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According to early reports, two women in the barred age group have reportedly entered the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala early Wednesday morning.

Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon as protests and clashes between rival groups erupted across the southern state of Kerala, local media reported.

The "Women's wall" was conceived in the backdrop of frenzied protests witnessed in the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala after the Kerala government chose to implement the Supreme Court verdict, allowing women of all ages to offer prayers at the shrine.

The religious conflict has been fueling a political standoff between the far-left parties ruling Kerala and the right-wing nationalist BJP which holds power at the federal level. Police also resorted to lathi charge in Palakkad after the protests turned violent. Several police officers were injured as protesters threw stones.

Modi's government did not immediately react to news of the women entering the temple, but activists celebrated.

Nair supported the decision taken by the chief priest of the temple to perform a "purification" ceremony after the two women entered the shrine and offered prayers, violating the tradition of the temple. The group consisted of six men in addition to the two women, who had covered their faces.

On December 24 past year, the two women had unsuccessfully tried to offer prayers at the shrine.

He said the two women, who had previously tried but failed to enter the temple because their way was blocked by devotees, faced no obstruction on Wednesday.

Bindu Ammini (42) and Kankadurga (44) have thus become the first women to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa temple since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on menstruating women from entering the temple on 28 September, 2018.

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In 1991, the Kerala High Court had legalised the ban which forbade women of menstruating age from visiting the site because temple authorities believe it disrespects the celibate nature of the deity worshipped.

The development comes hours after lakhs of women in Kerala stood should-to-shoulder across the national highways, creating a 620 km-long human "wall" from the northern end of Kasaragod to the southern tip here on Tuesday as part of a state-sponsored initiative to uphold gender equality. Media reports said some were heckled by right-wing activists.

On January 22, the Supreme Court will hear a petition challenging its landmark ruling on the temple. "There was a tense atmosphere in Sabarimala", she said.

Worshippers celebrate a festival each year when a procession of the goddess is taken to a spot close to the temple three times - and she is forced to wait.

Women can however access most other Hindu temples in India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP)'s Kerala state president P S Sreedharan Pillai called it "a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples", and said his party will "support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists".

The BJP is not in power in Kerala.

In October, devotees clashed with police who arrested more than 2,000 people.


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