The Sabarimala temple in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district opened to devotees early on Saturday after nearly seven months due to the coronavirus pandemic as worshippers wore masks and carried certificate that showed they did not have Covid-19. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which runs the hill shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, opened the temple on Friday for a five-day monthly pooja.
The temple, one of the richest in the country, was closed for devotees on March 18, days before the first national lockdown was enforced. There were plans to reopen in June but many organisations and tantri (chief priest) of the temple were against it.
The temple trust has said it will allow pilgrims to offer prayers from Saturday, the first day of Malayalam month of Thulam, till October 21. As many as 246 devotees, only 250 people will be allowed inside the temple in a day, have booked through the virtual queue system for darshan on Saturday. TDB has said all pilgrims will have to carry Covid-19 negative certificates obtained just 48 hours before reaching Pambha.
Devotees can forego masks while trekking with experts warning that masks cause breathing problems for pilgrims scaling heights. Pilgrims below 10 and above 60 years of age are still not allowed on the trek and will have to wait for the Covid-19 situation to improve, said the TDB. The pilgrims will not be allowed to stay at Sannidhanam, Nilackkal or Pamba due to the pandemic.
Special showers have been set up as customary bathing at Pamba river will not be allowed this time. Devotees will be allowed to enter through the Vadasserikara and Erumeli routes and all other forest routes will be sealed, TDB has said.
The shrine will be closed after ‘Hari Varasanam’ rendition on October 21. Devotees from five south Indian states throng the temple and 500,000-800,000 visit the shrine on a day during peak season.