Crowds flock to the Sabarimala Temple as the annual 41-day pilgrimage season begins

Devaswom Minister had said that steps have been taken to ensure a safe and smooth pilgrimage for all devotees.

BySouth First Desk

Published Nov 17, 2023 | 1:36 PMUpdatedNov 17, 2023 | 1:36 PM


The 41-day pilgrimage season of one of the most visited temples in South India, the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, began on Friday, 17 November, the first day of the auspicious Malayalam month of Vrichikam.

Considering the heavy crowd of more than 50,000 people who booked their pilgrimage, the Srikovil (sanctum sanctorum) was opened for the devotees at 3 am on Friday.

Kerala Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishna and Travancore Devaswom Board president PS Prashanth were also in attendance.

The sanctum sanctorum was opened under the aegis of temple ‘tantri‘ (head priest) Mahesh Mohanaru, while ‘melshanthi‘ (chief priest) K Jayaraman Namboothiri led the rituals on Thursday evening.

Related: Drones and CCTVs to ensure a safe and smooth Sabarimala pilgrimage

Premises reverberated with chants

The ‘sannidhanam‘, the temple complex, and it’s premises reverberated with chants of ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa‘ by devotees who trekked for hours through the traditional forest path from the base camp at Pampa to reach the hill shrine.

New ‘melshanthies‘ of the Sabarimala and Malikappuram temples — PN Mahesh and PG Murali, respectively — offered prayers at the shrines on Thursday ahead of assuming charge.

Even before the shrine’s opening for the beginning of the Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage, Sabarimala and its premises already witnessed a heavy rush of devotees on Thursday evening, temple sources said.

The TDB president later said all arrangements have been completed at ‘Sannidhanam’ and Pampa to receive devotees ahead of the pilgrimage season. Basic amenities and infrastructure facilities have been provided to ensure smooth darshan, he added.

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Arrangements made

Earlier in the week, Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan had said that steps, including the use of advanced technologies, have been taken to ensure a safe and smooth pilgrimage for all devotees.

A dynamic queue-control system was introduced this season to manage crowding at ‘sannidhanam’ and a video wall would be set up at Nilakkal, Pampa, and at the temple complex to inform devotees about the rush, he said.

He also made it clear that emergency health centres have been set up at 15 places on the route between Pampa and ‘sannidhanam’.

Related: Ammini, woman who entered Sabarimala, leaves Kerala for good

Women entry in Sabarimala

The pilgrimage season started amidst no follow-up on the 28 September, 2018, order of the Supreme Court which ruled that women of all ages could enter the temple of Sabarimala.

The order allowed women of menstruating age — defined as those between 10 and 50 — to enter the temple dedicated to the celibate god, Lord Ayyappa.

Several protests were organised against the court order and the devotees, including right wing activists, denied entry to women who attempted to enter the temple.

On 14 November, 2019, the Supreme Court Constitution Bench referred the review petitions as well as the writ petitions to a larger bench of at least seven judges, to be constituted by the Chief Justice of India.

The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi (now retired), in a 3:2 majority verdict, had referred the pleas seeking a review of its historic 2018 judgment to a seven-judge bench, along with other contentious issues of alleged discrimination against Muslim and Parsi women.

On 13 December, 2019, the Supreme Court declined to pass any order on the pleas of two women activists seeking a direction to the Kerala government to ensure safe entry of women in the Sabarimala temple under police protection.

The top court said the issue was “very emotive” and it did not want the situation to become “explosive”.

A bench, headed by then-Chief Justice SA Bobde (now retired), said the “balance of convenience” required that no orders as the issue had already been referred to a seven-judge bench.

The bench, also comprising Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant, said though there was no stay on 28 September, 2018 judgment allowing entry of women of all ages into the shrine, “it is equally true that it is not final”.

The matter has not been heard since by the apex court.

(With PTI inputs)