Only 683 devotees trekked up to Sannidhanam till 2 p.m. on Day 1
On Monday, the day on which the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrim season began, the premises of the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple wore a near-deserted look.
As per estimates, 683 devotees trekked up the hill from Pampa to Sannidhanam till 2 p.m. on Monday. Pilgrims were allowed to enter Pampa from the early hours of the day and the entry was closed at Nilackal base camp by 7 p.m.
The Pampa-Triveni, which becomes a beehive of activities during the annual season, was relatively silent throughout the day. Barring the officials on duty, only a handful of pilgrims could be spotted there at any given point of time. Considering the limited number of pilgrims, the facilities arranged for them too have been scaled down to a considerable extent.
“It has been a very good beginning. The devotees were happy as they had adequate time to complete the darshan,” said M. Manoj, Sabarimala Special Commissioner and District Judge. The daily limit of 1,000 devotees, according to him, is only a fraction of what the temple used to receive on any normal day of the pilgrimage and hence it has been so convenient for the authorities to manage the crowd amidst the pandemic.
“Considering that about 60 pilgrims would climb the holy steps every minute on a day of moderate rush, 1,000 devotees are what the temple used to receive every 15-20 minutes,” he said.
Besides the implementation of the COVID-19 protocols, the authorities have put the Sopanam enclosure of the Ayyappa temple in a bio-secure bubble, where only the priests on duty and the temple manager are permitted to enter. “All persons, including the VIP guests, will have to stand outside this spot,” officials said.
Three test positive
Meanwhile, three more persons, including a police officer on duty, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 at Sabarimala.
According to health officials, those tested positive on the day are a Tamil Nadu native who was employed with the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham, a pilgrim from Tamil Nadu and a policeman on duty.
“The first two persons, a 29-year-old Kancheepuram native and a 39- year-old Thiruvannamalai native, tested positive during an antigen test at Nilackal and shifted to a COVID-19 first-line treatment centre,” said an official.
“The police officer had been permitted entry to Sannidhanam as he had tested negative in an antigen test. But as his RT-PCR test results returned positive, he was immediately brought down on an ambulance stationed at Sannidhanam,” he added.
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