The Lord Ayyappa temple here, which had been witnessing a fall in pilgrim arrivals even more than a week after its opening, Monday witnessed a comparatively heavy surge of devotees, kindling hopes that the annual festival season was slowly limping back to normalcy.
According to unofficial figures, over 50,000 devotees have trekked the holy hills and offered prayers till this evening.
Pampa and Nilackal, the base camps, witnessed a heavy rush since morning and ‘valiyanadapandal’, the queue complex at the Sannidhanam, was marked by packed devotees carrying the ‘irumudikettu’, the sacred offering to the deity.
An officer of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the Lord Ayyappa shrine, said though the official figures were yet to be released, it was the most crowded day since Sabarimala opened for the Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season on November 16.
“The number of pilgrims is steadily increasing. Over 32,000 devotees offered prayers on Sunday, while the footfall was an average of 40,000-45,000 on Friday and Saturday,” the TDB official told PTI.
Sabarimala usually witnesses an inflow of 50,000-1,00,000 pilgrims each day during the two-month long pilgrim season from November to mid-January.
The official, however, admitted that local devotees are still keeping away from the shrine and a majority of the devotees coming here were from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
The hill shrine had been witnessing raging protests by devotees and right-wing groups against the government’s decision to implement the apex court verdict, permitting women of all age groups to pray at the temple.
Tension, frequent protests and restrictions imposed by police at the temple complex and surroundings had kept pilgrims away from Sabarimala.
The dip in pilgrim inflow has also affected the hundi collection and the sale of “appam” and “arvana”, the prasadams, temple sources said.