Sabarimala: The holy hillock of Sabarimala has begun reverberating with the devotional chant of thousands of devotees as the two-month-long annual pilgrimage season of the Lord Ayyappa temple got underway on Saturday at the dawn of the auspicious month of `Vrishchikam` in the Malayalam calendar.
The first leg of the pilgrimage, the 41-day `Mandala` phase, will be followed by the `Makaravilakku" festival lasting till mid-January next year, attracting pilgrims from different states and abroad.
One of world`s largest religious events, the shrine attracts every year an average of 30 million devotees, who trek up the hill from the foothills on the banks of the river Pampa.
Apart from the temple management body Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), various government department and voluntary agencies like `Akhila Bharata Ayyappa Seva Sangham` are engaged in efforts to ensure hassle-free inflow of pilgrims both at the `Sannidhanam` atop and the base camp Pampa.
Large contingents of police personnel had been deployed for security, crowd management and traffic control.
According to official sources, effective crowd management and keeping the fragile ecosystem in and around the forest shrine situated in the buffer zones of Periyar Tiger Reserve in Pathanamthitta district are some vital tasks ahead.
The first leg of the pilgrimage will culminate with the `mandala` poja on December 26. It will be followed by `makaravilakku` with the `jyothi darshan` as its highpoint on January 14.
State Devaswom Minister VS Sivakumar was at Pampa recently to review the arrangements for the pilgrims, including logistics, health and sanitation.