Pinarayi calls for integration amid Sabarimala chaos, Devaswom Min asks pilgrims to exercise restraint

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Photo: Manorama

Idukki: In light of the increase in influx of devotees to the Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has directed officials to conduct matters in a more integrated and coordinated fashion. 

The Chief Minister assessed the current situation at Sabarimala at a special review meeting convened at Thekkady during the Nava Kerala Sadas. Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan, Forest Minister AK Saseendran, Chief Secretary Dr V Venu and Devaswom Board President PS Prashant, State Superintendent of Police Sheikh Darvesh Sahib, Collectors etc also participated in the online meeting. The chief minister has asked officials to ensure that arrangements do not affect the pilgrims.

Meanwhile, Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan has laid the onus of preventing a stampede at the famed Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala on the pilgrims.

The temple, where the annual Mandalakala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage is currently taking place, has been witnessing unprecedented crowds in recent days, causing much misery to devotees and forcing many of them to return without having a ‘darshan’ (offering of prayers at the hilltop shrine).

Radhakrishnan, speaking to reporters on Tuesday after a meeting convened by the Chief Minister, said that crowding at Sabarimala was a natural occurrence and some people with vested interests were attempting to stoke a controversy over the non-issue.

“The same number of devotees as last year is visiting Sabarimala this time. Climbing the 18 holy steps at the temple is an important part of the pilgrimage. However, only 75 people can be accommodated on the steps in one minute. Earlier, the shrine used to remain open for 17 hours a day. We extended the temple timings by an hour. The number of devotees allowed for virtual queue has been reduced from 90,000 to 80,000. Spot booking also has been restricted. All these measures will help shorten the queues,” said the Minister.

Radhakrishnan also said that top police officers led by an Inspector General were camping at Sabarimala. “They are ensuring that devotees are facing no difficulties. The pilgrimage is proceeding generally peacefully. But, minor problems crop up when there is a rush of devotees and some of them reach the shrine through unauthorized routes. Pilgrims should be prepared to exercise self-restraint,” said Radhakrishnan.

According to reports, several pilgrims from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were returning to their native places as they couldn’t reach the shrine even after waiting in queues for eight to hours. Such devotees were visiting the Valiyakoyikkal Temple at Pandalam to conduct the customary ‘neyyabhishekam’ ritual, an offering of ghee usually done at Sabarimala, and concluding their pilgrimage by removing the ‘maala’ (customary chain of beads).

Ayyappa devotees at Sabarimala temple, in Pathanamthitta, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. Photo: PTI

The Chief Minister has said that special attention should be given for darshan of women and children.

The Devaswom Board has been instructed to make arrangements for pre-arranged parking. Traffic control should also be strictly adhered to. Instead of changing the duties of the policemen all at once, it is necessary to keep a few of them. More police forces have been deployed at Sabarimala The chief minister also said that cleanliness should be ensured on the roads where the pilgrims come. He also condoled the death of the child who was on pilgrimage.

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