With just a day left for the start of the annual pilgrimage to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa, the sacred grove of Sabarimala is buzzing with hectic preparations for the smooth conduct of the two-month long annual spiritual event.
Travancore Devaswom Board as well as various government departments and other agencies are busy making the last-minute arrangements for the Mandalam-Makaravilakku festival.
As many as double the population of the State from different parts of the country and abroad visit the holy hillock situated in the buffer zone of the Periyar Tiger Reserve during the period.
Traders have pitched temporary sheds to open refreshment stalls and other make-shift shops at the pilgrims’ main base camp at Nilackal, Pampa and at select points along the Pampa-Sannidhanam trekking path.
Resting place for pilgrims
TDB has prepared a sprawling 20,000 sq ft area facing the Maramath complex at the Sannidhanam for the pilgrims to use as their resting place during the pilgrim season. The well-designed resting place could accommodate not less than 25,000 people for the Makarajyoti darshan too, according to K.Ravikumar, TDB Chief Engineer.
Roofing work along the pilgrims’ path from Neelimala to Appachimedu has almost been completed. The queue complexes at Sabaripeedhom and Saramkuthi too have been completed.
Though the High Power Committee had envisaged the completion of the additional vehicle parking lots at the Nilackal base camp before the beginning of the pilgrim season, the launching of the project was delayed due to bad weather, once again leaving the pilgrims at the receiving end.
This year too, the pilgrims have to satisfy with the vehicle parking space that they had availed during the previous pilgrim season at Nilackal.
N.Vasu, Devaswom Commissioner, told The Hindu that two more vehicle parking lots have been prepared at Nilackal to meet the increasing demand for the same this year.
Mr Ravikumar said the repair and maintenance of various TDB buildings at Sabarimala as well as the base camps of Nilackal, Erumely and Pandalam, have been completed.
According to TDB sources, as many as 3500 toilets will be made available at the Sannidhanam, Pampa and Nilackal
Widening work on the Swami Ayyappan Road as well as the Appachimedu-Neelimala stretch of the trekking path has also been completed.
Mr Ravikumar said the repair and maintenance of the three incinerators each at Pampa and Sannidhanam and two at Nilackal, besides that of the sewage treatment plant at Cehriyanavattom, too was over so as to commence their operation right from the first of the pilgrim season itself.
The lighting work by the Kerala State Electricity Board workers is fast progressing at Nilackal, Pampa, Sannidhanam and on the trekking path.
The Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sanghom stretcher service headed by Mr Thanchavur Damodaran is gearing up to start operations from its main camp at the Sannidhanam.
The Executive Officer, K.Sankaranarayana Pillai, told The Hindu that the buffer stock of Aravana has crossed 32 lakh tins as on Tuesday. The TDB is planning to keep a buffer stock of 35 lakh cans of Aravana by the time the temple opens for the pilgrim season on Thursday afternoon.
Public Works Department too has completed the repair and maintenance of the buildings that houses various Government hospitals at Sabarimala and Pampa.
Temple to be opened on Thursday
The Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala will be opened on Thursday afternoon for the two-month long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season that begins on Friday the first day in the Malayalam month of Vrischikom.
Pilgrims started reaching the base camps of Pampa and Nilackal on Wednesday from different parts of the country. The head priest (Melsanthi), N.Balamurali, accompanied by the chief priest (Tantri), Kandararu Rajeevararu, will open the sanctum sanctorum at 5.30 pm.
The Melsanthi will light the sacred fire place (Aazhi) before the holy 18-steps at the Lower Tirumuttom with the fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum.
The installation of the new Melsanthi at the Ayyappa Temple and at the Malikappuram Devi Temple will be held at the temple sopanam of the respective temples on Thursday evening.
N.Damodaran Potti, 47, of Vaikom in Kottayam district and A.N.Unnikrishnan Namboodiri, 45, of Karikkode Illom at Karamala in Koothattukulam will be the new head priests at the Ayyappa Temple and the Malikappuram Devi Temple respectively fo the next one year period beginning from Friday.
The Tantri, assisted by the outgoing Melsanthi, will perform the Kalasabhishekom of the new head priests by pouring holy water (kalasom) over them at a ritualistic ceremony to be held at the respective temple sopanam.
The outgoing Melsanthi will close the sanctum sanctorum and hand over the keys to the devaswom administrative officer, before climbing down the holy 18-steps on his return from Sabarimala, later, in the evening.
41-day Mandalam season
The 41-day Mandalam pilgrimage to Sabarimala will commence from Friday. The new head priest would open the sanctum sanctorum and perform Ashtabhishekom immediately after the Tantri performing the Ashtadravya Maha Ganapati homom in the morning.
The auspicious Neyyabhishekom ritual at the Ayyappa Temple will begin on Friday morning.
The Mandalam pilgrimage season will come to a close with the Mandalapuja on December 26.
The temple will reopen on December 30 afternoon for the Makaravilakku festival that begins the next day.
The auspicious Makaravilakku falls on January 14, 2013.
The Ayyappa Temple will be closed after the customary exclusive darshan by the royal representative of the Pandalam Palace between 6.30 am and 7 am on January 20, according to devaswom executive officer, K.Sankaranarayana Pillai.