The Lord Ayyappa hill shrine at Kerala’s Sabarimala opened its gates for the three-month annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku festival that begins on the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrischikom on Thursday.
A large number of devotees had already reached the shrine on Wednesday, when the chief priest, Mahesh Mohannaru, opened the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the temple. The temple rituals will begin with the chief priest performing the Ashtadravya Maha Ganapati homam on Thursday morning, PTI quoted temple officials as saying. The main Neyyabhishekom offering to the presiding deity will begin after the Ashtabhishekom.
More than 4.5 crore devotees visited the temple during the festival season last year and this time the Pinarayi Vijayan government has intensified security measures and introduced a host of features. A hospital with modern facilities, a dining hall that can accommodate 5,000 people, 24×7 water supply and toilets are the many amenities made available. Also, the Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) will run more buses for pilgrims. The Kottayam Medical College will provide 24 hours free medical care to pilgrims. Moreover, the darshan timing at the temple has been increased and various projects to improve amenities worth Rs 300 crore are in different stages.
The 41-day Mandalam festival will conclude on December 26. The temple, which does not allow the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 and is awaiting a Supreme Court judgment in the matter, will be closed after the Athazhapuja in the evening on that day. The temple, situated in the Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district, will reopen for the Makaravilakku festival on December 30. The Makaravilakku will be celebrated on January 14.
The procession carrying the sacred attire, Thiruvabharanam, would set off from the Pandalam Valiyakoickal Sastha temple on January 12. The temple, for which the Cm has sought a national pilgrim centre tag, will be closed a week after the Makaravillaku marking the culmination of the annual pilgrimage season.