge of the security of the hilltop shrine, had said Saturday that security was tightened due to the recent incidents of violence.
"Most people have apprehensions about the restrictions imposed by police. To top that, there was a hartal Saturday and today some parties are observing as a protest. All these reasons have resulted in less crowd at the Sannidhanam," a top Devaswom official said.
Surendran was taken into preventive custody Saturday night, later remanded and sent to the Kottaraka Sub jail Sunday, as police suspected that he might create "trouble" at the temple complex, a day after Hindu Aikya Vedi leader K P Sasikala was taken into preventive custody and granted bail later.
BJP workers observed a " protest day" Sunday and blocked vehicles on the highways at various places in the state, protesting the police action against Surendran.