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Sabarimala Temple to open for devotees on Oct 16 after lockdown to curb Covid-19

After lockdown, the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala is preparing to open for the first time on October 16 for a five-day monthly pooja, the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) which runs the hill shrine said. There will be strict restrictions for pilgrims– only registered devotees will be allowed and a maximum of 250 of them will be permitted in a single day.

All pilgrims will have to carry Covid-19 negative certificates obtained 48 hours before reaching Pambha, the base camp, and those arriving without certificates will have to undergo a test and wait for its results, said the TDB adding virtual queue registration will begin from Saturday night. Bathing in Pamba River will not be allowed and nobody will be permitted to stay on the hilltop. The TDB has also set up a small hospital for those who test positive for the viral infection.

Confusion still persists on masks with doctors having warned that a mask will cause trouble for devotees when they scale steep heights and it may disturb their breathing process. From base camp Pambha, devotees will have to trek five km to reach the hilltop and some of the stretches are really steep. Despite setting up oxygen parlours every year, many pilgrims die due to heart failure. Last year, 30 pilgrims died due to heart-related ailments. The TDB said the High Court-appointed body will be approached to get more clarity on masks.

The temple was closed for devotees on March 18, a week before the first lockdown was put into place. In June there were plans to open the shrine but it was deferred after many organizations and the tantri (chief priest) of the temple opposed it. One of the richest temples in the country, Sabarimala revenue is usually used to fund smaller temples and for salaries of employees of the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB). The closure of the temple had invited enough trouble for TDB and its 3,500-odd employees.

“We will closely monitor the situation. Based on the five-day opening we will take a decision on the annual pilgrimage season starting in November. We will raise the number of pilgrims based on the feedback we get now,” TDB chairman N Vasu said.

During the last pilgrimage season– October 2019 to January 2020– the aggregate revenue of the temple was Rs 263. 57 crore. Aravana payasam– a black kheer made of rice, jaggery, ghee and cardamom– forms 60 per cent of the temple revenue.

Pilgrims from five South Indian states throng the temple and it is often considered the largest seasonal pilgrimage after Mecca. At the peak of the season, at least 5 to 8 lakh people visit the shrine on a day. The temple had witnessed large-scale unrest in 2018 after the Supreme Court lifted the age-old tradition of barring women in the reproductive age. A larger bench of the court is hearing the issue now.

By Hindustan Times

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