Pathanamthitta: Braving inclement weather conditions and COVID situation, hundreds of devotees on Tuesday trekked the holy Sabarimala to offer prayers at the famed Lord Ayyappa Temple here, marking the beginning of the two-month-long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season.
As 'melsanthi' (chief priest) N Parameswaran Namboothiri lit the traditional lamp in the sanctum sanctorum after opening the temple portals early this morning, the devotees were allowed to trek the hills from the foothills.
Like the previous year, the devotees were being permitted through a virtual queue system this time also as part of efforts to regulate the flow of pilgrims in view of the pandemic and heavy rains.
Though the "Sannidhanam", the temple complex used to witness a sea of devotees on the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrichikam, comparatively less number of devotees could be spotted this morning.
Authorities have decided to limit the number of pilgrims to the hill-top shrine in the next three or four days due to heavy rains.
The 'pampa snanam", the ritualistic bathing in the river Pampa also would not be allowed this year as its water levels were dangerously high, temple authorities added.
The sanctum sanctorum of the temple was opened on Monday evening in the presence of Tantri (head priest) Kandararu Mahesh Mohanararu by outgoing priest V K Jayaraj Potti.
The government has decided to allow only 30,000 devotees per day this season to have darshan through a virtual queue system after considering the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the government sources said,.
The pilgrimage would be held strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocol with authorities insisting that two doses of the Covid vaccination certificate or RT-PCR negative certificate taken within 72 hours is mandatory for visiting the hill shrine, they added.
The 41-day Mandala pooja festival concludes on December 26.
The temple would be opened again on December 30 for the second leg of the pilgrimage, the Makaravilakku festivities.
After the Makaravilakku festival on January 14, 2022, the hill temple would be closed on January 20....