Sabarimala coffers flood; revenue at all-time high with never-before rush of devotees

Sabarimala: The coffers at the famed Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala continue to overflow as the revenue collection has touched an all-time record on the back of an unprecedented rush of devotees for the two-month annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season which is set to draw to a close. With the heavy influx of pilgrims the huge copper vessel at the sanctum sanctorum is overflowing with cash and coins.

The officials are still engaged in counting the heap of coins, which is proving to be a herculean task.

The season, which saw the lifting of Covid restrictions, has registered a record revenue of Rs 310.40 crore as on January 12. This even as the three days from January 13 saw the heaviest rush of pilgrims.

Sources said the revenue collection till January 17 is pegged at Rs 315.46 crore.

Coins worth crores of rupees, offered by the pilgrims as ‘kanikka’, have been left uncounted, given the enormous volume. The same is kept in three corners of a huge storeroom and appears like mountains of coins.

Sources said this includes the coins from the Mandala-Makaravilakku season itself. Usually, the currency and coins reaching the vaults are counted, sorted, and deposited in the bank on the same day. But this time around, the large volume of money made the same impossible, they added.

The Dhanlaxmi Bank has made available six small machines and a big one for note counting. Still, the officials find the counting task unmanageable amid the rain of notes and coins of various denominations. They started using another room in the spacious Annadana Manadapam for the counting purpose from Tuesday onwards. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has assembled an additional 60 officials from Erumeli, Nilackkal, and Pamba following a dip in the pilgrim flow after the ‘Makaravilakku’ ritual.

To count or to weigh: that’s the question!

The TDB officials are in two minds whether to count or weigh the money offerings, given the myriad size of coins deposited by pilgrims in the hundis. The challenge they face is that there are various sizes of coins even for the same denomination. Then there are ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ coins. A Vigilance report dating back to 2019, when the authorities approached the High Court seeking permission for weighing the coins, pointed out that the Board would lose some money with counting.

The ‘kanikka’ deposited by the pilgrims at the sanctum sanctorum would reach the huge vaults, where the money is counted, via conveyor belts. This time around, numerous notes got torn after getting entangled in the conveyer belts to the new vaults.

Similarly, a huge portion of notes deposited by devotees in hundis was found damaged. This damage was likely because many pilgrims keep the notes along with betel leaves and areca nuts in a tightly tied pouch in the holy bag (irumudikettu) that they carry on their heads while trekking the hill.

The officials have to untie the pouch and then count the notes and coins after separating them from other contents. And most often, the delay in counting such money would result in the notes getting soiled as the betel leaves decay.

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