The serene sacred grove of Sabarimala once again started reverberating with the Ayyappa Sarana mantra with the beginning of the annual pilgrimage season on Friday.

Hundreds of devotees coming from different parts of the State as well as other parts of South India undertook their pilgrimage to the forest shrine on Friday the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrischikom.

Though there was an incessant flow of pilgrims to the holy hillock right from the wee hours, the queue for holy darshan at the Ayyappa shrine was found fine-tuned. Thanks to the systematic arrangements made for the same by the Travancore Devaswom Board as well as the police, facilitating a smooth darshan for the pilgrims on the first of the pilgrim season.

The 47-year old new head priest (Melsanthi), N.Damodaran Potti from Vaikom opened the sanctum sanctorum at 4 am amidst the chanting of Ayyappa Saranam mantra by the scores of devotees waiting for holy darshan.

The entire atmosphere was charged with devotion and the temple rituals began with the chief priest (Tantri), Kandararu Rajeevararu, performing the Ashtadravya Maha Ganapathi homom in the morning followed by Ashtabhishekom and Ushapuja.

There was a long line of devotees waiting for the auspicious Neyyabhishekom, pouring of ghee collected from the ghee-filled coconuts brought by devotees in their sacred bundle (Irumudikkettu) as a main offering to the deity. The Neyyabhishekom ritual came to a close by 11.30 am.

Kalabhabhishekom

A Kalabhabhishekom was performed at the Ayyappa temple prior to the Utchapuja. The Tantri, assisted by the Melsanthi, performed the Brahmakalasapuja and the golden urn carrying the sandal paste (kalabbhom) for Abhishekom was taken out in a ceremonial procession to the sanctum sanctorum with the accompaniments of the sacred Marappai and other traditional temple percussion.

The kalabhom offered to the deity was distributed as prasadom among the devotees, later.

M.P.GovindanNair, TDB president; Subhash Vasu, member; P.R.Bhaskaran, Devaswom Ombudsman appointed by the High Court; K.Babu, Special Commissioner appointed by the Court; N.Vasu, Devaswom Commissioner; P.Chandrashekharan, Additional Director General of Police, and V.N.Jithendran, District Collector, were among those who offered prayers at the Ayyappa Temple in the morning.

The temple will close with the culmination of the 41-day day Mandalam pilgrim season on December 26 and reopen for the Makaravilakkku festival on December 30 afternoon.

The Petta-thullal ceremony at Erumely as part of the Makaravilakku festival will be held on January 11, 2013, and the ceremonial procession carrying the sacred jewellery, Thiruvabharanam, for the Makaravilakku celebrations at Sabarimala will set off from Pandalam on January 12.

The Makaravilakku will be celebrated on January 14 and the temple will be closed after facilitating the customary holy darshan exclusively for the royal representative of the Pandalam Palace on January 20 morning.

Aravana counters

The Travancore Devaswom Board will explore the feasibility and possibility of opening additional Appam-Aravana distribution counters at Pampa and Marakkoottom on the trekking path with a view to ease human pressure at the holy hillock, especially during the rush days of the pilgrim season, said M.P.Govindan Nair, new board president.

Talking to The Hindu at the Devaswom Guest House here on Friday, Mr Nair said streamlining the flow of pilgrims to the Sannidhanam as well as the Ayyappa Temple precincts is a must to ensure a safe and smooth holy darshan for each pilgrim.

Pilgirms camping at the Sannidhanam in their long wait for purchasing Aravana and Appam before the prasadom complex too contribute much to the overcrowding of people at the holy hillock. He said TDB would seriously think about opening the proposed prasadom counters at Pampa and Marakkoottom in this backdrop.

Providing maximum possible pilgrim amenity with minimum or least inconvenience to the devotees, besides facilitating a safe and smooth holy darshan will be main agenda of the TDB, says he.

To move Centre

Mr Nair said the TDB would approach the Union Government seeking implementation of various major recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Buta Singh in terms of Sabarimala development.

He said the PAC had recommended exclusion of Sabarimala and surrounding areas from the Periyar Tiger Reserve so that the temple administration could make better arrangements for the pilgrimage in an eco-friendly manner itself.

Being the custodian and administrator of the forest shrine, the TDB is also bound to protect the forests and to initiate every development project at Sabarimala with out disturbing the serenity of the sacred grove.

Darshan facility for VIPs

Mr Subhash Vasu, TDB member, told The Hindu that overcrowding of the temple sopanam, especially inside the special enclosure meant for VIPs, has been causing much inconvenience to the ordinary pilgrims who reach before the sanctum for the holy darshan after waiting hours together in the long-winding queues.

Mr Vasu said the board was seriously considering to issue a slip to the VIPs as well as physically challenged pilgrims for entry into the special enclosure in an earnest effort to address this problem.

Employees’ welfare

He said the board would also take special care in the welfare of its employees who are the backbone of the organisation. He said the employees too should take their duty as worship to God, always keeping in mind the stability of the organisation.

Arrangements in place

Mr Govindan Nair said he was happy with the arrangements in place at Sabarimala for the smooth conduct of the pilgrim season.

Sabarimala is clean and waste-free now, thanks to the pre-season cleaning drive carried out by the 4000-strong volunteers of the Mata Amrithanandamayi Math, he added. The sanitation workers of the Sabarimala Sanitation Society too are doing a good job in keeping the pilgrim centre clean.

Both the TDB chief and member were of the opinion that the decision not to permit pack-donkeys for good transportation between Pampa and Sannidhanam was another positive aspect of the ongoing pilgrim season. Keeping pack donkeys away from Sabarimala was a most appropriate decision in the larger interests of keeping the pilgrim centre clean, hygienic and healthy, they added.

They said development of various base camps of the pilgrims should be given priority so as to minimise the human pressure at the Sannidhanam and Pampa.