Various Hindu organisations have said the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) should explore the possibility of extending the annual pilgrimage season at Sabarimala by one month owing to the increasing influx of pilgrims to the forest shrine.

Hindu Aikyavedi general secretary Kummanam Rajashekharan and the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sanghom national vice-president D. Vijayakumar told TheHindu that Sabarimala was witnessing a manifold increase in the number of devotees from different parts of the country every year since the last decade.

The TDB and the Kerala government have failed to ensure basic facilities at the pilgrim centre, leaving pilgrims at the receiving end.

Mr. Rajashekharan, who is also the general secretary of the Sabarimala Ayyappa Samajom, alleged that pilgrims coming from distant places, after observing strict penance, were put to untold hardship at Sabarimala and on the main trunk road leading to Pampa due to ineffective crowd management system adopted by the police.

“Blocking the pilgrims at Pampa or on the roads in the forests would be of little help in addressing the real problem. The temple authorities as well as the police should try to understand the actual problems facing the pilgrim centre before introducing reforms or crowd management schemes,” he said.

Both he and Mr. Vijayakumar were of the opinion that extending the prevailing 68-day pilgrimage season by one more month would help to check overcrowding of pilgrims during the period.

However, they said that a decision in this regard should be taken only after reaching a consensus through creative discussions with religious scholars, Sabarimala Tantris, Pandalam Palace and various other devotees' organisations.

‘No widening steps'

Both leaders strongly opposed the proposal to widen the holy 18 steps (pathinettampady), saying it would hurt devotees' sentiments.

Mr. Rajashekharan said the lack of co-ordination among various government departments, agencies, the TDB and other stakeholders was a major problem facing Sabarimala during the annual pilgrim season. He said a high-power committee with statutory powers should be present at Sabarimala through out the pilgrim season to monitor the functioning of various agencies and departments. He said the government should also explore the possibility of engaging Central agencies for crowd management.