Sabarimala temple prepares for annual pilgrimage frenzy

November 13th, 2008 - 10:52 am ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 13 (IANS) Kerala’s famed Sabarimala temple is getting set to receive nearly five million devotees during the two-month-long annual pilgrimage season that begins Sunday. Facilities being made available for pilgrims include oxygen parlours and pre-paid bank coupons for holy offerings.Although the temple dedicated to Hindu god Ayyappa receives devotees throughout the year, the pilgrimage season begins on the first day of the Hindu month of Vrischikam and ends on the first day of the month of Makaram - in the third week of January.

The temple, on top of a hill at an altitude of 914 metres, is four kilometres from Pamba town in Pathanamthitta district in central Kerala and is accessible only by foot. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that runs the shrine has set up oxygen parlours en route for pilgrims who feel breathless.

The TDB has also tied up with the Dhanalakshmi Bank to make the process of selling prasadam (holy offering) easier. Pilgrims can buy coupons from 182 bank branches across the state and exchange them for prasadam at the temple.

The state forest department has also made arrangements for water at Rs.12 per bottle. Pilgrims will be refunded Rs.1 on the return of each bottle.

“The water we supply will have the certification of the Bureau of Indian Standards. We are taking the bottles back because over the years managing plastic waste has been the biggest challenge for us,” said Forest Minister Binoy Viswam.

The railways has announced that it will run trains with additional coaches, while the state transport corporation has said it will operate extra buses for Sabarimala pilgrims.

Nearly 3,000 policemen and 5,000 other government officials, including healthcare personnel, will be deployed in the region during the pilgrimage season.

The pilgrimage is preceded by an intense 41-day penance during which the devotee walks barefoot, wears a black dhoti (garment to cover lower half of the body) and follows a strict vegetarian diet.

The Sabarimala temple bars the entry of women who have attained puberty but not reached menopause. In 2006, Kannada actress and producer Jaimala triggered a controversy by claiming that she had broken tradition by entering the temple in 1987.

When devotees set off on the pilgrimage, they carry coconuts and ghee (clarified butter). Once they reach the temple, the coconuts are broken and filled with the ghee, which is later ceremoniously poured on the idol of Ayyappa.

The ghee-filled coconut symbolises man’s ego shrouding his soul. When the ghee is released from the coconut and anoints the idol of Ayyappa, the essence of the devotee’s soul is said to unite with god, thus bringing the pilgrimage to its zenith.

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