As the Lord Ayyappa temple is all set to open Monday evening for a monthly puja, a thick security cover is in place in and around Sabarimala, which had witnessed protests last month after the Supreme Court permitted women of menstrual age group to offer prayers at the shrine.
Devotees, who arrived at Erumeli since Sunday evening, protested this morning for not being allowed to leave for Pamba and Sannidhanam. They blocked traffic chanting 'Ayyappa Sarnam'.
"We have been waiting since last evening. We were told that we would be allowed to leave at 6 am. Now, they are telling us that KSRTC buses will be allowed to leave only by 12 pm. We have come to offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. Please allow us to go," an angry devotee said.
The temple had witnessed high drama last month following frenzied protests leading to around a dozen women in the age group of 10-50 being prevented from reaching it and police and the agitators fighting a pitched battle over the LDF government's decision to implement the court order.
The shrine would open at 5 pm this evening for the "Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal" special puja slated for Tuesday, marking the birthday of last king of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, and close at 10 pm on that day.
Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru and chief priest Unnikrishnan Namboodiri would jointly open the temple doors and light the lamp at the 'Sreekovil' (sanctum sanctorum).
Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran said the state government would ensure complete protection to believers.
So far, no women in the 'barred' age group had approached police for protection to offer prayers at the hill shrine, he said.
The Pandalam royal family, closely associated with the Ayyappa shrine, said it was "pained" at the heavy security in and around Sabarimala.
"Saddened that devotees will have to offer prayers at the shrine amid thick police cover," it said.
Protesting the apex court verdict, a 'prayer yagna' will be held in Pathnamthitta, the family said.
So far, 3,731 people have been arrested and 545 cases registered in connection with the last month's violence.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and various Hindu outfits are on a warpath against the Left-front government over its decision not to seek a review of the top court verdict.
The temple will open at 5 pm today. It will shut again tomorrow at 10 pm.