The first leg of the 41-day annual pilgrim season of the famous Lord Ayyappa temple here comes to a close on Friday with the auspicious Mandala puja sans any protest over the women's entry issue unlike the turbulence witnessed last year.
The peaceful atmosphere saw a surge in the pilgrims inflow after the season commenced on November 16, resulting in revenue collections of over Rs 156 crore so far compared to the Rs 105.29 crore in the corresponding period in 2018.
The hill shrine, which draws devotees from various parts of the country, had witnessed unprecedented protests by right wing outfits and BJP workers last year after the CPI(M) led LDF government decided to implement the September 28, 2018 Supreme Court order lifting the traditional bar on women and girls in menstrual age from offering prayers.
However, this year in the backdrop of the apex court's decision to refer a batch of review petitions against its earlier verdict to a larger bench, the state government had said those women desirous of visiting the hill temple should get a "court order" and it would not encourage activism.
During this season, some young women who came to Sabarimala were not allowed by authorities to trek to the Ayyappa temple.
Amid protests from right wing outfits, Bhumata brigade activist Trupti Desai and some other women in the 10-50 age group were sent back from Kochi.
With peace and tranquility returning to the Ayyappa shrine, there has been a sharp increase in the arrivals of pilgrims from various parts of the country, especially the southern states, and the revenue collections too rose during the ongoing season.
As per the figures for the last 39 days, a total of Rs 156.60 crore had been collected at the hill shrine under various heads, including through the sale of 'appam', and 'aravana' 'prasadams' and through the 'hundi' collections, according to the authorities.
Last year, when the hill shrine witnessed the most turbulent days in its history over the women's entry issue, the collections could touch only Rs 105.29 crore during the corresponding period.
According to the Travancore Devaswom Board, the apex state-run temples' body which manages the hill shrine, this year's collection is expected to go up further when the coins offered are also counted.
"The highest revenue for the same period was recorded in the year 2017, which was Rs 164.03 crore in 39 days. It is expected that the earnings this year would be not too low from the 2017 collections when the coins are also counted," TDB president N Vasu told reporters on Thursday.
According to TDB figures, sale of "Aravana" (a sweet delicacy) accounted for a major share of reveunes. A total Rs 67.77 crore was collected this time through the sale of Aravana, compared Rs 40.99 crore last year.
"The pilgrim season has been peaceful so far. Compared to previous year, there is a remarkable increase in terms of the arrival of pilgrims. Last year, there was a dip in the number of devotees in view of tensions," Vasu added.
Meanwhile, the Sabarimala shrine and its premises are witnessing heavy rush as the annual Mandala puja falls on Friday.
The ceremonial procession carrying 'thanka anki', the sacred golden attire for adorning Lord Ayyappa, reached the shrine from the Parthasarathy temple at Aranmula this evening amid high security.
The Ayyappa idol was decorated with the sacred ornaments during the evening puja ahead of the Friday's mandala puja as per the customs.
The late Chitra Tirunal Balarama Varma of Travancore dynasty offered the Anki weighing 420 sovereigns (aprox 3.3 kg), to the temple deity in 1973. Ahead of Mandala Puja, the Thanka Anki is taken from Aranmula to Sabarimala in a ceremonial procession, a practice introduced by the TDB.
The motorised chariot, carrying the sanctified Thanka Anki, was given a rousing reception by devotees at various places enroute to the hill shrine.