Considering the heavy rain that battered Kerala recently and the high Covid-19 caseload, the state government has capped the number of pilgrims to the hill-top shrine at 30,000 a day.
As thousands of devotees prepare to make the journey to Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala for the annual Mandala season that began on Monday, the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation has started special services from major depots. The government has also arranged chartered services for Ayyappa devotees from key railway stations.
OnManorama reported that the transport department will run these services from Pamba to Kottayam, Chengannur, Ernakulam, Kumali, Guruvayur, Thiruvananthapuram, Tenkasi, Palani, Thrissur, Palakkad, Cherthala, Pandalam, Coimbatore, Nilakkal, Neyyattinkara, Alappuzha, Ochira, Erumeli, Kanyakumari, and Vithura. Devotees will be able to book their seats online.
On Monday, Sabarimala’s Lord Ayyappa Temple opened for the 41-day Mandala pilgrimage. Outgoing priest VK Jayaraj Potti lit the ceremonial lamp in the presence of tantri (head priest) Kandararu Mahesh Mohanararu to open the sanctum sanctorum, PTI reported. Following the rituals, Shabhu Namboothiri and N Parameshwaran Namboothiri, the new priests, took charge at the Malikappuram Devi Temple and the Ayyappa Temple, respectively.
Restrictions in place
Considering the heavy rainfall that battered Kerala recently and the high Covid-19 caseload, the state government has capped the number of pilgrims to the hill-top shrine at 30,000 a day.
The OnManorama report said the rain-induced restrictions were likely to remain in place for three to four days. However, the deity’s ritualistic bathing in the Pamba river will not be allowed as it is flowing above danger level.
On Sunday, the government said spot-booking for darshan had been temporarily stopped. The government might consider allotting new dates for pilgrims who had booked the darshan through the virtual queue system. Over 1.3 million devotees had made advanced booking by Monday.
The authorities have also put in place strict Covid-19 protocols. Pilgrims will have to carry either a vaccination certificate or negative RT-PCR report no older than 72 hours to visit the shrine.
The devotees have also been asked to carry their original Aadhaar cards. Travancore Devaswom Board staff members are collecting the ghee that the devotees bring for Neyyabhishekam through special counters, while sanctified ghee is being returned to them from a separate outlet.
The government has also arranged for the pilgrims to purchase the ‘prasadam’ during their return to Pampa following darshan.
The temple authorities said the items required for offerings and the appam and aravana, given to the devotees as prasad, were also ready.
The temple authorities said it had a stock of one million containers for aravana and two lakh packets of appam. Two lakh aravana containers and one lakh appam packets will be required a day to meet demand.
Security beefed up
The government has also beefed up security at the temple with Additional Director General of Police S. Sreejith in charge.
Health Minister Veena George said all arrangements were in place to ensure the security of pilgrims following the heavy rain in Pathanamthitta district, the location of the temple.
The government is closely monitoring the departments concerned, George said after a meeting at Pathanamthitta District Collectorate.
She added the rain had damaged certain roads to the temple and adjacent areas. Traffic has also been diverted from flood-prone roads. George has also directed the departments concerned to ensure safety on the route.
The 41-day pilgrimage ends on December 26 with Mandala Puja. The temple will reopen on December 30 for Makaravilakku pilgrimage on January 14 before being shut again on January 20.
The temple is the biggest earner for the Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs numerous shrines in south Kerala. The festival season, however, has witnessed several problems since 2018.
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the temple should allow women of all ages to enter. The temple has traditionally barred women in the 10-50 age group. The state government’s determination to implement the apex court’s verdict led to a clash with Sangh Parivar affiliates.
The pilgrimage was halted in 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19. This year again, the incessant rain has hindered the flow of pilgrims.