A row sparked by the shoot of a Tamil film in Sabarimala was what prompted the tightening of curbs on the entry of women to the shrine of celibate deity Lord Ayyappa. The 1986 shoot involving several dancing artistes led to a court battle in which the Devaswom Board officials also were fined.
The film, 'Nambinor Keduvathillai,' was directed by Ayyappa devotee K Sankaran, who used to seek the deity's darshan every year. He did the filming at the temple premises from March 8 to 13, 1986.
V. Rajendran, a resident of Krishnapuram, Kayamkulam, had filed a case in the Ranni court alleging that young actresses were made to dance for the film at the revered pathinettam padi (18 steps). The artistes included Jayasree, Sudha Chandran, Anu (Bhama), Vadivukkarasi and Manorama, and they were listed as accused one to five.
Filmmaker Sankaran himself was the sixth accused in the case. Then Devaswom Board president N. Bhaskaran Nair was the seventh accused while members Saraswathi Kunjikrishnan and Harihara Iyer were the eighth and ninth accused respectively.
The court took up the case in July 1986. The artistes appeared in court in September and were granted bail. First-class magistrate Gopalakrishna Pillai imposed a fine of Rs 1,000 each on the accused persons. Manorama was acquitted because she was above 50 then. The Devaswom was fined too, because they had given permission to Sankaran after charging him Rs 7,500.
Subsequently, the Board decided to tighten curbs on the entry of women.
A case also came up in the High Court later against the daughter of a Devaswom official for arriving at the temple, breaching the custom. A bench headed by Justice Paripoornan then ordered tough restrictions on the entry of females between 10 and 50 years. The case was based on a letter sent by one S. Mahendran, a resident of Puzhavath, Changanassery.