Sabarimala timings extended, number of pilgrims limited after huge rush

Sabarimala timings extended, number of pilgrims limited after huge rush

A day after Kerala High Court issued a slew of directions to the police and Sabarimala temple authorities to ensure a smooth experience for pilgrims at the famed temple, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan held a meeting to discuss the arrangements. Following the meeting, the temple “darshan” time was extended but the number limited to 90,000 pilgrims per day.

Kerala’s famed temple is registering massive footfall this season. On Monday, 1,07,260 devotees — the highest this season — reportedly made bookings for “darshan” at Sabarimala. As police beefed up arrangements to control the rush, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan held a meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss the arrangements.

Following the meeting, quoted Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president K Ananthagopan as saying that the temple “darshan” will be limited to 90,000 pilgrims per day.

“The darshan timings have been extended by one hour,” he reportedly told the media after attending the meeting with Vijayan. The temple doors will now remain open for devotees for 19 hours a day, from 3 am to 1.30 pm and from 3 pm to 11.30 pm.

Special offerings, namely “Ashtabhishekam” and “Pushpabhishekam,” have also reportedly been limited in numbers because of the rise in the number of devotees. Water and biscuits will reportedly be distributed from Saramkuthi to Nadapanthal. More parking facilities will be set up in Nilakkal and trained policemen will be posted at Pathinettam Padi (18 holy steps).

Sabarimala on Kerala map
The location of Sabarimala temple in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district

Post-COVID rush

In the past two years, the temple had COVID-19 restrictions in place. Since the restrictions have been withdrawn this year, devotees have turned up in large numbers at the famed Lord Ayyappa shrine in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district for the annual two-month Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage. The 41-day Mandala pilgrimage began on November 17 and will conclude on December 27. Thereafter, the temple will be opened again on December 30 for the Makaravilakku pilgrimage, which will end on January 14, 2023.

On Saturday itself, close to a lakh bookings were made via the virtual queue system and around 90,000 devotees arrived for “darshan,” the high court noted in its special sitting on Sunday. A few policemen on duty suffered minor injuries while managing the crowd, the bench of Justices Anil K Narendran and PG Ajithkumar was told.

Also read: HC directs Travancore, Cochin Devaswom to ensure resting facilities for Sabarimala pilgrims at Edathavalams

Since more than a lakh bookings were made for Monday, the court directed the district collector and the district police chief to come up with a crowd management plan for days when the expected footfall is above 75,000. The plan would evolve in consultation with the TDB and the Special Commissioner, Sabarimala, the bench said.

The court also asked the TDB to consider, in consultation with the tantri of Sabarimala, whether the sanctum sanctorum of Sabarimala Sannidhanam can remain open for an extra 30 minutes or one hour. It is usually open 18 hours a day.

Regarding the management of vehicular traffic on the routes to Sabarimala, the court directed the district police chief to arrange motorcycle patrols when the movement of vehicles is blocked for long periods. “In case the movement of vehicles is blocked for a considerably long period, the Travancore Devaswom Board shall make necessary arrangements for providing ‘chukkuvellam’ (water) and biscuits to pilgrims in such vehicles,” it said.

The court further said that when the parking grounds at Nilakkal reach the maximum capacity, police must regulate the entry of vehicles appropriately. “The restrictions imposed on the parking of vehicles at Nilakkal parking grounds shall be made known to the pilgrims, through the public address systems at edathavalams,” the bench said. Edathavalams are halting points for pilgrims.

The TDB was also directed to ensure that the parking contractor engages enough staff to ensure proper parking of vehicles.

Temple earnings soar

The court was hearing three separate pleas — one regarding the management of the virtual queue system and two on restrictions on vehicular entry from Nilakkal to Pamba and difficulties faced by pilgrims at Nilakkal and Pamba in the absence of a queue system for passengers boarding KSRTC buses.

Official estimates say the temple’s income has soared to Rs 125 crore from the first 24 days of the pilgrimage. The number of devotees this season has reportedly crossed 1.1 crore and the authorities expect a rise in footfall during the final leg of the Mandalam season.

Watch: All about women’s entry into Sabarimala temple

The Congress-led UDF opposition blamed the Left government for failing to anticipate the huge footfall this year. Leader of Opposition in the state assembly V D Satheesan said CM Vijayan and other ministers concerned should visit Sabarimala to take stock of the situation and issue necessary directions.

The shrine will be closed on January 20, 2023, concluding the pilgrimage season.

(With agency inputs)

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