Hindu hard-liners have shut shops and businesses and clashed with police in a southern Indian state as they protest over the entry of two women in one of the country’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites.

Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) held protest marches in Kerala state as part of a strike call by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of Hindu groups.

Women “of menstruating age” were previously forbidden to pray at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state until India’s supreme court lifted the ban in September.

Protesters in the roadProtestors block traffic after reports two women had entered the Sabarimala temple (AP)

The ban was informal for many years, but became law in 1972.

Some devotees have filed a petition saying the court decision revoking the ban was an affront to the celibate deity Ayyappa.

The two women entered the temple to pray early on Wednesday.

They were escorted by police because it is “the government’s constitutional responsibility to give protection to women”, said Pinarayi Vijayan, the state’s top elected official.

Riot policeRiot police have been deployed (AP)

He accused the BJP of triggering violence when police fired tear gas at several places to disperse stone-throwing mobs protesting against the women’s entry.

Mr Vijayan told reporters that 39 police officers were injured while trying to control the protesters, who also damaged 79 state-run buses.

The Press Trust of India reported that a 55-year-old passer-by who was seriously injured after rocks were thrown by protesters in Pandalam a town died later on Wednesday.