The two-month long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage to the Lord Ayyappa Temple situated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve had a traditional start on the first day in the Malayalam month of Vrischikom on Thursday.

The new Melsanthi (head priest), N.Balamurali, opened the sanctum sanctorum at 3 am in an atmosphere charged with devotion. The entire Sannidhanam was rented with high-pitched `Swami Saranam' mantra and Ayyappa bhajans in Tamil, Telungu, Kannada and ofcourse, Malayalam.

Though the holy hillock witnessed heavy rush of pilgrims in the morning hours, the police have taken effective steps for streamlining the pilgrim flow to the holy 18-steps leading to the temple premises.

The temple rituals began with the Tantri, Kandararu Maheswararu, performing the auspicious Ganapati homom followed by Ashtabhishekom.

Neyyabhishekom, ritualistic pouring of ghee offered by devotees over the Ayyappa, idol began at 3.20 am.

Both the tantri and melsanthi distributed `vibhuthi’ (sacred ash), theerthom (holy water) and sandal paste to the devotees present at the sopanam after the Ashtabhishekom performed to the presiding deity.

Tight security

Kerala Police as well as the Rapid Action Force attached to Central Reserve Police Force have been maintaining tight security to the temple complex since Wednesday.

Every pilgrim was diverted through door-framed metal detectors kept at the Valiyanadappanthal and at the two entry points on the northern side of the temple as part of the tight security arrangements at Sabarimala.

Additional Director General of Police, P.Chandrahekharan, toldThe Hinduthat the first batch of pilgrims who have registered their names under the newly introduced e-registration for the `virtual queue’ system for holy darshan at the Ayyappa shrine reached the Sannidhanam from Thrissur on Wednesday night.

e-registration

Mr Chandrshekharan says the police website, www.sabarimala.keralapolice.gov.in, has been receiving encouraging response to e-registration from pilgrims across South India. As many as 8500 pilgrims have registered their names on the website to avail the facility as on Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Minister for Devaswom and Transport, V.S.Sivakumar; Health Minister, Adoor Prakash; Forest Minister, K.B.Ganeshkumar, Addditional Chief Secretary, K.Jayakumar and Special Commissioner appointed by Kerala High Court, S.Jagadeesh, were among those who offered prayers at the Ayyappa shrine in the morning.

The Ayyappa Temple will remain close for two days following culmination of the 41-day Mandalam festival on December 27. The temple will reopen on December 30 afternoon for the Makaravilakku festival that begins the next day.

The Makaravilakku will be celebrated on January 15. The temple will be closed on January 20 morning, marking the culmination of this year’s Makaravilakku festival, after the customary exclusive holy darshan by the royal representative from Pandalam Palace.