Travancore Devaswom Board brings new reforms for hassle-free Sabarimala pilgrimage

Restrictions were brought in the wake of an unprecedented rush witnessed at the hill shrine on some days during the previous pilgrimage season.
Sabarimala.
Sabarimala.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) is working to bring in more professionalism in the management of the annual Sabarimala pilgrimage. The board made some tough decisions at the two preparatory meetings for the next pilgrimage season - starting with a cap on the number of devotees at 80,000 per day.

Another decision was to do away with the spot booking system that helped devotees obtain darshan passes from counters at the Nilakkal base station and some other places. All the decisions await final approval from the state government.

The restriction on the number of visitors was taken after a series of consultations with different government departments, including the police, according to board president P S Prasanth. “In fact, the police recommendation was to limit the number to 70,000 per day. The board decided to enhance it to help as many devotees as possible,” he told TNIE.

The limit on the number of visitors and other restrictions are in the wake of the unprecedented rush witnessed at the hill shrine on some days during the previous pilgrimage season. The board had faced criticism for putting the devotees in the queue for long hours.

The board plans an overhaul and the reforms do not end with the restriction on pilgrims’ number, says Prasanth. The Virtual Queue, the online booking system for darshan, will be opened three months ahead of the start of Mandalam-Makaravilakku season. The board also plans to offer a facility for the pilgrims to book appam and aravana prasadams in advance.

“We want to make the pilgrimage a soulful experience for every devotee. Even if the number of pilgrims would come down, their level of satisfaction would be high. The board plans several amenities with focus on the pilgrims’ requirements,” he said.

A special queue will be offered for children, the elderly, and the differently abled after climbing the holy steps. “They will not have to climb the flyover. Instead, they will be taken directly to the front of the sanctum. One caretaker will also be allowed to accompany the beneficiaries of the special queue,” he said.

The board will also form a sub-committee for crowd management at the shrine. It will oversee the functioning of different agencies at work at the shrine - ranging from the police, fire force and devaswom staff. The committee members include the TDB president, board members, commissioner, chief engineer and the superintendent of police on deputation at the board.

The board plans to conduct wide publicity programmes on the reforms ahead of the next pilgrimage season. “We will seek the support of all stakeholders, including devotees’ organisations in other states, to take the message on scrapping spot booking to the pilgrims,” Prasanth said.

Coin counting machine

The three new coin sorting and counting machines will be installed ahead of the upcoming pilgrimage season. One machine will be installed in the month of Chingam, according to Prasanth. “The machines will clear the dust and wash coins before sorting. AI technology will be utilised for sorting and counting. Coins of the same denomination will be dispensed in packets of hundred or any other number,” he said. Non-Indian coins will be grouped and dispensed without sorting or counting. A large number of foreign coins are received at the Sabarimala shrine every year. Mostly, they are offerings by non-resident Indian devotees.

Flasks for pilgrims

The board plans to provide metal flasks to pilgrims at Pampa. “The idea is to ensure drinking water for all pilgrims all through their travel from Pampa to the shrine and back. The flasks can be refilled at the kiosks at Pampa, trekking path and Sannidhanam,” Prasanth said. Pilgrims have to return the flasks at Pampa on their return.

The board has yet to decide whether to collect a token deposit from pilgrims. The present plan is to obtain flasks through sponsorship. The board also decided to set up more drinking water kiosks. About 500 new kiosks will be set up at the Nadappandal and the extended queuing facility. A boiler with 10,000 litre per hour capacity will be set up at Pandithavalam. The capacity of the boiler at Saramkuthi will be expanded from 4,000

Buffer stock

Buffer stocks of appam and aravana will be ensured at the start of the pilgrimage season. About 60 lakh containers of aravana prasadam will be kept ready. Sufficient stock of appam will also be kept. The board had imposed a cap on the aravana supply following a shortage during the previous pilgrimage season. “One of the suppliers of aravana failed to deliver in time and hence the restriction was imposed last time. This year, it won’t happen. Pilgrims will be able to buy an unlimited number of prasadams,” the president said.

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