The annual Makaravilakku festival at Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala concluded on Sunday morning with the closure of the sanctum sanctorum immediately after the customary worship by the royal representative of the Pandalam Palace, Ashoka Varma Raja.
Melsanthi (head priest) N. Damodaran Potti opened the sanctum sanctorum to facilitate the customary worship exclusively for the royal representative at 6.30 a.m. No one else was permitted to offer prayers at the temple.
As is the custom, the Melsanthi closed the sanctum sanctorum and handed over the keys to the royal representative who, in turn, gave a purse as dakshina to the priest.
Mr. Raja descended the holy 18-steps and returned the keys to the Melsanthi, in the presence of the Devaswom Executive Officer and the Administrative Officer at Lower Tirumuttom.
The royal representative embarked on his return journey to Pandalam, escorting the Thiruvabharanam (sacred jewellery) in a ceremonial procession from the holy hillock, marking the grand finale to the Makaravilakku festival.
The royal entourage was accorded a reception at Nilackal where a group of devotees from Aranmula served them with a mid-day feast.
The Thiruvabharanam procession halted at the Laha Sathram at night.
The royal entourage will reach the Sastha temple at Perinad on Monday morning. The presiding deity at the temple will be adorned with the Thiruvabharanam prior to Utchapuja.
The ceremonial procession will proceed to Aranmula on Tuesday morning and halt there at night.
The procession will return to Pandalam on Wednesday morning, and the Devaswom authorities will return the sacred jewellery to the palace authorities for safekeeping in the strongroom there.
The Sabarimala Sanitation Society, chaired by the Pathanamthitta District Collector, launched an intensive cleaning drive at Sabarimala and Pampa on Sunday morning.
As many as 750 sanitation workers recruited by the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sanghom from Tamil Nadu were carrying out the sanitation drive at Sabarimala, Pampa, and Nilackal, District Collector V.N. Jithendran said.
The drive would be completed in the next 48 hours, he said.