Sabarimala temple in crisis; daily revenue falls 97%

Sabarimala temple's daily revenue drops 97% to Rs 10 lakh; temple in acute financial crisis

The board's expenses along with expenses of about 1,250 temples in Kerala are dependent on the surplus revenue from Sabarimala

Sabarimala Ayyappa temple wearing a deserted look on Sunday owing to restriction in number of pilgrims due to Covid-19. Credit: Special Arrangement

The Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala is facing an acute financial crunch owing to Covid-19 as the average daily revenue from pilgrims during the initial days of pilgrimage fell from around Rs 3.5 crore to Rs 10 lakh, forcing the Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the temple to desperately seek relaxation in the restriction on the number of pilgrims as well as government's financial assistance.

At present only 1,000 pilgrims are allowed on weekdays, 2,000 on weekends and holidays and 5,000 on special occasions like Mandala pooja day and Makaravilakku day.

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The board president N Vasu told DH that normally there used to be 50,000 pilgrims daily. It had even gone up to one lakh on some occasions like the first day of pilgrimage. In that place, it is only 1,000 now. Hence the revenue fall was quite obvious. If the current situation persists, the board would struggle to meet even the daily requirements of the temple which comes to around Rs 50 lakh, apart from the salary of the board employees.

It was from the revenue surplus from Sabarimala during the pilgrimage that major chunk of expenses of the board, as well as around 1,250 temples under it for the entire year, was met.

Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that the government would consider increasing the daily limit of pilgrims.

The board is pointing out that since darshan is allowed for 14 hours every day, a higher number of pilgrims could be allowed by following social distancing norms. However, it was for the health authorities and other government agencies to take a decision to increase the limit of pilgrims. Though the daily limits are now fixed as 1,000 and 2,000, on weekdays and weekends respectively, over the last one week of pilgrimage around 50 pilgrims who booked on the virtual queue did not turn up every day.

Owing to the financial crisis due to Covid-19, the board was also exploring the option of depositing the huge quantity of gold and silver recovered as offering over the years in RBI bonds.

Meanwhile, as many as 20 pilgrims who turned up for Sabarimala pilgrimage were so far tested Covid-19 positive during the test conducted at the Nilakkal base camp. Hence the infected persons, as well as all those who travelled with them, were sent back.

Majority of the pilgrims are from other states. The norms stipulate a Covid-19 negative test result issued 24 hours prior to reaching the base camp. Hence almost all pilgrims from other states have to undergo Covid-19 antigen test at the base camp only.

The pilgrimage that began last Monday will last till January.