A year after over 100 people died in a stampede after witnessing the 'celestial light' on Makar Sankranti day, the ritual of 'Makarajyothi' passed off peacefully at Kerala's Sabarimala temple this time, with pilgrims witnessing the light thrice on Sunday evening.
Around 6.35 p.m., the first light lit up the temple premises and nearby hillocks, which were crowded with pilgrims, who shouted "Swami Ayyappa" with joy.
The light appeared again two more times and pilgrims were seen praying and looking up at it.
This is the first season after the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB), the custodian of the Sabarimala temple, last year told the Kerala High Court that the celestial light is man-made. Despite this,pilgrims in huge numbers were eagerly waiting for the celestial light to appear on the horizon.
"We are not worried about whether it is man-made or otherwise. We have come to this temple knowing its power and we are really happy we are here on this day," said Shankar Reddy, a devotee who came from Andhra Pradesh.
The sighting of the celestial light is the most important event of the two-month pilgrimage dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. According to believers, the sighting of the celestial light is auspicious and over the last few years, there has been a huge influx of pilgrims to witness it.
Several measures were taken by the administration taking into account the tragedy that took place at Pullumedu -- a hillock near the famed temple -- in which 102 pilgrims died in a stampede soon after devotees returned witnessing the celestial light last year.
"We had made all the arrangements for the smooth conduct of today's ritual. Double barricades had been put in places to ensure the crowds were controlled and regulated. More than 3,000 police officers took care of the security arrangements and loudspeaker announcements were also made in five languages," Devasom Minister V.S. Sivakumar said.
This season also had a fresh round of controversy after tribesmen under the aegis of Mala Araya Samajom claimed that it was their right to light the fire and they would march towards the place on the hillock. More than a hundred of the Samajom members tried to execute the march, but the police stopped them.
Later, they held a prayer and told reporters that they would not relent till their demand was met.
"It is our right and we want it be given to us. We will continue to raise this issue till our demand is met," said Samajom members.
The Sabarimala temple is situated on the Western Ghats, four kilometres uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district in central Kerala. It is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrim centres in India.