Sabarimala, Feb 13 (PTI): The famed Lord Ayyappa temple here, which opened for five-day monthly pujas last evening,saw low pilgrim footfall Wednesday, even as police continued vigil in and around the hill top shrine in view of possible protests from right-wing activists, opposing entry of young women.

An official of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) said the exact number of devotees who offered worship at the shrine so far was yet to be available, but the turnout was surely less compared to the same period in the previous years.

“The footfall is low…especially the number of Malayali devotees is very less…majority of those who offered worship since last evening are from other states,” he told PTI.

He said more devotees are expected in the coming days as police had already eased restrictions imposed in and around the shrine in the wake of intense protests witnessed by the temple in the recently concluded annual pilgrim season.

Rituals like ‘neyyabhishekam’, ‘kalabhabhishekam’ and ‘padipuja’ were conducted Wednesday, he added.

Many devotees Wednesday expressed happiness as they had a hassle-free darshan since the usual rush was not there.

Though the restrictions were relaxed, police continued its vigil following reports that some outfits had announced through social media platforms that young women, belonging to the traditionally barred age group, would visit the shrine during the period of monthly puja.

Though no prohibitory orders have been clamped in and around the shrine, the entire area from the base camp to the ‘Sannidhanam'(temple complex) is still under tight police security.

The Lord Ayyappa temple was re-opened on Tuesday for five-day monthly pujas under a heavy security blanket.

The temple would remain open for five days till February 17 for the monthly pujas during the Malayalam month of Kumbam.

There has been a sense of anxiety in and around Sabarimala in view of the reopening as the shrine had witnessed frenzied protests during the recently concluded annual pilgrimage season over the entry of women of menstruating age.

The BJP and right-wing outfits had spearheaded the agitations against implementation of the September 28 Supreme Court verdict, permitting women of all age groups into the shrine.

The areas in and around the temple had witnessed widespread violence after the CPI(M)-led LDF government decided to implement the apex court order.

Marking the culmination of the over two-month-long stormy annual pilgrimage season, the shrine was closed on January 20.

Traditionally, women of menstruating age or in the age group of 10 to 50 years were not allowed to enter the temple as the deity, Lord Ayyappa, is believed to be “naishtika brahmachari” or perennial celibate.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.