PATHANAMTHITTA, November 30: Sabarimala witnessed heavy rush on Friday as many devotees from different parts of the country chose the weekend to undertake their pilgrimage to the Ayyappa temple.
Those who had made online registration as part of the Virtual Queue system too had to wait for two to three hours to offer prayers at the temple because of the unprecedented rush in the past 12 hours.
The police resorted to the crowd management technique of blocking the pilgrim flow periodically from Pampa to the traditional trekking path from the morning hours itself. Pilgrims were blocked in 10 segments along the Saramkuthi-Sannidhanam stretch of the path to Valiya Nadappanthal.
The crowd of pilgrims at the Sannidhanam began to swell by evening and the parking lots at Pampa were full by the afternoon itself. The two companies of the Rapid Action Force and the National Disaster Response Force attached to the Central Reserve Police Force camping at Sabarimala too joined the crowd control mission at Sabarimala, along with the Kerala Police.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has extended the darshan time too in view of the heavy rush. The temple that opens at 4 a.m. every day will close after the Utchapuja at 1.30 p.m. to reopen at 4 p.m. The temple will be closed only at 11.30 p.m. after the Athazhapuja.
Pilgrims had to wait for hours together inside the long-winding iron barricades on the traditional path. The queue of pilgrims waiting for holy darshan was found extended up to Marakkoottom. According to police, as many as 23,000 pilgrims entered the virtual queue through the gate at the Valiyanadappanthal by 6 p.m. on Friday.
The total number of online registration under the Virtual Queue system for Friday was 42,000, police said. Devaswom Commissioner P. Venugopal, told The Hindu that the board would soon make necessary arrangements to collect suggestions from the pilgrims during the ongoing pilgrim season for improving the basic facility at Sabarimala. Mr. Venugopal said the TDB was exploring the possibility of diverting the tractor service from the Valiyanadappanthal so as to avoid inconvenience to pilgrims waiting for the holy darshan.
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) operated 470 Nilackal-Pampa chain services, besides 300 long-distance services from Pampa by 6.30 p.m. on Friday.
Esther Yashica, KSRTC Special Officer at Pampa, told The Hindu that the corporation had been conducting inter-State services to Palani, Kanyakumari, Coimbatore, and Thenkasi from Pampa on a daily basis