Pathanamthitta: The Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala was opened on Monday for the annual two-month-long pilgrimage season. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple was opened in the presence of chief priest (Tantri) Kandararu Mahesh Mohanararu by outgoing priest V K Jayaraj Potti. After the ritualist poojas, the new priests - N Parameshwaran Namboothiri for Sabarimala and Shabhu Namboothiri for the Malikappuram Devi temple - took charge.
Pilgrims would be allowed only from Tuesday morning.
The state government has decided to limit the number of pilgrims to the hill-top shrine in the next three or four days due to the heavy rains.
"The ritualistic bathing in the river Pamba will not be allowed as its levels are dangerously high, spot-booking will be stopped for the time and changing dates of those who booked through the virtual queue system will also be considered to control the flow of pilgrims," the government said on Sunday.
According to the temple authorities, by Monday more than 1.3 million pilgrims have pre-booked their temple visit.
The temple authorities have pointed out that the temple offerings and sale of "appom" and "aravana" (payasem) as the "prasad" are all ready. They pointed out that the present stock of aravana was around one million containers besides two lakh packets of appom are also ready, while the production of two lakh containers of aravana and one lakh packets of appam a day, will be done to meet the daily demands.
The security at the temple has been beefed up, and the temple town will be now under the Additional Director General of Police S Sreejith and his team.
Meanwhile, State Health Minister Veena George said all facilities have been made to ensure the safety and security of Sabarimala pilgrims in the wake of heavy rains in Pathanamthitta district, where the temple is situated.
"The functioning of departments concerned is being closely monitored. Certain roads to the temple and adjacent areas have been damaged in the incessant rain. Traffic has been diverted from the roads which have been facing flood-like situations," the minister said after a high-level meeting at the Pathanamthitta Collectorate.
The minister said the departments have been directed to ensure that the route to the hill-top shrine is safe.
The government has decided to allow only 30,000 devotees per day this season to have darshan through a virtual queue system after considering the COVID-19 pandemic situation.
The pilgrimage would be held strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocol with authorities insisting that two doses of the Covid vaccination certificate or RT-PCR negative certificate taken within 72 hours is mandatory for visiting the hill shrine.
The devotees should also produce original Aadhaar cards. Trekking to the temple would be allowed only through the Swami Ayyappan Road.
The ghee being brought by the pilgrims in coconuts for Neyyabhishekam would be collected by the TDB staff through special counters and sanctified ghee would be returned to the pilgrims through special counters of the Devaswom.
Arrangements have been made for the pilgrims to purchase prasadam while returning to Pampa after having darshan.
The 41-day Mandala puja festival concludes on December 26. The temple would be opened again on December 30 for the Makaravilakku pilgrimage. The Makaravilakku is on January 14, 2022, and the temple will be closed on January 20, 2022.
The temple, which is the biggest earner for the Travancore Devaswom Board, the body that runs this temple and numerous others in the south Kerala districts, for a few years since 2018 has had a troubled festival season.
First came a Supreme Court order which gave the nod for opening of the temple to all women. The temple was barred for women in the age group of 10 to 50 years and with the Kerala government determined to go forward with the apex court's directive, the Sangh Parivar affiliates launched a massive protest and numerous clashes broke out.
And then came the Covid-19 pandemic, which halted the two-month long festival season in 2020 and this year, too, things are not that rosy as all pilgrims arriving have either to carry a negative RT-PCR test report taken prior to 72 hours or should have taken both the vaccine jabs.