Devotees queue up for hours to offer prayers

The annual 41-day Mandalam pilgrimage to Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala began on the first day in the month of Vrischikom in the Malayalam calendar on Saturday.

The sacred grove of Ayyappa situated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve had been witnessing a heavy rush since Friday afternoon with devotees from across the country climbing the Neelimala and Appachimedu hills on the traditional trekking path leading to Sabarimala Sannidhanam to offer prayers to the presiding deity when the temple opened. A large number of pilgrims had been camping at the pilgrim centre since the past two days, awaiting the opening of the temple on Friday afternoon.

The newly installed Melsanthi (head priest) P.N. Narayanan Namboodiri, accompanied by Tantri (chief priest) Kandararu Maheswararu, opened the sanctum sanctorum at 4 a.m., and the entire Sannidhanam rang with the ‘Swami Saranam’ mantra and chimes of temple bells.

Devotees had to wait in queue inside the iron barricades on the temple premises and at the Valiyanadappanthal and on the Saramkuthy path for hours together. The police diverted the pilgrims through door-framed metal detectors kept at the Valiyanadappanthal and at the two entry points on the northern side of the temple.

The rituals began with the Tantri performing the Ashtadravya Maha Ganapati Homam in the morning. Ashtabhishekom began at 5 a.m., and was followed by Neyyabhishekom, the ritualistic pouring of ghee on the Ayyappa idol, considered an important offering to the presiding deity.

The temple will remain closed for three days following the culmination of the Mandalam festival on December 26. The temple will reopen for the Makaravilakku festival on December 30 afternoon.

The Makaravilakku day falls on January 14. The temple will close on January 20 evening, marking the culmination of the Makaravilakku festival.

Virtual queue

The ADGP told The Hindu that the virtual system introduced by the State Police as part of scientific crowd management was getting a very good response from devotees from the State and outside.

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