Heavy rush of pilgrims continues at Lord Ayyappa temple

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Sabarimala: Heavy rush of devotees is continuing at the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala with long queues of pilgrims being seen since early this morning.

Over 70,000 devotees have offered prayers at the hill shrine since the temple opened on 16 November evening for the two-month long Mandala-Makkarvilakku puja, police said.

With the temple witnessing heavy rush, devotees have complained that many of the facilities are inadequate.

However, unlike last year when the temple complex had witnessed violent protests after the state government decided to implement the 28 September verdict of the Supreme Court and police had imposed restrictions, devotees are a happy lot this year as there are no restrictions.

A devotee said he was happy that it is a peaceful atmosphere here and there were no restrictions for pilgrims.

On Sunday, heavy rains had lashed the temple complex drenching devotees standing patiently in the queues.

Chief priest A K Sudheer Namboothiri opened the sanctum sanctorum at 3 a.m and performed special pujas including ‘Neyyabhishekam’ among others.

The Ayyappa shrine was opened for the annual pilgrim season on Saturday, days after the Supreme Court decided to refer to a larger bench re-examination of religious issues including those arising out of its 2018 verdict lifting a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age visiting the hilltop shrine.

Though the apex court did not stay its earlier order allowing entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple, at least 10 women, part of a 30-member group from Andhra Pradesh were sent back from nearby Pamba on Saturday as they were found to be in the age group of 10-50 years.

The Kerala government, which had provided protection to some women devotees who visited the temple last year, has this time made it clear that it would not encourage women who want to enter the shrine for publicity.

Kerala Law Minister A K Balan on Sunday said there was a “de facto” stay of the 28 September, 2018 apex court order allowing women of all ages to enter Sabarimala temple and the State government could act only on the basis of the court’s verdict.

The unprecedented floods of August last year which had damaged various facilities and the frenzied protests by right outfits and BJP workers had resulted in a severe fall in footfalls of pilgrims and had led to dip in temple revenue.