Sabarimala (Ker), Dec 30 (PTI) Marking the beginning of the second phase of the annual pilgrimage season, the Lord Ayyappa temple here opened this evening for the Makaravilakku festival.

Though the portals of the hill shrine were opened at 5.00 pm, devotees would be allowed to enter from Thursday morning only, officials of the Tranvancore Devaswom Board, (TDB) which manages the shrine, said.

The auspicious Makaravilakku festival falls on January 14and the shrine would be closed on January 20.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 5,000 devotees would be permitted to offer prayers at the shrine per day during the Makaravilakku season, they said.

As in the first phase of the pilgrimage which ended on December 26 with customary Mandala pooja, a COVID negative certificate, taken within 48 hours of the pilgrimage, is mandatory in the second leg also.

Pilgrims, who do not have such a virus negative certificate, would not be allowed to proceed further from the base camps- Nilakkal and Pampa-- to Sannidhanam (temple complex), TDB officials added.