Kerala government Friday said all necessary arrangements are in place to smoothly conduct the three-month long ‘mandala pooja’ and ‘makaravilakku’ pilgrimage season at Lord Ayyappa temple in the hill shrine of Sabarimala which begins on November 15. A meeting of ministers in charge of Devaswoms from south India, to be chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, will be held here on November 8 for a final review of preparations, Minister for Devaswoms and Power Kadakampally Surendran said in the Assembly.
Nearly four crore devotees visit the shrine during the festival period. The total hundi collection last year stood at Rs 109 crore. Rejecting the opposition’s charge that the government and Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), that manages the temple, has rift over implementing the programmes, Surendran said, “There is no difference of opinion between government and TDB.”
Dismissing the allegation that the government is trying to infringe upon the powers of TDB, he said, “Whether we are believers or not, the government is committed to provide and ensure facilities for believers who visit the shrine.”
He was referring to a remark of BJP member O Rajagopal, who, raising the issue of Sabarimala pilgrimage through a calling attention motion, alleged that the CPI(M)-led LDF government “lacked interest” to beef up facilities, may be because they are “non-believers”.
On Rajagopal’s request that tribals in the region who are said to have lighted ‘makara jyothi’ in ancient times, should be handed over the right now also, Surendran said the government is examining the tribals’ demand and has not taken a final decision on the matter.
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“The present practice started 69 years ago,” he said.
According to some historians lighting the lamp atop the Ponnambalamedu hill has been an ancient tradition of tribal communities living around the hill shrine. The ritual was taken over by TDB and done with the help of forest and electricity departments now. Giving details of the facilities, Surendran said nearly 40 lakh tins of ‘Aravana’, the main prasadam at the temple, will be ready on the day of opening of the shire. Special arrangements have been made to reduce the ‘Ghee’ abishekam, one of the main rituals of Ayyapa pilgrims, he said.
On providing drinking water, he said more than 100 kiosks for drinking water will be made available on the hill pathway from Pamab to Sanidhanam. Health Centres at the hill-shrine have been equipped with equipment to meet emergency situation. According to the custom, the shrine opens only for five days every month of the Malayalam calendar, besides the November to January ‘mandala pooja’ and ‘makaravilakku’ pilgrimage season.