On May 24, the Kerala High Court directed the officials to prevent unauthorised entry into Ponnambalamedu. The court noted that Ponnambalamedu “is a sacred and divine place which is much revered by millions of Lord Ayyappa devotees who come to Sabarimala to witness Makarajyothi.” The court has also directed the District Police chief, who is monitoring the investigation, to file an affidavit explaining the progress of the investigation.
The court was hearing a case concerning criminal trespass of certain unauthorized persons into the sacred ‘Kalthara’ of Ponnambalamedu which is inside the core area of Periyar Tiger Reserve, West Division, a wildlife sanctuary.
It is alleged that a priest, Narayan Swami, from Tamil Nadu, performed prayers at the sacred ‘Kalthara’ of Ponnambalamedu which is a protected place and entry is allowed only with Forest Department’s permission. The issue came to light after a video of a man performing pooja at the sacred site surfaced online. The court noted that the alleged crime has been registered u/s 295, 295A, 447 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on May 16.
The court noted that Ponnambalamedu falls in the Special Security Zone in view of the notification issued u/s 83(1) of the Kerala Police Act, 2011 declaring Sabarimala and its vicinity as a Special Security Zone. The court noted, “Access to Ponnambalamedu has been restricted and the same is even accessible to Devaswom officials only for lighting Makaravilakku, that too under the bandobast of the Kerala Police and surveillance of the Forest officials.”
The court directed, “A real time monitoring system near Ponnambalamedu shall be implemented around Ponnambalamedu by the 9th respondent Deputy Director, after considering its technical feasibility, and a decision in this regard shall be taken within a period of one week.” The court also directed the Deputy Director, Periyar West Division, to file an affidavit stating, “the measures that can be taken to prevent unauthorised entry of persons to Ponnambalamedu area.”
The court noted that a case has also been registered u/s 27 and 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act and u/s 27(1)(e)(iv) of the Kerala Forest Act against Narayan Swami and his accomplices intruding into the sacred and protected area to perform a puja. The court observed, “Three persons have already been arrested. One among them is a Supervisor and another a worker of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation.”
Furthermore, the court has directed that no employee of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation should be deployed for any purpose, in and around the Ponnambalamedu area.
Earlier, the Travancore Devaswom Board President, Advocate K Ananthagopan said that “He was an assistant of a former priest in Sabarimala. He trespassed along with some others and performed prayers. It can’t be confirmed if the prayers were performed in Ponnambalamedu.” He added, “An enquiry needs to be held to confirm this. Devaswom Board will file a complaint with the Forest department and police authorities.”
The Kerala Forest Department registered a case against Narayan Swami for alleged criminal trespass into the sacred and protected region of the Sabarimala temple and performing an illegal ‘puja’ there. Narayan Swami has claimed that he entered the protected area and performed the puja with the consent of the forest watchers. He also said that he was unaware that Ponnambalamedu was a protected area.
He said, “I live in Thrissur, next to Vadakkumnathan Temple. Previously, I have worked as a helper to Sabarimala priest (keezshanthi). I visit Sabarimala every year. I am a pilgrim and conduct pooja in every place I visit. I have done it in places including the Himalayas.” It is reported that Narayan Swami was dismissed from his post of helper to Sabarimala priest (keezshanthi) over alleged irregularities.
Shreeyash Mittal is a Correspondent with Organiser Weekly. He is a BBA-LLB (Hons) graduate from Jindal Global Law School.