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Even as violence engulfed parts of Kerala after two women, with the full backing of the Marxist led government entered the Sabarimala temple, debate has been triggered whether the ‘tantri’ (head priest) of the temple has committed contempt of court by closing the shrine for about an hour on Wednesday morning and holding a “purification” ceremony.

There are section that believe that tantri’s act of closing temple is a serious offence and a contempt of the apex court’s verdict which on Sep 28 said that women must be allowed into the temple. Minister Kadakampally Surendran who is in charge of the Devaswom Board that runs more than 700 temples across Kerala including the sabarimala temple said any decision to close Sabarimala temple in unusual circumstances must be taken in consultation with Devaswom board. “I don’t know whether Devaswom board was informed about this. Even then, it will turn out to be contempt of court. Let Thantri answer for this action in the Supreme Court,” he said. The minister added “The TDB is a public entity, owned the temple, not the Tantri or the former ruling family of Pandalam. Only the TDB could order the closure of the temple. The Tantri was but an employee.”

Tantri Kandararu Rajeevararu closed the sanctum sanctorum at 10.35 am for performing the purification rites in the wake of official confirmation of the entry of two young women into the temple. Darshan was resumed after the rites by 11.25 am. TDB president A Padmakumar said the Tantri had performed the rituals without obtaining the board’s consent.

But the tantri told the local media that he had told the TDB president over phone that the purification rites would have to be done. He said he had discussed the matter with Devaswom executive officer “Being the chief priest, I am duty-bound to follow the ritualistic practices at Sabarimala,” he said. Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said Rajeevararu had no legal mandate to close the shrine on his own under the manual of the TDB.

In its Sep 28 verdict, as of now operational but up for review on January 22, the SC has clearly laid down  that any form of exclusion based on concepts of “purity and pollution” amounts to untouchability, a practice abolished under Article 17 of the Constitution.

A five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi is scheduled to hear on January 22  a bunch of about 50 review petitions, including one by Rajeevaru, against the verdict which struck down the ban on the entry of women of menstrual age into the temple.

—India Legal Bureau

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