Sabarimala: After witnessing frenzied protests by devotees over the entry of young women in the past few weeks, the doors of Lord Ayyappa temple here closed on Thursday with the auspicious Mandala puja, marking the culmination of the 41-day annual Mandalam festivities.
This marks the conclusion of the initial phase of the two-month-long annual pilgrim season, which began on November 17.
Chanting "swamiye saranam Ayyappa," thousands of devotees thronged the hill top temple for hours to witness the special pujas and rituals including 'kalabha abhishekam" and "kalasa abhishekam".
When the 'mandala puja' was held in the noon under the aegis of the head priest Kandaru Rajeevaru, the sea of pilgrims chanted hymns of the lord in unison.
The idol of the Lord Ayyappa was adorned with 'thanka angi," the sacred golden attire, which was brought here last evening in a ceremonial procession from the Sree Parthasarthy temple at Aranmula.
Several dignitaries including Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran, Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar and former TDB chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan were among those who offered prayers.
The shrine was closed after 'athazha pooja' in the night and would be re-opened on December 30 for the 'Makaravillaku' festival, which falls on January 14.
Police made elaborate arrangements for crowd management.
The temple had witnessed heavy rush in the past few days after a lull in footfalls, following the restrictions imposed due to protests by devotees.
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.
Traditionally, girls and women in the menstruating age group of 10-50 years were barred from offering prayers at the shrine, the presiding deity of which is "Naishtika Brahamachari" (perennial celebate).
Over a dozen women had so far made unsuccessful bid to trek the holy hill and offer prayers at the Sabarimala shrine during the Mandalam season.