Two women secretly entered one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines on Wednesday, breaching a blockade around the Sabarimala temple where devotees have been enraged by an Indian Supreme Court decision to overturn a ban on women aged between 10 and 50.
The pair entered the hilltop temple in Kerala state just before dawn under police protection and left undetected, officials confirmed.
Sabarimala has been at the centre of an increasingly angry showdown between Hindu traditionalists who support the longstanding ban and women activists who have been forced back several times from the temple.
Video images showed the women, Kanaka Durga and Bindu, who has only one name, wearing black tunics with their heads bowed as they rushed in.
“We did not enter the shrine by climbing the 18 holy steps but went through the staff gate,” one of the women, who both remain under police guard, later told reporters.
Kerala state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said: “It is a fact that the women entered the shrine. Police are bound to offer protection to anyone wanting to worship at the shrine.”
The defiant act is certain to set off a new furore in India over gender.
The Supreme Court on September 28 declared illegal a decades-old ban on women of menstruating age at Sabarimala, which is a four-hour uphill trek from the nearest village.
Repeated efforts by women to enter the temple after the ruling have been rebuffed by Hindu devotees with police having to step in to escort them out.
As soon as news of Wednesday’s breach spread, the temple head priest ordered the shrine closed for a purification ritual — reflecting the old but still prevalent belief that menstruating women are impure. It reopened after around an hour.