Sabarimala: Only 1,000 devotees per day during Mandala-Makaravilakku season, proposes expert panel

The expert panel appointed by the government has submitted the guidelines which should be followed by devotees while visiting Sabarimala during the COVID-19 pandemic, informed Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran here on Tuesday.

As per the recommended guidelines, devotees in the 10 to 60 age group will be allowed to visit Sabarimala. Devotees will be restricted from travelling through the forest path. Only 1,000 people will be allowed to visit the hill shrine per day, recommended the expert panel.

The government appointed the expert panel headed by the Chief Secretary to recommend the number of devotees allowed during Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season and preventive measures to be taken to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

The expert committee has also recommended online ‘darshan’ amid the pandemic, which the Kerala government would discuss with the temple ‘tantri’ or head priest, Kadakampally Surendran said.

The Minister said all the recommendations of the panel would be put up before Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, after which the matter would go to the state Cabinet for the final call.

On September 28, Pinarayi Vijayan had chaired a special Cabinet meeting and announced that the annual two month-long festival will be organised but with very strict COVID protocols, including restrictions on the number of pilgrims.

The temple’s festival season begins on November 15, with the most important Makarvilaku Day fixed for January 14, 2021.

It was recommended that up to a maximum of 1,000 devotees would be allowed during weekdays, and 2,000 on Saturdays and Sundays. On special festival days, the maximum limit would be 5,000.

All pilgrims would have to register in the virtual queue system. Those from neighbouring states would have to bring COVID-negative certificates. Once in Kerala, they would have to undergo antigen tests. At no cost would the pilgrims be allowed to stay back in the temple and would have to return soon after offering prayers.

The popular holy dip in Pamba river wound not be allowed. Instead, showers would be installed where all pilgrims can bathe before they begin their climb to the temple.

Situated on the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level, Sabarimala temple is a 4-km uphill journey from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district, around 100 km from the state capital.

The temple, which bars the entry of women who have attained puberty, is accessible only on foot from Pamba.

Every pilgrim carries with him/her a kit (which contains coconuts which are broken just before climbing the 18 steps) on their head during the pilgrimage. Without it, no one is allowed to go up the holy 18 steps at the Sannidhanam.

(With inputs from IANS)