The Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala has been opened for the annual two-month-long pilgrimage season from Monday. 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.

New priests – N Parameshwaran Namboothiri for Sabarimala and Shabhu Namboothiri for the Malikappuram Devi temple – also took charge from today after the ritualist prayers.

Even though the Sabarimala temple is open for pilgrims, they will be allowed only from November 16. Meanwhile, 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 Pampa 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.

State Health Minister Veena George assured that 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,” George said after a high-level meeting at the Pathanamthitta Collectorate.

The State Health 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, 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. Police have strengthened the security for ensuring a smooth Sabarimala pilgrimage season.

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