The Sabarimala Temple in Kerala has opened its doors to devotees for the two-month long Mandala-Makaravillakku season. The doors of the sanctum sanctorum were opened by melshanti (head priest) A K Sudheer Namboothiri on Sunday. He lit the lamps at 5 pm in the presence of tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru. However, no special pujas were conducted.
The newly elected Sabarimala head priest VK Jayaraj Potti and Malikkapuram head priest M N Raj Kumar also climbed the holy 18 steps of the temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa to offer prayers. Devotees are being allowed inside the temple from Monday.
Pilgrims had to book tickets for visiting the temple through the virtual queue system. Only 1,000 devotees are allowed to offer prayers daily. The Travancore Devaswom Board had earlier announced that the number of pilgrims would be increased to 5,000 Mandavilakku and Makaravilakku days.
The board limited the number of pilgrims to 1,000 per day for the initial days. On weekends 2, 000 people will be allowed in the hill shrine. “On Sabarimala Mandavilakku and Makaravilakku days, the number of pilgrims to be increased to 5,000,” the board had said.
The pilgrims have to adhere to strict COVID-19 protocols while visiting the temple. They are required to carry coronavirus negative certificates taken 24 hours before they get to Nilackkal and Pamba base camps, where Covid-19 kiosks have been set up for testing. They will not be allowed to stay at the temple premises.
The hill shrine of Sabarimala was closed on October 21, following the completion of five day monthly pujas. The doors of the temple were shut after the deeparadhana, padi pooja, athazha pooja and harivarasanam. In view of the COVID-19 situation, only 250 devotees were allowed to offer prayers during the five days.
Mandala puja celebrations commence on the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam (November or December) and conclude on the eleventh day of Dhanu (December-January).
Devotees are required to practice austerity during the Mandala-Makaravillakku season, especially those who take pilgrimage to Sabarimala shrine on Mandala Puja. The celebrations of Mandal Puja go on for 41 days.