Coronavirus | Pandemic fears return to haunt Sabarimala

Uncertain times: Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru opens the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple on Wednesday ahead of the Makaravilakku pilgrimage season that will begin on Thursday.  

With just hours left for the second phase of the annual pilgrim season at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple to begin, the diagnosis of 37 COVID-19 positive cases, including two priests, at Sannidhanam, has once again cast a shadow over the hill shrine.

According to the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), head priest (Melsanthi) V.K. Jayaraj Potti and six of his assistants have been sent to quarantine in view of their close interaction with three persons who tested positive recently.

A decision to test the Melsanthi and other priests was taken after one of the priests at the Sannidhanam exhibited symptoms.

Impact on season

“A couple of junior priests and a person who used to cook for him tested positive during a rapid test drive at the Sannidhanam. Hence the Melsanthi and assistants have been asked to remain in quarantine. The pilgrimage will continue as scheduled,” said a TDB spokesperson.

The finding, however, has put the Health and Revenue authorities in a dilemma over whether to declare the pilgrimage zone a containment area.

“Such a declaration is important when viewed from the public health perspective. We have already received a recommendation to this effect. If implemented, it will have a considerable impact on the pilgrimage,” said a Health Department official.

The risk involved

The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is an enclosed space and one infected priest may lead to a wider outbreak and put the season in jeopardy. “The Sopanam of the temple, where only priests on duty and the temple manager are permitted to enter, was already converted into a bio-secure bubble. The priests were made to follow the COVID-19 protocol strictly. How they contracted the virus is yet to be ascertained,” he added.

Meanwhile, TDB officials sought to allay concerns over the pilgrim season and said the board’s manual included provisions for performing the rituals even in the absence of the Melsanthi. They attributed the pandemic’s spread among the staff to the sharing of common facilities, including toilets and mess hall.

‘No need for declaration’

“Just over 75,000 devotees visited the temple in the first phase of the season that ended on December 26. The situation has been well under control. The devotees are not permitted to spend more than a few hours at the Sannidhanam and have been barred from having close interaction with the employees. Hence, there is no need to declare the area a containment zone,” TDB president N. Vasu said.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 11:47:15 PM |

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