New Delhi, India – A centuries-old ban has been breached by two women who entered an ancient Hindu temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala despite strong protests by right-wing conservative groups.
“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued standing orders to police to provide all possible protection to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city, Trivandrum, on Wednesday.
A video posted online by the Indian news agency, ANI, showed the two women, Bindu and Kanaka Duraga, hurriedly walking towards the shrine wearing black clothes with their heads covered.
The temple was briefly shut down for a “purification ritual” by the priests following the announcement of the women entering the temple.
The Sabarimala shrine was historically closed to women of menstruating age until the country’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September.
Sabarimala Ayyappa temple’s website explains that since Lord Ayyappa was “Nithya Brahmachari” – or celibate – women in the 10-50 age group are not allowed to enter.
Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened journalists and pelted stones at police.
On Tuesday, a 620-km human wall was formed by women in Kerala “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.
Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter the temple last month but had to back down after being hounded by violent protesters, hailed the duo’s entry as a “brave feat”.
“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.
“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the women entered are standing against the constitution of this country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.
Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday, was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house was vandalised, said Selvi.
Following their entry, conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose women entering the temple.
“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple. We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar, president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army), that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told Al Jazeera.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed the anti-women protesters despite the court orders, in what critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make inroads into the region.
Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual blood is considered impure by many communities.
Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.
An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.