Pickpockets on prowl among Sabarimala pilgrims


Sabarimala (Kerala): The annual Sabarimala pilgrimage season has just begun and the pickpockets already seem to be having a field day among the throng of devotees. Police have received several complaints from pilgrims of purses being filched in the last few days.

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Sashidran Panicker, police sub inspector at the temporary police station set up here, told IANS: “It is at places like Apachimedu and Neelimala where the pilgrims, while on their way to the temple top get the most tired because of the steep climb. They are exhausted by the time they reach these places with their baggage and take it easy. It is then that these pickpockets strike.”

The Sabarimala temple, dedicated to Lord Ayappa, opened its doors to the annual pilgrimage early Monday.

“We have taken extra precautions and posted adequate police personnel both in uniform and in civvies. These pickpockets know us and when they see us they disappear,” said Panicker.

According to officials of the Travancore Devasom Board, which runs the temple, over 40 million devotees are expected to visit the hilltop shrine this year during the nearly 60 day long festival season.

Sabarimala temple is situated in the Western Ghats, at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level. The temple is accessible only by foot from Pamba, the main halting point.

Though the temple is now open throughout the year, the peak pilgrimage season begins on the first day of the Malayalam month in November and closes on the first day of the Malayalam month in January.

Some of the ardent devotees observe a 41-day penance before the pilgrimage during which they do not wear leather sandals, are attired in black dhoti and eat only vegetarian food.

“In the past the police had even put up pictures of pickpockets with a known history. Most of them are from Tamil Nadu and they arrive in batches and are dressed like pilgrims,” said Panicker.

More than 5,000 officials, including around 3,000 policemen, are deployed in the temple town to oversee the daily administration of the festival season.