Sabarimala opens for devotees
Wearing masks and strictly adhering to Covid-19 protocol, devotees of Lord Ayyappa trekked the holy hill and offered prayers at the Sabarimala temple as it opened for the annual two-month Mandala-Makaravilakku season on Monday.
It is the first annual pilgrimage season at the hill temple after the coronavirus outbreak and authorities have decided to restrict the number of devotees to 1,000 per day and to 2,000 on weekends.
However, the sannidhanam, the temple complex which used to witness a sea of devotees on the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrichikam, saw only a few devotees this morning.
Pilgrims with Covid-19 negative certificates were allowed to trek starting 3am from Pampa, the base camp, through a virtual queue system, temple officials said.
Devotees from neighbouring states flocked to the shrine in the initial hours, sources in the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that manages the hill shrine said.
Unlike the usual rush and jostling for a glimpse of the presiding deity, only a few devotees in batches could be seen having a relaxed darshan.
Wearing masks, employees of the board and police personnel, some of them clad in personal protection equipment (PPE) kit, kept vigil at various points from the base camps to the temple complex to ensure that the devotees followed the protocol.
The rituals began with tantri (head priest) Kantaru Rajeevaru performing the ashtadravya Mmaha ganapathy homam at the sannidhanam, they said.
A TDB official said around 650 devotees offered prayers at the hill temple till noon on the first day.
Two devotees tested positive for the viral infection on Monday and both were sent to a first line treatment centre at nearby Konni, he said. “Both the devotees — one from Punalur in Kerala and the other one from Chennai — tested positive for the virus while undergoing a test at a health department kiosk at Nilakkal, another base camp,” the official said.
State devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran said all arrangements had been completed to ensure a smooth darshan for the devotees during the pilgrimage season.
“Arrangements have been made in compliance with the Covid-19 norms and in accordance with the directions of the Kerala High Court,” he told reporters at the temple complex after taking part in a review meeting of various government departments.
The minister said floor markings have been made at various points and steps have been taken to make devotees abide by the instructions.
Though the shrine opened on Sunday evening, there was no special puja on Sunday and devotees were permitted inside the complex only on Monday.
Marking the beginning of the 62-day-long pilgrimage season, Melshanthi A.K. Sudheer Namboothiri had opened the doors of the sanctum sanctorum and lit the lamps in the presence of the tantri on Sunday evening.
The newly-elected Melsanthi V.K. Jayaraj Potti and Malikkapuram Melsanthi M.N. Raj Kumar, who were the first to climb the holy 18 steps and offer prayers, took charge Sunday evening itself.
Covid-19 kiosks were opened at the base camps for testing and the pilgrims won’t be allowed to stay on the temple premises, official sources said.
The health department has made elaborate arrangements for rapid antigen tests in various centres, including all bus stands and railway stations, at Thiruvananthapuram, Tiruvalla, Chengannur and Kottayam, where pilgrims arrive to proceed to the Ayyappa temple.
Doctors, including specialists, would be posted on a rotation basis for seven days each while all other staff have been posted on a rotation basis
for 15 days from November 15 to January 19, sources added.
The auspicious mandala puja would be held on December 26. After the makaravilakku ritual on January 14, the temple would be closed on January 20, marking the end of the season.