Sabarimala (Ker), Nov 16 (PTI) Hundreds of devotees thronged the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple on Thursday evening as the portals of the hill shrine opened for the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakkku pilgrimage.
The 41-day pilgrimage season would begin on Friday, the first day of the auspicious Malayalam month of Vrichikam.
The sanctum sanctorum was opened under the aegis of temple 'tantri' (head priest) Mahesh Mohanaru, while 'melshanthi' (chief priest) K Jayaraman Namboothiri led the rituals.
The 'sannidhanam', the temple complex, and it's premises reverberated with chants of 'swamiye saranam Ayyappa' by devotees who trekked for hours through the traditional path from the base camp at Pampa to reach the hill shrine.
New 'melshanthies' of the Sabarimala and Malikappuram temples -- P N Mahesh and P G Murali respectively -- offered prayers at the shrines ahead of assuming charge tomorrow.
Even before the shrine is to be opened in the wee hours of Friday for the beginning of the Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage, Sabarimala and its premises already witnessed a heavy rush of devotees, temple sources said.
P S Prashanth, the president of Travancore Devaswom Board, the apex temple body that manages the shrine, and other officials were present during the time of the opening of the temple.
The TDB president later said all arrangements have been completed at 'sannidhanam' and Pampa to receive devotees ahead of the pilgrimage season. Basic amenities and infrastructure facilities have been provided to ensure smooth darshan, he added.
Earlier in the week, Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan had said that steps, including the use of advanced technologies, have been taken to ensure a safe and smooth pilgrimage for all devotees.
A dynamic queue-control system was introduced this season to manage crowding at 'sannidhanam' and a video wall would be set up at Nilakkal, Pampa, and at the temple complex to inform devotees about the rush, he said.
He also made it clear that emergency health centres have been set up at 15 places on the route between Pampa and 'sannidhanam'. PTI LGK ANE