In a move that could trigger yet another controversy, Sabarimala temple authorities on Monday decided to regulate presence of women of menstrual age in and around River Pampa during the 'aarattu' (ritualistic bath) ceremony on March 23.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the temple, took the decision in this regard in view of increasing presence of women during the ritual in the last few years, against the conventional customs and traditions of the hillock shrine.
The Board also claimed that it was found in the 'devaprashnam' (astrological consultation) that Lord Ayyappa, who is considered to be "perennial celibate" (Naishtika Brahmachari) "does not like the increasing presence of women" during the time of the sacred ritual as part of annual 'Painkuni' festival.
The Ayyappa idol is taken from the temple's sanctum sanctorum for a holy dip at the pampa river for 'Aarattu.'
Though the entry of women, belonging to the age group of 10-50 is banned at the hillock shrine, there has been no restriction for women devotees in and around Pampa except at the 'aarattu kadavu', where the Lord takes holy dip, during the time of the ritual.
However, many women had in recent years been "misusing" the opportunity and used to be present at the 'kadavu' even during the time of the sacred ritual day, TDB president Prayar Gopalakrishnan said.
"The regulation for women at Pampa and premises is only during the time of the 'aarattu' ritual. There has been no entry for women at the aarattu kadavu for all these decades during the time of the ritual," he told PTI.
"In the wake of the 'devaprashnam' and following the directions of 'Tantri' (head priest) and 'Melsanthi' (chief priest), we request women, aged between 10-50, not to come to Pampa during the ritual day," he said.
However, the official said the TDB was not in favour of imposing the regulation forcefully or creating any controversy in this regard.
The Supreme Court had recently questioned the ban of women at the Lord Ayyappa temple while considering a plea and said that God does not discriminate between men and women, so why should there be gender discrimination in the premises of the temple.