Kochi: COVID-19 negative certificates for devotees, doing away with queues and a bar on the elderly and children are among the measures suggested by a court-appointed official for the peak annual pilgrimage season at the Lord Ayyappa's shrine in Sabarimala beginning next month in view of the pandemic situation. Sabarimala Special Commissioner M Manoj, in a report submitted before the Kerala High Court, said there was a risk factor in crowd management during the season, beginning from November 16 and spanning a little over two months when lakhs of devotees throng the hill shrine.
To overcome the risk, the report said the authorities should ensure hygiene at shops, hotels, in drinking water supply, in toilets, staff accommodation and conveyances. "…mandatory COVID-19 negative certificate," was suggested in the recently submittedreport.
The report said it was better to avoid pilgrims over 60 years of age and less than ten years and that no accommodation should be provided at "sannidhanam" (the main temple premises), Pamba or Nilackal, the base stations. "Queue in any place should be avoided at any cost and social distancing should be strictly maintained," it said.
The Kerala government had on September 28, announced steps to conduct the annual pilgrimage to the Lord Ayyappa temple, stressing that the COVID-19 protocol should be strictly implemented. The state has been witnessing a sharp spike in new COVID-19 cases since last month and the total count has crossed the three lakh mark on Tuesday.
The government has said steps would be taken to ensure that those infected with the novel coronavirus would not participate in the pilgrimage, which usually draws devotees from southern states and other parts of the country. According to officials, those below 10 years of age and above 60 would not be allowed to take part in the pilgrimage.
"Devotees will not be allowed to take a dip in river Pamba. Instead, shower systems will be arranged at Erumely and Pamba for them to take bath," the Chief Minister had said. Vijayan had said special arrangements would be made for performing offerings, including 'neyyabhishekam' (ghee abhishekam) and 'annadanam' (the sacred tradition of offering food) adhering to COVID-19 protocol.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran had earlier said that the decisions would be submitted before the high court. The temple would be opened for devotees on the evening of October 16 and the regular poojas would be held for five days starting from next day, which is the first day of Malayalam month 'Thulam'.
The annual 'Mandala Makaravilakku' season would commence on November 16.