Thiruvananthapuram: As the gates of Sabarimala temple opened for the devotees Sunday morning, thousands of them thronged the Lord Ayyappa’s shrine for the annual two-month-long pilgrimage. Even the rains could not dampen the spirit of devotees, who visited the shrine despite it.

Chief priest A K Sudheer Namboothiri opened the sanctum sanctorum at 3 AM and performed special poojas, including ‘Neyyabhishekam’ among others.

Notably, the temple will remain open till December 27 for the Mandalapooja after which it will be closed for three days.

On the duty were 10 Deputy Superintendents of Police (DySPs), 30 inspectors, 120 Sub-Inspectors (SI)/ASIs, and 1,400 Head Constables/Constables, ten police officials from Andhra, 135 men from Rapid Action Force (RAF) and 45-member National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

The Sabarimala opening is mired in controversy. Yesterday, 10 women from Andhra Pradesh were stopped from trekking to the hill shrine. Though, later District Collector of Pathanamthitta issued a clarification saying that the decision to go back was solely of the women in question.

Speaking to news agency ANI, PB Nooh, District Collector of Pathanamthitta said, “These women were with a group of pilgrims who were visiting a lot of temples in South India. After reaching here, they came to know that women aren’t allowed here due to temple rituals. So, they themselves decided to go back.”

The Supreme Court had Thursday referred the Sabarimala review pleas to a larger bench, while maintaining that it will not stay the September 28, 2018 order that allowed women of age bars to enter the temple, lifting the age-old barrier.

Unlike last year when women devotees were provided security, this time, the Kerala government has made it clear that it will not make any effort to see that women were taken to the temple to pray.