Kerala: Sabarimala temple reopens for pilgrims today amid COVID-19 restrictions
The Sabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala's Pathanamthitta reopened for pilgrims Saturday morning for the first time after the devastating second COVID-19 wave hit India. Neyyabhishekam—the first ritual performed by pilgrims after reaching the temple that involves offering ghee to Lord Ayyappa—began at 7:00am Saturday. The temple will remain open from July 17-21 for conducting monthly rituals in the Malayalam month of Karkadakam.
Following Neyyabhishekam, the Kalashabhishekam ritual is scheduled to be performed at 11:00am and later Padipooja will be conducted at 7:00pm. To note, the Sabarimala temple—which remained inaccessible to pilgrims for several months owing to COVID-19-related restrictions—was opened at 5:00pm Friday by head priest VK Jayaraj Potti in Tantri Kandaru Mahesh Mohanaru's presence. It will close once the monthly rituals conclude on July 21.
The Sabarimala temple officials have been directed to ensure COVID-19-appropriate behavior inside the temple premises as per the safety norms issued by the Centre and the state government, including the mandatory use of face masks, sanitizers, and maintaining proper social distance. Moreover, only 5,000 devotees—who have made bookings through the virtual queue system—will be allowed to enter the temple every day.
Only those devotees who received both COVID-19 vaccine doses will be allowed; they must provide complete vaccination certificates. Pilgrims who haven't taken both doses must furnish negative RT-PCR reports issued within 48 hours. RT-PCR tests will be conducted at Nilakkal for those who didn't get tested and pilgrims whose certificates expired. Devotees testing positive will be taken to Perunadu Covid First Line Treatment Center.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB)—Kerala's top temple body that manages over 1,200 temples, including the Sabarimala temple—ensured that devotees weren't allowed into shrines/temples under its management during the COVID-19-induced lockdown. However, even without devotees, daily rituals were performed at these temples without fail, said authorities.
While COVID-19 cases at the national level are slowly declining, the situation in Kerala is worrisome as the state's contribution the country's overall caseload is on the rise. Kerala logged 13,750 fresh cases and 130 new deaths Friday, pushing the state's total case tally to 31,30,833 and fatalities to 15,155. Earlier on Wednesday, it recorded 15,637 new cases—its highest single-day spike in a month.