The hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa here opened on Sunday evening for the annual two-month long Mandala-Makaravillakku season, adhering to strict COVID-19 protocol. Devotees would be allowed inside the temple only from Monday morning, temple sources said.
No special pujas were held on Sunday. Melshanti AK Sudheer Namboothiri opened the doors of the sanctum sanctorum and lit the lamps at 5 pm in the presence of Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru, heralding the start of the 62-day long pilgrim season.
The newly elected melsanthi V K Jayaraj Potti and Malikkapuram Melsanthi M N Raj Kumar, were the first to climb the holy 18 steps and offer prayers. They took charge this evening.
Each day, only 1,000 pilgrims, who have booked through the virtual queue system, would be allowed to offer prayers. They have to carry COVID-19 negative certificate taken 48 hours before they reach Nilackkal and Pamba, base camps.
Covid-19 kiosks will be opened at the base camps for testing. The pilgrims will not be allowed to stay at the temple premises.
According to Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the hill shrine, about 85,000 devotees would be offering prayers during this pilgrim season. During saturdays and sundays, 2000 people would be allowed darshan.
The health department has also made arrangements for antigen tests in various centres including all bus stands and railway stations at Thiruvananthapuram, Tiruvalla,Chengannur and Kottayam, where pilgrims arrive to proceed to the Ayyappa temple. As per covid protocol, those in the 10-60 age group will only be allowed to offer prayers at the shrine, where lakhs of devotees visit each year during thepilgrims season.
The pilgrims can trek only through Swami Ayyappan road. Doctors, including specialists, will be posted on a rotation basis for seven days each while all other staff will be posted on a rotation basis for 15 days from November 15 to January 19, next year.