Sabarimala: Marking the beginning of the second phase of the annual pilgrimage season, the Lord Ayyappa temple here opened this evening for the Makaravilakku festival, even as the chief priest quarantined himself after coming into contact with three COVID positive people.
Though the portals of the hill shrine were opened at 5pm, devotees would be allowed to enter from Thursday morning only, officials of the Tranvancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the shrine, said.
The auspicious Makaravilakku festival falls on January 14 and the shrine would be closed on January 20.
According to a TDB official, the 'melsanthi' (chief priest), V K Jayarajan Potti, has quarantined himself since Tuesday.
"Three persons, whom he had close contact with, tested positive for COVID 19. So, he is in quarantine now at Sabarimala itself. As of now, it will not affect the daily rituals of the shrine," he told PTI.
As per the temple custom, the chief priest can descend the holy hills only after one year after he takes charge at the hill temple.
The Board would decide further course of action if he tests positive for the virus after five days, the official added.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 5,000 devotees would be permitted to offer prayers at the shrine per day during the Makaravilakku season, TDB sources said.
As in the first phase of the pilgrimage which ended on December 26 with customary Mandala pooja, a COVID negative certificate, taken within 48 hours of the pilgrimage, is mandatory in the second leg also.
Pilgrims, who do not have such a certificate, would not be allowed to proceed further from the base camps - Nilakkal and Pampa - to Sannidhanam (temple complex), they said.