Sabarimala: Thousands of devotees of Lord Ayyappa have arrived at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district to witness the Makaravilakku, the auspicious ritualistic lighting, on the hillock of Ponnambalamedu on Wednesday evening.
All arrangements have been made at Sannidhanam and nearby areas for the annual Makaravilakku festival which coincides with the sighting of Makara Jyothi, Cyrus star, on the first day in the month of Makaram -- the sixth in the traditional Malayalam calendar.
The day is marked as Makara Sankranti across India. It comes on the first day of Sun's transition (sankraman) into the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn) on its celestial path.
A Makara Sankrama puja and abhishekam (ritualistic ablution of the deity) would be held at the temple at 2.09 am on Wednesday. Around 6.30 pm, the deity Ayyappa Swamy would be adorned with the sacred ornaments (Thiruvabharanam) and a deeparadhana (worship with light) would be held.
Crowd management is one of the biggest challenges faced by the security personnel. Another problem is whether the mist would hide the Makaravilakku, which is lit thrice, from view.
If the weather is favourable, devotees can witness Makara Jyothi from Sannidhanam and various spots nearby.
Temple under high security
In view of the continuing heavy rush, more personnel of police, NDRF and Rapid Response Force have been deployed in and around the shrine for crowd management and to ensure the safety of devotees, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the hill temple, said here.
"The rush of devotees has increased considerably since Sunday. So, 200 more police personnel of various ranks have been deployed in and around the shrine exclusively for crowd management," a TDB statement said.
Over 1,400 police personnel including 15 DySPs and 36 Circle Inspectors are on duty at Sannidhanam, the temple complex, alone.
A 70-member bomb squad and a 20-member telecommunication wing were also on alert at the shrine complex, the release said.
Police, NDRF, Rapid Response Team and the Fire Force personnel would jointly monitor and manage the devotees who climb down the holy hills in heavy numbers after the Makaravilakku darshan, it added.
Meanwhile, the shrine authorities here said a team, led by temple executive officer, would receive the procession carrying 'thiruvabharanam", the sacred ornaments to be adored by Lord Ayyappa, on Wednesday evening at Saramkuthi, a pilgrim spot on the way to the shrine.
The jewels are being brought from the Pandalam palace, where, according to legend, Lord Ayyappa had spent his childhood.
Later, the sacred jewel box would be handed over to the team comprising state Devaswom Minister, TDB president and special commissioner, they said.
The holy jewels would be adorned on Lord Ayyappa and the customary 'maaha deeparadhana' would be held at the shrine in the evening, they added.
The hill shrine, which draws devotees from various parts of the country, had witnessed unprecedented protests by right wing outfits and BJP workers last year after the CPI(M) led LDF government decided to implement the September 28, 2018 Supreme Court order lifting the traditional bar on women and girls in menstrual age from offering prayers.
However, this year in the backdrop of the top court's decision to refer a batch of review petitions against its earlier verdict to a larger bench, the state government had said those women desirous of visiting the hill temple should get a "court order" and it would not encourage activism
Main spots for viewing Makara Jyothi
* Thirumuttam, Melpallam
* Malikapuram, plain area before the new Annadana Mandapam
* Manimandapam, Malikapuram temple courtyard
* Front portion of the Malikapuram Navagraha Temple
* From the building housing the washroom, adjacent to Annadana Mandapam, till the area with the incinerator
* The premises of Pandithavalam donor house
* The premises of Devaswom Administrative Block
* The premises of Sabari Guest House
* Plain area in front of the Sopanam building opposite to the PWD office complex
* Area opposite to BSNL till the forest department's wall
* One side of the road that leads to Kunnar dam
* Open area between Panditavalam police inspection centre and Manguda Ayyappa building
* Forest region behind the washroom near to the Panditavalam watch tower
* Cleared piece of grassland between the rear end of the Panditavalam pilgrim shelter and Darshana complex
* Courtyard of Darshana complex at Panditavalam
* Either side of the road from Panditavalam water reservoir till Urakuzhi
* Area at the back of the KSEB office
* Area behind the Forest IB
* Forest office premises
Along the Pamba-Sannidhanam route
* Sharamkuthi helipad
* Near to Pamba guard room at the Periyar tiger reserve
* Parunthumpara mount
* Angamuzhi Panjipara Malanada
* Valiyanavattom, Cheriyanavattom along the Azhutha path
How to reach the viewpoints
* To reach Pullumedu: From Sannidhanam, head to Panditavalam and Urakuzhi. Then an 8km trek to reach Pullumedu
* To reach Parunthumpara: Turn towards Parunthumpara from the Old Pambannar-Kallar junction along the Kottayam-Kumily (KK) road
* To reach Panchalimedu: Take the Kottayam-Kumily Road. Turn at the Murinjapuzha between Kuttikanam and Peruvanthanam
* To reach Nellimala: A 2-km trek from Pampavalley, Angel Valley and Kanamala to reach Nellimala
* To reach Panjipara Malanada: A 4-km trek from Angamoozhi town.
What not to do
* Do not climb atop buildings
* Avoid slippery slopes and standing on the edge of gorges
* Do not climb trees and electric transformers
* District Collector has barred pilgrims from assembling at the Pamba hilltop as there are chances of landslide at the parking ground.