Sabarimala, Nov 17 The two-month-long Sabarimala temple festival officially opened in the wee hours on Sunday, with thousands of pilgrims waiting for long to have 'darshan'.
According to the police there were about close to 50,000 pilgrims in the temple town who reached from various parts of the state besides other south Indian states.
Pilgrims had to wait in the queue for more than three hours to have 'darshan' in the morning.
Unlike the previous year, things are well within control of the around 2,500-strong police force posted at critical places in the temple town.
The temple town is made up of three important places, the Nilackal base camp, where all the pilgrims have to alight and then board the state-owned transport service to reach the Pamba base camp, located about 24 kms away.
No private vehicles with pilgrims are allowed to go to Pamba base camp.
From the Pamba base camp, begins the nearly 4-km-long trek to the temple located at top of the hill, which is known as Sannidhanam.
According to official sources till 8 a.m. on Sunday around 816 buses took pilgrims from Nilackal to Pamba.
Even though the Supreme Court last week did not stay its September 28, 2018, order allowing women of all ages inside the temple on Saturday three women who were part of a larger group from Vijayawada was stopped by the police as they belonged to the banned age group of 10 to 50, who are not allowed entry to the temple, according to the temple traditions.
Kerala Police officials are keeping a close watch on all the pilgrims and if they suspect any women in the age group 10 to 50, they are told that they will be allowed to travel till the Pamba base camp and after which they will not be allowed to go to the temple.
Unlike the previous year, this time, the Kerala government has made its position clear that it will not make any effort to see that women were taken to the temple to pray and State Minister for Devasoms Kadakampally Surendran went further and said those women desirous to pray at the temple can procure a court order to enter the temple.
Incidentally last year, the police used to provide security cover to those women who were adamant that they want to pray and among several of them who had to return following protest from right wing activists, stayed put at the temple town, while on January 2 this year two Kerala women under complete security cover reached the temple and prayed.
Following this, trouble broke out and it was only after a long period these two women were able to return back to their homes.
Of the two, one of them has said that since the top court has not stayed the entry of women in the 10 to 50 age group, she will visit the temple this season also.
The present season which has begun on Sunday, ends on December 27 and it reopens again on December 30, before closing finally on January 21, 2020.
The famed Sabarimala temple that resembled a fortress a year ago wore a peaceful look on Saturday.
No prohibitory orders, which were clamped last year, have been in place in and around the temple town this time.
Situated in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level, Sabarimala temple is 4 km uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district, which is around 100 kms from the capital city.
The temple is dedicated to the Hindu celibate deity Ayyappan, also known as Dharma Sastha, who according to belief is the son of Shiva and Mohini, the feminine incarnation of Vishnu.
The temple is accessible only on foot from Pamba.
Devout pilgrims observe celibacy for 41 days before going to Sabarimala. Every pilgrim has to carry a kit -- 'Irumudi' containing coconuts which are broken just before climbing the 18 steps on one's head -- during the pilgrimage and without it, none is allowed to go up the holy 18 steps at the 'Sannidhanam'.