Marking the beginning of a pilgrimage season drastically scaled down by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala opened for the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku season on Sunday.
Outgoing head priest A.K. Sudheer Namboothiri opened the sanctum sanctorum in the presence of chief priest (Tantri) Kandararu Rajeevaru at 5 p.m.
Later in the day, the Tantri performed the installation of the newly selected Melsanthis for the Ayyappa temple and the Malikappuram Devi temple — V.K. Jayaraj Potti and Raji Kumar M.N. Namboothiri. The new Melsanthis will assume charge on Monday for the next one year .
The temple rituals will begin with the Tantri performing the Ashtadravya Maha Ganapati Homom on Monday morning. Devotees who booked for darshan through the virtual queue system will be permitted entry to the hill shrine from November 16. After the Makaravilakku festival on January 14, the temple will be closed on January 20.
The two-month season will be under strict COVID-19 guidelines. Authorities have already issued an advisory to ensure compliance by pilgrims to health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All pilgrims have to carry the COVID-19-negative certificate with tests done 24 hours before reaching the base camp Nilackal. The small band of pilgrims will observe physical distancing as they trek up the hill and return.
Priest tests positive
On Saturday, a 26-year-old priest, appointed by the Travancore Devaswom Board on a temporary basis, tested positive during an antigen test at Nilackal. The person was immediately shifted to a first-line treatment centre while two of his co-travellers were sent to quarantine.
In view of the daily limit in the number of pilgrims, the arrangements made at the Nilackal base camp and Pampa-Triveni too are on a reduced scale. A 250-member group of workers has been brought from Tamil Nadu for cleaning works.
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