Sabarimala all set to receive pilgrims as annual season begins from today

Later, newly selected head priests of Lord Ayyappa and Malikappuram temples will take over for performing poojas for the next one-year period. The 41-day Mandala puja festival will conclude on December 27.

The temple will be opened again on December 30 for the Makaravilakku pilgrimage on January 14, 2023. The shrine will be closed on January 20, concluding the pilgrim season.

Officials said thousands of devotees are expected to participate this year as it is the first pilgrim season after lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions which were in place during the last two years. Elaborate security arrangements are in place for the smooth conduct of the festival, they said.

Kerala Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan said unlike the last two years, when the pilgrimage was held according to strict COVID-19 guidelines that limited devotees to around 30,000 each day, this year there were no limits on the number of pilgrims who can come for darshan.

“We expect a huge turnout this year. There is no limit on the number of devotees who can come per day. We expect a 40 to 50 per cent increase in pilgrims compared to previous two years,” the minister told PTI.

Travancore Devaswom Board president K Ananthagopan shared a similar view and said that on Wednesday evening close to 30,000 devotees turned up for darshan.

On Thursday, when the 41-day long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season begins, close to 50,000 devotees are expected according to virtual queue registrations till now and these numbers are likely to increase as more pilgrims would come via spot booking, he said.

“There are more than 40,000 bookings per day via virtual queue alone for the coming days. In the next 10 days around 7 lakh devotees are expected to come. Last year, during the entire season, around 27 lakh pilgrims had come for darshan,” Ananthagopan said.

Radhakrishnan said that in expectation of the huge turnout, extensive arrangements have been made for a safe and smooth pilgrimage for which all concerned departments have worked in tandem.

As part of the preparations, a meeting of officials of the southern states was also held to discuss the steps that can be taken to ease the pilgrimage for devotees from the neighbouring states of Kerala, the minister said.

One of the concerns raised in the meeting was the language in which information was displayed at the temple and how it may not be understood by pilgrims from other states, he said.

As a result, in the meeting it was decided to display information in all the languages of the southern states at the temple, the minister said.

Radhakrishan also said that all Devaswom Boards in the state have worked together to ensure that pilgrims have a place to stay at the Edathavalams (temporary halting place) under their control and proper facilities are available there.

Extensive arrangements have been made by the police, the Health and Transport departments as well as the local administration to ensure that the large numbers of devotees expected this year have a safe and smooth pilgrimage during this period.

A 24-hour Sabarimala ward, with 18 beds equipped with all state-of-the-art facilities, has been set up at the Pathanamthitta General Hospital where life-saving drugs, equipment and lab tests would be available free of cost, the Health department said in a release.

It also said that arrangements have been made to make sure that any pilgrim experiencing chest pain or cardiac arrest will be attended to within five minutes by health workers and transported immediately to a hospital.

Health workers have been deployed to help elderly devotees if they find it difficult to climb the hill-top shrine, the department said.

To prevent accidents and provide assistance in emergencies on the over 400 kms of roads which form part of the pilgrimage route, the Motor Vehicles Department has come out with the ‘Safe Zone’ project.

The initiative was announced by State Transport Minister Antony Raju who said that as part of the project, MVD teams would be patrolling the pilgrimage routes 24/7 and a quick response team with ambulance, crane and recovery system has also been deployed.

Using the latest technology, the pilgrimage routes would be monitored from three control rooms set up as part of the project.

Aerial surveillance, deployment of more than 13,000 policemen, including Intelligence officials and commandos, and CCTV cameras are part of the arrangements the Kerala police has made to ensure a smooth, safe and secure pilgrimage to Sabarimala.

Setting up three temporary police stations, bike patrolling and arrangements to deploy the National Disaster Response Force and the Rapid Action Force, are the other measures taken by the police.

Pathanamthitta District Collector and Chairperson of the District Disaster Management Authority Dr Divya S Iyer on Tuesday also carried out an assessment of all the preparations along the main pilgrimage routes.

She and a team of officials also ensured that drinking water, sleeping facilities and toilets were available at all resting camps or edathavalams along the pilgrimage route.

The temple will be opened again on December 30 for the Makaravilakku pilgrimage, which will end on January 14, 2023. The shrine will be closed on January 20, 2023 concluding the pilgrim season.

Meanwhile, special buses would be operated to Kerala in view of the annual Mandala and Makaravilakku poojas in the Lord Ayyappa Swamy temple, the Tamil Nadu government said on Wednesday. From November 17 to January 20, 2023, the special buses including the ultra deluxe services, would be operated to Pamba by state-run road transport corporations. The special buses would ply from Chennai, Tiruchirappalli, Madurai and Cuddalore, Transport Minister S S Sivasankar said.

*With inputs from agencies

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