(Corrects paragraph 13 to clarify protest took place in Kochi, not state capital)
NEW DELHI, Jan 4 (Reuters) - A 46-year-old woman has entered the Sabarimala temple in south India, becoming the third woman this week to breach an ancient ban on females of menstruating age from going inside, according to the office of the chief minister of Kerala state.
It was not immediately clear how the woman, a Sri Lankan national, got into the temple.
When the first two women to breach the ban entered the temple in the early hours of Wednesday, they arrived in an ambulance with a plainclothes police escort and went in through a side gate without any devotees noticing.
Conservative Hindu groups paralysed Kerala on Thursday, shutting businesses and halting transport with a protest strike against the left-wing Kerala state government, which has supported the right of women to enter the temple.
The protests against Kerala’s communist coalition, led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, were backed by both of the main national parties - Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress party.
The Sabarimala temple, which pays homage to the celibate God Ayyappan, is one of a few in India that bar entry to women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50 years old, saying that menstruating women are impure.
Women’s rights groups say the ban is discriminatory.
Media reported that the latest woman, whom they identified as Sasikala, has had her uterus removed, which would mean she cannot menstruate. She entered the temple at about 10.55 p.m. on Thursday, media reported.
The chief minister’s office said she went to the temple with her husband and she was offered police protection.
The Supreme Court in September ordered the lifting of the ban on women and girls entering the hill temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year.
But the temple has refused to abide by the ruling and subsequent attempts by women to visit had been blocked by thousands of devotees. It says that the ban is necessary because menstruating women are impure.
On Friday, Kerala had largely returned to normal after the previous day’s strike but small protests were reported from across the state.
Fewer than 100 members of the youth wing of the Congress party marched and shouted slogans against the chief minister in the city of Kochi.
Discrimination against menstruating women is common in some parts of South Asia, where they are forbidden from entering houses or temples and taking part in festivals and community events.
Religion is often a contentious in India and political parties at times try to use the issue to their advantage. India is due to hold a general election by May. (Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan Editing by Martin Howell)