SABARIMALA: Amid heavy security, the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala, opened Sunday evening for the 21-day "Makaravilakku" festival.
The temple, which had witnessed frenzied protests from devotees over the entry of women of menstruating age, had closed on December 27, marking the culmination of the 41-day annual Mandala puja festivities.
There was a heavy rush of Ayyappa devotees when the shrine opened at 5 pm.
Chief Priest V N Vasudevan Namboothiri opened the temple doors and performed the rituals inside the sanctum sanctorum as well as on the holy 18 steps after which the pilgrims were allowed to have darshan.
Head priest Kandaru Rajeevaru was also present.
The Makaravillaku will be held on Januaury 14 and the shrine will be closed at 7 am on Januaury 20.
Chanting 'swamiye saranam Ayyappa', thousands of devotees thronged the temple, after waiting for hours in the long queues.
However, no special pujas were held Sunday.
The Ayyappa temple had witnessed massive protests by devotees against the state government's decision to implement the Supreme Court's September 28 verdict, opening its doors to women of all ages to offer prayers.
Main opposition Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) backed the devotees in their protest against the entry of young women inside the shrine.
Traditionally, girls and women in the menstruating age group of 10-50 years were barred from offering prayers at the temple, the presiding deity of which is "Naishtika Brahamachari" (perennial celebate).
Over a dozen women have so far made unsuccessful bids to trek to the Sabarimala shrine to offer prayers during the Mandalam season.
Meanwhile, the Pathnamthitta District collector, P B Nooh, has extended the prohibitory orders till Januaury 5 from Eluvankal to Sabarimala sannidhanam.