Nestled in the mountains in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, Sabarimala Temple has been garnering a lot of attention ever since last year's Supreme Court ruling allowing women to enter the temple.
But the breaking of the age-old tradition has not come without resistance as the temple defies the judgment, continuing to deny woman devotees of menstruating age entrance.
"Young women from the age of 10 to 50 are not allowed. The reason is, there is a spiritual practice called taking a vow of celibacy or abstaining oneself from sexual relationship or marriage," said Rahul Easwar, president of Ayappa Dharma Sena, a social organization that works with the temple.
"So Ayappa (in Sabarimala Temple) has taken this vow, this is the crux of the issue why young women are not allowed."
Most Hindu temples prohibit women from entering and performing any religious rituals during their monthly menstrual period as Hinduism regards them as being unclean during that time. But Sabarimala is unusual with its blanket ban of all women belonging to the menstrual age group.
Sabarimala houses the Hindu god Lord Ayappa, and according to the temple's history, he is said to have taken an oath of celibacy.
Every year, millions of male devotees take the trek up the steep hill to the temple. Before making the pilgrimage, in adherence to long-standing tradition, the men undertake a 41-day fast, abstain from smoking, alcohol, meat, sex and contact with menstruating women.
"When the feminism point comes, questions like 'Are the gods not for women?' arise. Unlike the patriarchy, it is not because of menstruation or anything related to the female body, the basic reason being there is the concept of the vow of celibacy," Rahul said.
While the temple continues to fight the judgment, some women have made attempts to enter. Those attempts, however, have met with violent protests from worshipers.
Rehana Fathima, a 33-year-old activist who has been fighting for the cause, is one of those who tried to enter but did not get far.
"I tried entering the temple on Oct. 19, 2018, but after that, everything changed. I went until the 18 golden steps which take you inside the temple, after that they did not allow me inside, as the temple people blocked my way with the help of children," Rehana said.
She and other women who have tried entering the temple have been escorted by local police as mandated by the court.
"The police gave me protection till the time we entered the temple premises, but after that, they saw protesters using children to block my way, then they asked me not to go forward," Rehana said.
"Another reason I had to back out was that I received a call from a family member who told me that some random group of people had attacked our house, so I had no option other than to leave," she added.
Rehana says she has also faced problems at work and was eventually arrested.
"I received a letter from my office, which informed me I had been transferred from my job. I agreed to it. But within a week the police came to my office and arrested me saying that some local near the temple had filed a complaint against me saying that being a Muslim I had hurt Hindu sentiment. I had to spend 18 days in jail," she said.
While she has been released on bail, Rehana says she has yet to be allowed back into her workplace.
"Before going to the temple, I knew that there would be issues, but I never expected them to be this big. I do not regret my decision...someone has to take on this responsibility," she added.
For Kanakdurga Kittodiyil, visiting the temple had even more personal consequences. Not only did the 40-year-old from Kerala face the wrath of the pilgrimage members, but she says she also came under attack from her family with her mother-in-law assaulting her before throwing her out of her own house.
Working as an assistant sales manager with the state's civil supply corporation and a mother of two children, Kanakdurga had nowhere to go and was forced to stay at a government-run shelter for 15 days.
"After the attack, I was admitted to the hospital for six days. The police tried talking to my husband, but he refused to take me back into the family. Later a local court ordered that I could return to my home, but my husband left with our children and his mother and moved into a rented house leaving me all alone," she said.
Kanakdurga, with the help of a police escort, successfully entered the temple on Jan. 2, 2019. Since then, there have been hundreds of violent protests in the area.
"I reported to police from Nilakkal region that I wanted to visit the temple. They provided me protection, and I was able to enter through the VIP lounge," she said.
Kanakdurga, along with another citizen from the state, managed to stay inside the temple for about five minutes. They were able to view up close the Lord Ayappa figure, marking the first time a woman of menstrual age had been close to the Hindu idol.
"My family never got the opportunity to visit the temple, and since childhood, it has been my dream to see it from inside. When the Supreme Court judgment came, I couldn't control myself," Kanakdurga said.
The Supreme Court ruling has become a political flashpoint and was one of the critical issues in the 2019 general election.
The two prominent parties, Bhartiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress party clashed throughout the election season over the issue.
The BJP's election manifesto, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stated it would "ensure the subject of faith, tradition and worship rituals related to Sabarimala, are presented in a comprehensive manner before the apex court."
Results of the six-week-long lower house election on May 23 saw Modi sweep to a victory, securing 303 of the 542 seats up for grabs, well above the 272 needed for a majority.
Even though much time has passed, Rehana and Kanakdurga have yet to get back to their regular lives, and also find themselves still in need of police protection.
"I knew it was going to be difficult, as many females have been denied entrance to the temple, but that's why I took the challenge," Kanakdurga said.