The famous Lord Ayyappa hill shrine at Sabarimala opened on Tuesday for the three month annual ‘Mandalam-Makaravilakku’ pilgrimage season which begins from Wednesday. A large number of devotees had already reached the shrine for ‘darshan’ on the day of opening of the temple. Security in and around the temple has been tightened in view of the expected heavy rush over the coming days. More than 4.5 crore devotees offered prayers at the temple during the festival season last year. Tuesday’s programme started with outgoing head priest (melsanthi) SE Sankaran Namboodiri, accompanied by chief priest (tantri) Kandararu Rajeevararu, opening the sanctum sanctorum of the temple in Tuesday evening.
Later, TM Unnikrishnan Namboodiri of Thekumparambathu Mana at Cherpulasserry took charge as the new Sabarimala melsanthi. Manu Namboodiri of Puthumana Illom at Vazhappally was appointed the new melsanthi at the Malikappuram Devi temple. The temple rituals will begin with the ‘tantri’ performing the ‘Ashtadravya Maha Ganapati’ homam on Wednesday morning. The main ‘Neyyabhishekom’ offering to the presiding deity will begin after the ‘Ashtabhishekom’ at 3.30 am. The 41-day Mandalam festival will conclude on December 26 after Mandalapooja.
The temple will be closed after the ‘Athazhapuja’ in the evening on that day. The temple will reopen for the Makaravilakku festival on December 30 afternoon. The Makaravilakku will be celebrated on January 14. The procession carrying the sacred attire, ‘Thiruvabharanam’, will set off from the Pandalam Valiyakoickal Sastha temple on January 12. The temple will be closed on January 20 morning, marking the culmination of the annual pilgrimage season.