New Delhi: Tension gripped Pamba base camp, the foothills of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, on Sunday  as a group of 11 women of ‘banned age group’, tried to trek the hilltop shrine. Clad in the customary black dress, the women, members of the Chennai-based ‘Manithi’ outfit, are now squatting on the road. Police have thrown a security ring around them.

Notably, women, in the age group of 10-50 years, are traditionally barred from entering the Sabarimala temple. But the Supreme Court, through its September 28 landmark verdict, lifted the curb and permitted women of all age groups to offer prayers at the temple.

If reports are to be believed, they (women) began their journey  through the traditional forest path, about five kilometres from the temple complex but they failed to go forward as protesters started ‘namajapa’ (chanting of hymns of the lord) against their entry.

“We will continue the protest till we can visit the temple and offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. Police asked us to go back, citing security reasons. But we will not go,” Thilakavathi, one of the members of the group, told a television channel.

She added,”Priests of the local temple at Pamba did not cooperate with us and declined to get our ‘irumudikettu’ (sacred offering to the God) ready as per custom. So we did it on our own. More members of their outfit would reach the state soon to visit Sabarimala.”

Of the 11 women, six carried the traditional irumudikettu which is mandatory to climb the ‘pathinettam padi’ (holy steps leading to sanctum sanctorum).

Earlier on Saturday, the police officials had confirmed that the women’s group will offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa temple.

“As per the information, the group will reach Kottayam at around 10 AM. They have not asked for any special security. When they reach Nilackal, the base camp, and if there is any law and order situation, we will deal with it accordingly,” a police official told PTI.

On Friday night, a 43-year-old woman devotee from Andhra Pradesh, who came along with a group of pilgrims to offer prayers at the Ayyappa temple, was stopped and sent back by police midway, citing security reasons. Earlier this week, four transgenders were stopped from proceeding towards the shrine and asked to come back dressed as men. However, they managed to offer prayers at the hill shrine under heavy police security cover.

Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala temple since the state government decided to implement the Supreme Court order.

Marking the culmination of the 41-day ‘vratha’ (penance), Mandala Puja, the first phase of the Sabarimala pilgrimage, would be held on December 27 at the Lord Ayyappa temple. In recent days, the shrine has witnessed a steady inflow of pilgrims as the police had eased certain restrictions even as the prohibitory orders are still in place.

Earlier this month, the Kerala High Court had appointed a three-member committee, vesting them with powers to oversee law and order and other problems faced by pilgrims during the ongoing annual season.

(With inputs from agencies)