In Sabarimala, a season of crowds, snakes and pickpockets

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Last year, this place suffered a terrible tragedy when 102 people died in a stampede. But pilgrims are still thronging the Sabarimala temple, the revered Hindu shrine situated in the Western Ghats in central Kerala. What is more, the temple these days is experiencing an excess of everything - from snakes to pickpockets to its earnings in the current pilgrim season.

The authorities of the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB), which runs the temple have announced that at the end of the last week, the earnings of the temple by way of offerings and sales of ‘appom and aravana’ have crossed Rs.130 crore, which last year was around Rs.115 crore.

And like the increase in devotees and earnings, there has also been an increase in the presence of snakes in and around the temple complex.

So far, around 120 snakes have been caught and released into the dense forest that surrounds the temple. Last year, 90 snakes were caught and released into the jungle.

The TDB has now employed an expert snake-catcher who releases them into the woods after catching them.

One reason attributed for the spurt in snake sightings is that ahead of the present peak season, which began on November 17, a lot of clearing was done in and around the main temple complex.

Some, though, have expressed reservations at the removal of the green cover around the temple. "It is best that no more greenery is removed from around the temple," said Jagathy Sreekumar, the most popular and sought-after comedian and character artist in the Malayalam film industry, who has been visiting the temple for the past 30 years.

Another increase has been noticed this year - in the number of pickpockets. The nimble fingers are thriving as the crowds surge, say locals.

"Pickpockets dressed up like pilgrims use a blade to cut open the bags of pilgrims when they stand in queues. As soon as their job is done, they melt away into the crowd and return again after a while," said a police official.

The present pilgrimage season will reach its climax on January 15 (Makar Sankranthi Day).

The Sabarimala temple is situated at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level and four kilometres uphill from Pamba in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district.

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