Varkala: The annual Sivagiri pilgrimage at Sivagiri mutt here in Kerala, observed annually in memory of social reformer and sage, Sree Narayana Guru, will be virtual this time in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With less than 1000 pilgrims daily, online speeches and classes by dignitaries and no usual mass meetings and programmes, the 88th edition of the pilgrimage would be celebrated fully in adherence with the COVID protocols and guidelines.
Mutt management sources here said preparations already began for the three-day pilgrimage.
"This time, the pilgrimage will comply with the strict COVID protocols. It will be held on December 30, 31 and January 1 as virtual pilgrimage," they said.
To avoid heavy rush, only less than a thousand pilgrims would be allowed to enter Sivagiri daily, Mutt officials said in a meeting, chaired by additional district magistrate V R Vinod at the Collectorate, on Friday.
The meeting, attended by Sree Narayana Dharma Sangam Trust general secretary Swamy Sandrananda and district police chief, B Ashokan among others, was held to take a stock of the preparations of the annual event.
The Sivagiri Mutt is the headquarters of the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham, an organisation established by the Guru to propagate his doctrine 'One Caste, One Religion, One God for Man'.
Located over 50 kms from Thiruvananthapuram, the Mutt used to attract thousands of pilgrims and VVIP guests annually during the time of the pilgrimage.
"This time, there will be no mass meetings and programmes like in the past. Speeches and classes by dignitaries will be telecast online on Sivagiri TV from December 25," the Mutt officials said.
As part of efforts to avoid overcrowding during the pilgrimage, no trade stalls would be allowed in and around Sivagiri.
There would be no food distribution or accommodation facility for pilgrims, as usual, the additional district magistrate said.
Pilgrims should avoid coming as large groups and the Mutt authorities should give them strict instruction in this regard, he said.
There won't be regular special bus or train services this time as part of reducing congestion, he said adding that facilities should be ensured for all pilgrims to meet COVID protocols.
For this, sanitiser and thermal scanners should be made available and special arrangements should be made for pilgrims to wash hands at the Mutt and other parts of Sivagiri.
The health department has been directed to provide necessary medicines and other facilities for pilgrims at Varkala Taluk hospital, officials added.