Covid-19: Seven months since it closed, Sabarimala temple opens today with strict curbs

After a seven- month closure, Sabarimala temple in Kerala is opening on Friday for a five-day monthly pooja, said Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) which runs the hill shrine.

Pilgrims with Covid-free and fitness certificates will be allowed to trek to the hilltop in the afternoon from the base camp Pambha, said TDB.

Only devotees registered on the virtual queue portal will be allowed and a maximum of 250 will be permitted in a day. All pilgrims will have to carry Covid-19 negative certificates obtained just 48 hours before reaching Pambha, said the TDB.

Masks are not mandatory for trekking. Medical experts have also warned that masks cause breathing problems for pilgrims scaling heights. Pilgrims below 10 and above 60 years of age are still not allowed on the trek and will have to wait for the Covid-19 situation to improve, said the TDB. A hospital has been set up for those who test positive.

Customary bathing at Pamba river will not be allowed this time. Instead, special showers have been set up. Entry of devotees will be allowed through Vadasserikara and Erumeli routes and all other forest routes will be sealed, said TDB chairman N Vasu. Devotees will not be allowed to crowd and stay at the temple top. The shrine will be closed after ‘Hari Varasanam’ rendition on Oct 21.

The temple was closed for devotees on March 18, days before the first lockdown was enforced. There were plans to reopen in June but many organisations and tantri (chief priest) of the temple were against it. One of the richest temples in the country, Sabarimala’s revenue is used to fund smaller temples and for salaries of employees of the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB).

In the last pilgrimage season — Oct 2019 to Jan 2020 — the aggregate revenue of the temple was Rs 263. 57 crore. Aravana payasam, a black kheer made of rice, jaggery , ghee and cardamom, brings in 60% of the temple revenue. Pilgrims from five south Indian states throng the temple and in its peak season, 500,000-800,000 visit the shrine on a day.

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