With the annual 'Mandala Puja' just days away, the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala has been witnessing a heavy rush as over one lakh pilgrims visited the hill top temple on Friday. A steady inflow of pilgrims was seen at Sabarimala Temple in recent days after the police eased certain restrictions. However, prohibitory orders are still in place.
"As many as 1,12,260 devotees have visited the shrine and offered prayers on Friday. It is the highest head count after the annual season began this year," the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) said in a statement.
The pilgrim rush is expected to increase manifold in the coming days, it said. Marking the culmination of the 41-day 'vratha' (penance), Mandala Puja, the first phase of the Sabarimala pilgrimage, would be held on December 27 at the Lord Ayyappa temple.
Meanwhile, a group of 50 women, all below the age of 50 years, are expected to visit Sabarimala on Sunday under the aegis of 'Manithi', a Chennai-based outfit. The top court recently lifted the ban on women in the age group of 10 and 50 visiting the Sabarimala Temple.
Selvy, a member of 'Manithi', said the group comprised women from different states, including Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka and Kerala.
She said they have written to the office of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in this regard and informed about their plan to trek to the hill temple.
The police today confirmed that the women's group will offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa temple, which had witnessed intense protest against the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all age groups into the shrine.
"As per the information, the group will reach Kottayam at around 10 am. They have not asked for any special security. "When they reach Nilackal, the base camp, and if there is any law and order situation, we will deal with it accordingly," a police official told PTI.
On Friday night, a 43-year-old woman devotee from Andhra Pradesh, who came along with a group of pilgrims to offer prayers at the Sabarimala Temple, was stopped and sent back by the police midway, citing security reasons.
Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala temple since the Kerala government decided to implement the Supreme Court order.
Over a dozen women have so far made unsuccessful attempts to trek towards the holy hills.