A state-of-the-art hospital, improved facilities at the dining hall that can seat 5,000 people at a time and beefed up security measures are among features at Kerala’s famed Sabarimala temple which opens on Wednesday evening for a new pilgrimage season, officials said. The sanctum sanctorum will be opened to pilgrims in the wee hours of Thursday, signalling commencement of the two-month annual pilgrimage. The opening of doors of the sanctum sanctorum coincides with the first day of the Malayalam month of ‘Vrishickam’, which falls on Thursday. The festival season’s most awaited moment falls on the first day of the Malayalam month, the day of the Makaravilaku — sighting of the celestial light on the horizon — which takes place on January 14, 2018.

Situated on the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level, Sabarimala temple is four km uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district, which is around 100 km from the capital city. The temple, which bars the entry of women who have attained puberty, is accessible only on foot from Pamba. Every pilgrim carries with him a kit (alrumudi’ – which contains coconuts which are broken just before climbing the 18 steps) on his head during the pilgrimage. Without it no one is allowed to go up the holy 18 steps at the Sannidhanam.

Speaking to IANS, State Minister for Devasoms Kadakampally Surendran said everything is ready and officials are ensuring that nothing is left to chance for a smooth pilgrimage. “This year, we have set up a state-of-the-art hospital at the temple complex. This time the facilities for pilgrims have been beefed up and would include more drinking water treatment plants, facilities at the dining hall have been improved and at a time 5,000 people can be served food,” said Surendran. He said the number of policemen on duty at a time has been increased to 1,500.

“We have ensured adequate supply of ‘appam and aravana’ prasadam. At a meeting with representatives of state governments from nearby states, we will seek their support to pass on the message to pilgrims from their states to see that they do not bring any plastic items by way of packets or bottles,” the Minister added.