Sabarimala temple in Kerala reopened to the public on Saturday - for a five-day monthly pooja - after seven months of closure due to the Covid lockdown. Devotees looking to visit the hill shrine are required to wear face masks and carry COVID-19 negative certificates.
A maximum of 250 people will be allowed inside the temple every day; today as many as 246 registered online for a darshan. Additionally, only people between 10 and 60 years of age will be allowed to visit.
Strict protocols have been put in place at the famous hill shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa amid a rising number of virus cases in the state. Rapid antigen tests are being conducted at Nilakkal base camp for those not carrying a negative test report.
Special arrangements have also been made for performing rituals, including "neyyabhishekam" (ghee abhishekam) and "annadanam" (the sacred tradition of offering food), while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
Other protocols include a compulsory fitness certificate (to be dated no more than 48 hours before darshan). The customary bathing at Pamba River has been discontinued and overnight stay at "sannidhanam" (main temple premises) or base camps - Pamba or Nilakkal - is also not allowed.
"Devotees will not be allowed to take a dip in river Pamba. Instead, shower systems will be arranged at Erumely and Pamba for them to take bath," Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
Kerala, which was praised for its handling of the outbreak in its initial stages, has witnessed a sharp spike in new cases since last month. Over three lakh confirmed cases have been registered in the state since the first case was reported in January.
Regular poojas will be held over the next five days, starting today, which is also the first day of Malayalam month "Thulam". The annual "Mandala Makaravilakku" season is to start from November 16.