Like a giant stretching out of slumber, south India is rising against the assault on its Hindu identity and centuries-old faith.

Unlike the trishul-wielding, in-your-face movements that have swept the north, the south had not seen any mass resistance centred around its Hinduness, at least since Independence. The state government-backed, judiciary-prompted decree on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple could be that inflection point.

Entire south India is heatedly talking about it. Agitations in the form of Nama Japa Yatras have started in all the five southern states. Indians in the US, the UK, Germany and many Gulf countries are also organising these marches.

A sea of local tribals, half of them women, have descended at the temple to stop the breach of tradition. Lord Ayyappa, who was the son of the Raja of Pandalam, is believed to have given tribals the right to protect the place.

Thousands of devotees have started arriving in Sabarimala from all southern states to stop the violation of a very old tradition. They argue that in lakhs of temples, women have free and equal access. There are even a handful of temples where men are not allowed.

But this particular temple in Sabarimala extols the celibate form of Ayyappa, and so women of a certain age are not allowed. There are hundreds of other Ayyappa temples all over India where women face no entry bar.

Unanswered questions can be the most combustible fuel to anger. On the Sabarimala episode, there are many.

Why should Pinarayi Vijayan’s Left government in Kerala and the judiciary meddle in Hindu beliefs and traditions?

Why did the same Pinarayi government drag its feet on implementing the 2017 Supreme Court order in the battle between Orthodox and Jacobite churches but has shown great alacrity on implementing the Sabarimala verdict?

Why should the same principles of women’s entry, temple fund regulation etc not apply to mosques and other religious boards?

Why shouldn’t the Naistika Brahmachari form of Lord Ayyappa that one worships — extreme sense control, celibacy, renunciation — be insulted and hijacked?

Why in the garb of environment, animal rights, water conservation or feminism are only the Hindu faith and festivals targeted?

Since Independence, those who wield power or hold monopoly over intellectual currency have not answered these questions. The time of reckoning has come.

Also read: Sabarimala: Protesting mob attacks women journalists, smashes car, heckles them

South India is poised to be deeply polarised over Sabarimala. The ground is getting ripe for a Hindu political awakening. There was already a fair bit disgruntlement over how temple wealth is being used as a revenue source by state governments. Judicial and state interference in Sabarimala could be the tipping point.

Senior RSS functionary from Kerala J Nandakumar calls it “an unprecedented upsurge”; one that has surprised even him.

In 2006-’07, the Left government led by VS Achuthanandan had promised to set up an Acharya Parishad or panel of religious experts to look into the Sabarimala issue.

But the current Left regime, in its enthusiasm to rub the nose of practising Hindus, might have unwittingly unleashed a massive Hindu consolidation not just in Kerala but across the five southern states.

Also read: Sabarimala row: Despite aggressive protests, Pinarayi Vijayan says government will implement Supreme Court order

The Sabarimala temple, for instance, gets way more devotees from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana than from its home state. There is a huge following in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as well.

Almost every town in south India has Ayyappa temples. The snowball of this controversy could roll through each of these towns and villages, getting bigger and more potent, changing south India’s political landscape more profoundly than we can now imagine.