Makaravilakku: Devotees throng Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala

The devotees burst into chants of 'swamiye saranam Ayyappa' as the Makaravilakku, the bright flame, was sighted atop Ponnambalamedu hill, located around 8 km from the shrine, as part of the ritualistic deeparadhana

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Makaravilakku, Sabarimala

Sabarimala: Lakhs of Lord Ayyappa devotees on Monday witnessed the auspicious Makaravilakku, the ritualistic deeparadhana (arati) held at Ponnambalamedu, the hill facing the shrine at Sabarimala, as part of the annual festivities.

Braving a heavy rush, the pilgrims queued up for hours to have a glimpse of Lord Ayyappa, carrying the irumudikettu (the traditional bundle a devotee brings to the shrine) over their heads.

Sannidhanam, the temple complex, reverberated with Lord Ayyappa hymns as the portals of the sanctum sanctorum was thrown open for the deeparadhana in the evening, which was performed before the idol of the deity adorned with holy jewels called thiruvabharanam.

The jewels were brought moments before the arati in a ceremonial procession that had started its journey on 12 January from the Pandalam palace, where, according to the legend, Lord Ayyappa had spent his childhood.

The devotees burst into chants of ‘swamiye saranam Ayyappa’ (I seek your shelter, Lord Ayyappa) as the Makaravilakku, the bright flame, was sighted atop Ponnambalamedu hill, located around 8 km from the shrine, as part of the ritualistic deeparadhana.

The lighting of the flame by the Kerala government, with the support of the Travancore Devaswom Board and the forest department, at Ponnamabalamedu, is a continuation of the practice followed by indigenous tribes that live near the hilltop.

Devotees occupied different points in and around Sabarimala hours before the ceremony began to have a glance of the ‘makaravilakku’.

Unlike previous days, thousands of pilgrims trekked the holy hills Monday to take part in the Makaravilakku festivities, which marked the culmination of the over two month long Sabarimala pilgrimage.

Police and other agencies had made elaborate arrangements for the smooth conduct of the final leg of the pilgrimage and to manage the overflowing number of devotees, mainly from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, besides Kerala.

Since the shrine opened for the Mandalam-Makaravilakku festivities on 17 November, the Ayyappa temple had witnessed massive protests by devotees and right-wing outfits against the state government’s decision to implement the Supreme Court’s 28 September verdict, opening its doors to women of all ages — be they atheists, Muslims, Christians or communists who had earlier never expressed their desire to visit and bow before Lord Ayyappa — to offer prayers.

Traditionally, girls and women in the menstruating age group of 10-50 years were barred from offering prayers at the shrine, the presiding deity of which is a naishtika brahmachari (perennial celibate).

The police of the current communist government of Kerala forced three women of menstruating age into the hill temple during this season.

The hill shrine would be closed on 20 January.