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Updated 20 Dec, 2020

A nationwide lockdown came into effect in India in March, leading to the closure of all religious places throughout the country, including the Sabarimala Temple down south in Perinad Village in Pathanamthitta of Kerala. Dedicated to Lord Ayyappan or Dharma Shasta, the hill shrine of Sabarimala is now finally open for pilgrims, albeit with restrictions and a rather stilted start.

The Travancore Devaswom Board which manages the temple is in charge of adherence to all regulations for the darshan in 2020 as well, along with Kerala Police. Have you been waiting for Sabarimala Darshan all year long? As you get excited about the journey, you must acquaint yourself with all the guidelines for pilgrims, including Virtual Q Booking. Read along to get all the updated news about Sabarimala and Mandala Kaalam pilgrimage 2020.

Sabarimala Darshan

Sabarimala opens for worshippers on the first five days of every Malayalam month and since its closure in March owing to the pandemic, the temple reopened doors on October 17 for prayers till October 21. Barring devotees below the age of 10 and above 60, the reopening guidelines stated that a maximum of 250 people can visit the temple to offer prayers with COVID-19 negative certificates, taken no earlier than 48 hours before reaching Pamba. Rapid antigen tests were conducted at Nilackal for those who were not carrying a COVID-19 certificate.

Masks are not mandatory while trekking Vadasserikara and Erumeli routes (the other forest trails have been closed). Bathing, too, was prohibited at Pampa river.

This reopening was followed by a closing of the temple again after the ‘Hari Varasanam’ rendition on October 21

It opened once again on November 15 at 5pm for its peak pilgrimage season known as mandala kaalam during which devotees trek all the way to Sabarimala temple along mountainous forested paths and offer prayers. The pilgrimage season brings followers of Lord Ayyappa from all over India, particularly the southern states and within Kerala to the holy shrine on the hills.

Devotees follow strict traditional practices or Virutham in the days leading up to the mandala kalam pilgrimage. For the uninitiated, Virutham is the 41 days of fasting and penance observed by devotees of Lord Ayyappa, a period during which they must abstain from all kinds of physical and verbal abuses and consumption of meat and alcohol, along with a vow to celibacy. They wear saffron or black clothes and Rudraksha maala around their neck.

The temple will remain close for a short duration after the Mandala pooja gets over on December 26 and reopen on December 30 for Maharavilakku pilgrimage. The closing date for darshaan is January 19 as the Maharavilakku gets over on January 14.

Sabarimala Q online ticket booking

Ayyappa devotees can visit Sabarimala for the annual pilgrimage only if they have completed the virtual queue booking on the online portal of Sabarimala. Registration at Virtual Q is mandatory if you want to go on the Sabarimala pilgrimage and gain access to Prasadams, Pooja, Kanika, and accommodation.

You need to first sign up with a valid mobile number and email id or if you are a member already, you simply need to log in. Devotees have been asked to make the bookings well in advance to guarantee their Virtual Q pass for Sabarimala.

Note that the official site (managed by Kerala police) is the only place where you can get Virtual Q Coupons for the Mandala Makaravilakku pilgrimage as no third-party agents are being allowed to sell or distribute tickets apart from those Information Counters set up by TDB or Kerala police.

Sabarimala Opening Schedule 2020-2021

Here is the complete 2020-2021 schedule of Sabarimala opening and closing, starting from November 2020 for Mandala Pooja.

Mandala Pooja Maholsavam: Opening – 15/11/2020 5pm, Closing – 26/12/2020 10pm

Makaravilakku Reopening: Opening – 30/12/2020 5pm, Closing – 20/01/2021 10pm

Makaravilakku Day: 14/01/2021

Monthly Pooja – Kumbham: Opening – 12/02/2021 5pm, Closing – 17/02/2021 10pm

Monthly Pooja – Meenam: Opening – 14/03/2021 5pm, Closing – 19/03/2021 10pm

Sabarimala Utsavam: Opening – 18/03/2021 5pm, Closing – 28/03/2021 10pm

Kodiyettu: 19/03/2021

Pankuni Uthram & Arattu: 28/03/2021

Meda Vishu Festival: Opening – 10/04/2021 5pm, Closing  – 18/04/2021 10pm

Vishu: 14/04/2021

Monthly Pooja – Edavam: Opening – 14/05/2021 5pm, Closing – 19/05/2021 10pm

Idol Installation Pooja: Opening – 22/05/2021 5pm, Closing – 23/05/2021 10pm

Monthly Pooja – Midhunam: Opening – 14/06/2021 5pm, Closing – 19/06/2021 10pm

Monthly Pooja – Karkkidakam: Opening – 16/07/2021 5pm, Closing – 21/07/2021 10pm

Monthly Pooja – Chingam: Opening – 16/08/2021 5pm, Closing – 21/08/2021 10pm

Onam Pooja: Opening – 19/08/2021 5pm, Closing – 23/08/2021 10pm

Onam Day: 31/08/2021

Monthly Pooja – Kanni: Opening – 16/09/2021 5pm, Closing – 21/09/2021 10pm

Monthly Pooja – Thulam: Opening – 16/10/2021 5pm, Closing – 21/10/2021 10pm

Sree Chithra Atta Thirunal: Opening – 02/11/2021 5pm, Closing – 03/11/2021 10pm

Mandala Pooja Maholsavam: Opening – 15/11/2021 5pm, Closing  – 26/12/2021 10pm

Mandala Pooja: 26/12/2021

Thirunadai Thirappu – Makaravilakku Mahotsavam: 30/12/2021

Makaravilakku Day: 14/01/2022

Covid guidelines for Sabarimala pilgrimage

Nagarajav_shrine_at_Sabarimala

Nagarajan shrine at Sabarimala – © Wikimedia Commons

Organizing a pilgrimage amidst a global pandemic is tough but the Travancore Devaswom Board is doing their best to keep the pilgrims safe and arrest the disease from spreading at crowded places. The following restrictions are in place:

  • On all days of the pilgrimage except weekends, only up to 1000 devotees are allowed to visit.
  • On Saturdays and Sundays, the cap is on 2000 devotees.
  • A total of 86,000 pilgrims will be allowed for the pilgrimage throughout mandala kaalam and makaravilakku season.
  • To ensure physical distancing among pilgrims, as many as 351 markings have been demarcated near and around the temple.
  • Not just pilgrims, even shop employees in the area would require a COVID-19 negative certificate.
  • Since bathing in the Pamba river has been banned, a special shower facility, with 60 showers in 3 different units, has been arranged for bathing at Pampa Triveni.
  • Free meals are being distributed at Sannidhanam, Pampa, and Nilackal where seats have been lined and plates are being sanitized before serving food.
  • You can get food at Sannidhanam from 5.30 a.m. till 9 p.m., and at Pampa from around 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • All along the trekking route and at different locations around Sabarimala temple banners and boards aware the visitors and natives of the COVID-19 guidelines and other health emergencies. The boards and banners have been erected by Pathanamthitta District Medical Office and cite all the details in six different languages.
  • Announcements are also being made at Pampa, Nilackal, and Sannidhanam asking devotees to follow the guidelines, apart from posting COVID-19 protocols on social media to create awareness in those who will be visiting the temple in the next weeks.

Further reconsideration

The usual rush during pilgrimage at Sabarimala

The usual rush during the pilgrimage at Sabarimala would be missing this year owing to COVID restrictions – © Wikimedia Commons

Initially, it was decided that only a total of 86,000 devotees would be allowed to visit Sabarimala throughout the pilgrimage season compared to around 40-50 million people in previous years. The aim is to restrict crowds amidst a pandemic while also letting people practice their beliefs.

The bookings for the season had opened on November 1 Sunday, and by Monday, all spots were filled up for the scheduled days over the next months. Now, the Kerala government is set to reconsider the decision of allowing only 1000 visitors a day as the Kerala High Court believes that the number is meagre, considering the terrain of Sabarimala. There is also the possibility of COVID-19 testing camps being set up for pilgrims.

Considering that an estimated 40% of those devotees who made the booking online did not turn up for the pilgrimage since Sabarimala reopening, it is likely that new bookings may open up again soon for Sabarimala Darshaan.

Time and again the authorities have revised the daily limit of pilgrims and increased it up to 2000 from 1000 on weekdays. On weekends, the maximum allowed limit is 3000 at the moment. The footfall for the season had crossed the 50,000 mark but only around 12% of the visitors had been Keralites so far. Most of the pilgrims had arrived from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.

Covid testing centers are being set up including the recent one in Nilakkal pilgrim transit camp. Decisions are underway to set up more in Erumeli, Pandalam, Chengannur, and Kottayam with the surge in the number of visitors for Sabarimala Darshan. The virtual queue system for Sabarimala was reopened for a 12 hour period to accommodate the latest decision for allowing more tourists. It has then been closed again at 5 am on December 3.

Update as of 20 December, 2020:

In yet another revision of its previous order, the Kerala High Court has agreed on stepping up the number of daily allowed pilgrims from 2000 to 5000 from December 20 onwards. However, bookings on the Sabarimala website are yet to begin as it is being handled by the Kerala police.

Additionally, Sabarimala Darshan for 2020 is set to get more expensive for the rest of the season as from December 26, it will be mandatory for all visitors to produce an RTPCR, RT-Lamp, or Express Nat Test result at Nilakkal against the current acceptance of negative Rapid Antigen test results. Exercise increased caution during the darshan since several police personnel and employees have tested positive for COVID-19 over the last month since the reopening of the temple.

More on Kerala reopening and travel restrictions here.