With hardly six days left for the commencement of Sabarimala pilgrimage, it is going to be an uphill task for authorities to put in place all amenities at the Lord Ayyappa Temple, where a huge turnout of devotees is expected with the Supreme Court allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers.
The shrine, nestled in the sprawling Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghats, was witness to frenzied devotees protesting against the entry of young women in the menstrual age when it was opened in October and early this month for monthly pujas.
This is going to be the first 'Mandala Makkarvillakku' season after the massive destruction caused by the August floods, which saw most of the infrastructure facilities at Pamba, including resting places and toilets, totally damaged or destroyed.
The floods, the worst in 100 years, had claimed over 490 lives and caused widespread destruction across the state during the South West Monsoon.
As the hill shrine gears up to receive at least 25,000 to one lakh pilgrims a day during the annual season, devotees are a little wary about the facilities at the temple town and nearby areas.
Raghu, a pilgrim, who visits the shrine every year, said Nilackal, which has been converted as a base camp, neither has adequate resting facilities nor toilets for devotees who would be reaching there from various places of the country.
It would be very difficult especially for women devotees, he noted.
However, A Padmakumar, President of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, is confident that all the construction works at Nilackal would be completed within five days.
"Floods have badly affected Pamba and we have made Nilackal, the base camp. It's very difficult to arrange all facilities at Nilackal within such a short span of time," he told PTI.
"But there was already space for 4,000 devotees to keep their irumudikettu (offerings for Lord Ayyappa carried by devotees on their head).
We have constructed three sheds there which can accommodate 10,000 more," he said.
Padmakumar also said the Board has estimated a requirement of 60,000 litres of water per hour during the season.
"Water storage tanks have been installed. The Kerala Water Authority is working to arrange potable water. Water treatment plant will also be ready by November 15," he added.
According to the board, the highest number of pilgrims recorded at Sabarimala was 5.20 lakh for the "Makara Vilakku" day last year. On the rest of the days, the number of pilgrims vary from 25,000 to 1 lakh.
"We are making arrangements according to this calculation. Last year 68 lakh people visited the temple during the season as per digital records," Padmakumar said.
The Apex court verdict of September 28 had lifted the restriction on women devotees between the 10-50 age from worshipping here.
With the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government making it clear that it was constitutionally bound to implement the SC verdict, devotees and right-wing outfits had launched massive protests and prayer marches against the entry of young women.
Over 3,700 people had been arrested for violence during Sabarimala protests across the state after the historic SC ruling which opened doors of Sabarimala Temple to all women, ending the centuries-old restriction.
The Kerala Police has directed that all vehicles arriving at Sabarimala should carry a 'police pass' and those coming without it would not be permitted parking in Sabarimala.