Erumali (Kerala): A symbol of love, equality and devotion, Sabarimalai this year is witnessing the largest number of devotees in the last 20 years, 50 lakh in numbers.
The reason - harvest festivals Makkar Vilakku and Makkar Sangaram are falling on the same day.
The banks of the River Pampa are crowded with each and every devotee wanting a dip in the holy waters to wash away their impurities.
But, a dip in the holy waters is not good enough for sustenance. The lakhs of devotees coming from across the country need proper meals each day of the festival. It is annadanam (the free food scheme run by the devotees) which takes care of this need.
Says a devotee, Ravindran, "This noble concept was started by us to feed as many Lord Aiyappa devotees as we can so that they remain healthy."
Lakhs of devotees who willingly undertake the tough five km mountain trek for a glimpse of the Lord - braving all obstacles - certainly need the noursishment.
The climb gets steeper with every step and devotees say that it is only because of the 41-day penance they undergo before coming to Sabarimala that they are able to keep up the strength to climb on.
For those who can't do the difficult climb, there is the doli - men carrying palanquins with pilgrims inside on their shoulders to meet the Lord.
These men do it for the sheer pleasure of being of service to the lord.
Says a palanquin bearer, Saji, "We do not do it just for money, but more for the service to the Lord. By doing this we get Lord Aiyappa's blessings in return."
Tight security is in place and devotees are being made to wait at the base camp for a couple of hours to avoid a stampede.