From a distance it looked like an orange flag was spread across the Putharikandam Maidanam in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday evening. The thousands gathered there from five districts of Kerala for a meeting called Ayyappa Bhakta Sangamam (Ayyappa Devotees Gathering) chose to wear saffron coloured caps. Attended by many sanyasis from across the country, the programme, put together by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, was inaugurated by spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi. A rally taken out by hundreds of men and women across the city, joined the gathering. This is also the first time that sanyasis and spiritual leaders have come together in such a large number to support the fight against entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala.
The crowd rose to chant her name when Mata Amritanandamayi came to the function, and later spoke, about those breaking traditions, without proper knowledge of the temple rituals. Starting her speech chanting Swamy Sharanamayappa ki jai, Mata Amritanandamayi called the controversies surrounding Sabarimala unfortunate. "A temple is like a child that needs to be taken care of. Like its parents take care of a child, a temple needs the care of the tantri and the devotees who come there,” she said.
The gathering was welcomed by former DGP TP Senkumar, who is a member of the Seva Bharati, a Sangh Parivar outfit. He said that the Kerala government and the police were disrespecting the Supreme Court verdict which while allowing all women to enter the Sabarimala temple, made it clear that they should all be Hindu believers. The women who were attempting to enter were neither Hindu, nor believers, he claimed. Senkumar kept taking digs at the media for asking questions about who was a believer and who was not, and said that all their doubts would be cleared at the meeting.
The presidential speech was given by Swami Chidananda Puri, of the Kulathoor Advaithashramam, who mocked the Kerala government by saying it was only because of one man – Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan – that such a gathering happened now. Several more digs were taken at the CM, with the Swami saying that the minister should not think he is king – this was in reference to the CM’s speech about an instance when a mel shanti (chief priest) was dismissed by a king.
Other speakers too mocked and targeted the CM and ministers, MM Mani and Kadakampally Surendran.
On stage were also KP Sasikala, Hindu Aikya Vedi state president, BJP state president Sreedharan Pillai, film director Viji Thampy who came forward to take a pledge on ‘dharma raksha’ and actor Kollam Thulasi, who was booked for making threatening remarks against women who attempted to enter Sabarimala. Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also addressed the gathering through a video.