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In a recent turn of events, the Sabarimala issue has changed course to become a debate on actual ownership of the temple. The head priest at Sabarimala temple had recently declared that he would shut down the shrine if any woman of the age group 10-50 were allowed to enter the temple and that he would hand-over the keys to the Pandhalam palace.

This has sparked a debate on the ownership of the temple. Pandhalam Palace in tandem with the head priest asserted their right to the temple as per the 1949 covenant. However, the Chief Minister of the state, Pinarayi Vijayan, has given out a statement invalidating the claim of the palace and the head priest on the ownership of the temple.

Given that the ownership debate had become rife with allegations and counter-allegations, Adv M Rajagopalan Nair, the ex-president of the Devaswom board invalidated the claims made by the head priest on TV by recounting the history of the Sabarimala temple.

According to Rajagopalan Nair, it was in the year 1400 that the Pandhalam kingdom arrived at Pandhalam to build a palace and make a permanent residence. The temple belonged to their plot. However, when they were deep in debt, the Pandhalam palace handed it over to Thiruvithamkur kingdom who then paid off the debts.

As per the schedule of the Devaswom Board Act, temples under the kingdom were transferred to the Devaswom board including Sabarimala. This turning over of the temple was done under King Chithirathirunnal of the Thiruvithamkur kingdom. However, a case was filed by the Pandhalam palace at the High Court of Kerala in connection to their right to the temple wherein the Kerala High Court division bench dismissed the case.

They went for a further appeal to the Supreme Court who arranged a mediator for the case. The mediator, retired justice KT Thomas, suggested that the high priest (melshaanthi) can be picked by a boy from the Pandhalam household who is below ten years of age.

Mr Nair also read out the 22 articles of the 1949 covenant where they were no mention of the ownership rights of the Pandhalam kingdom. He also said that the head priest had no right to close the shrine as per his will. He also quoted a note written the Pandhalam palace in May 2011 which criticised Thazhaman priests for making divisions between Shiv or Vaishnavites within Sabarimala and had also claimed that there was no requirement to have head priests at Sabarimala temple.

“Then why is it that now, in these circumstances, these two parties have joined hands to evoke the Hindutva sentiments of Kerala?”, asked Mr Nair. Mr Nair also added that the head priest was an employee of the Devaswom board with a daily wage of Rs 1400/-

With the Mala Araya community going to the Supreme Court regarding ownership of the temple, there has been a visible shift in conversations around the temple. Fault Lines suggesting caste discrimination is quite evident and nearly all wrongful claims made by the BJP have been exposed.

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