The Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala witnessed heavy rush of devotees on Sunday on the second day of the annual two-month-long Mandala-Makaravilakku puja pilgrimage season which began on November 16.
Thousands offered prayers after the chief priest A K Sudheer Namboothiri opened the sanctum sanctorum of the temple at 3 am and performed special poojas including 'Neyyabhishekam' and 'Maha Ganapathi homam' (offerings to Lord Ganesha) among others.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran, Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) President N Vasu, TDB members N Vijayakumar and K S Ravi and Devaswom Commissioner M Harshan among others were present when the temple was opened on the auspicious day, the first day of Malayalam month 'Vrischikom'.
During this pilgrimage season, the temple will be open till December 27 for the Mandalapooja after which it will be closed for three days.
The shrine will reopen on December 30 for the Makaravilakku festival after which it will close on January 20.
The Devaswom minister has called a high-level meeting of officials of all departments at the Sannidhanam guest house on Sunday.
The first batch of police personnel had taken charge of the security on Saturday.
Ten Deputy Superintendents of Police (DySPs), 30 inspectors, 120 Sub-Inspectors (SI)/ASIs, and 1,400 Head Constables/Constables have been appointed at the Sannidhanam for the security of the devotees, apart from the 10 police officials from Andhra, 135 men from Rapid Action Force (RAF) and 45-member National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
The state and temple precincts had witnessed protests by right wing outfits and Bharatiya Janata Party workers last year after the Left Democratic Front government decided to implement the Supreme Court verdict of September 28 allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine.
The five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had, on November 14, in a 3:2 verdict decided to refer the issue to a larger bench to re-examine religious issues including those arising out of its 2018 verdict lifting a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age visiting the hilltop shrine.
The apex court said the seven-judge bench that the will look into pending questions similar to Sabarimala, related to Muslim women's rights to enter a mosque and permission to Parsi women who marry outside the community to enter its fire temple and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
Though the apex court did not stay its September 2018 order allowing entry of women into the Lord Ayyappa temple, the LDF government in Kerala this time said the shrine is not a ground for activism and made it clear it would not encourage women who want to visit the temple for publicity.
The Devaswom board, which manages temples in the state, has made elaborate arrangements to provide all possible amenities to devotees.
The unprecedented floods in August last year had played havoc with the pilgrimage season with most of the facilities for the devotees being destroyed.