Thousands thronged to Sabarimala to witness the temple's annual Makara Vilakku festival. The Makara Vilakku, celebrated in the latter half of the Makara month (in the Malayalam calendar) started with the Thiruvabharanam.
Prior to the opening of the doors of the shrine, the deity was decked up with the royal jewels or Thiruvabharanam and brought to the 18 steps of the sanctum a little after 6 pm. Devotees from Kerala and all neighbouring states, many who had been camping since the weekend, chanting Ayyappa's name and devotional songs. The doors of the sannidhanam were then opened and Deeparadhana, which is a pooja performed with lamps was done by 6:30 pm.
After the Deeparadhana, devotees prayed looking at the Makaravilakku.
The significance of the Makara Vilakku is in the Makara Jyothi star which is worshipped by devotees during the Makara Sankranti festival on January 14. According to lore, the star or Makara Jyothi is believed to be Lord Ayyappa showing himself to the devotees to bless them. According to the Travancore Devaswom Board, almost 2.5 lakh people visited Sabarimala on Monday.
During the festival, a sacred lamp or the Makara Vilakku is lit in the neighbouring hill of Ponnambalamedu, a few km away from Sabarimala and this is worshipped by devotees who view it from the Sannidhanam. The lighting of the lamp was a tradition practiced by the tribal community of Mala Arayans who have lived on these hills for generations. The custom was taken over nearly 60 years ago by the Kerala government and today, the Kerala State Electricity Board lights the lamp during the festival with the support of the TDB.
The Mala Araya community, known in local legend to be Lord Ayyappa’s aides were one among the 35 tribes identified by the Kerala government. In 2016, for the first time in decades, the community after a failed agitation, asserted their rights to light the Makara Vilakku by approaching the Kerala State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Every year, the Makara Vilakku which is when the temple is at its busiest, draws devotees in thousands from all over India to the hill shrine in order to witness the Makara Jyothi- which devotees believe is a star or light that is the essence of Lord Ayyappa himself.
Following the festival, the temple will close to public on January 19, which would be the last day devotees would be allowed at visit the shrine. On January 20, the temple doors will close after the Pandalam Royal family are allowed to pray.
The temple will then remain open for a few days every month at the beginning of the month.