The Ayyappa shrine at Sabarimala closed on Thursday night after the end of Mandala Puja, which marks the culmination of the 41-day annual Mandalam festival, PTI reported. With this, the initial phase of the two-month annual pilgrim season, which began on November 17, came to an end.

The temple will reopen on December 30 at 5 pm for the Makarvilakku festival, which will go on till January 14, Online Manorama reported. The shrine will finally close for the season on January 20.

The shrine has witnessed massive protests since it opened last month against the state government’s decision to implement the Supreme Court’s September 28 verdict, which allowed women of all ages to offer prayers. Traditionally, girls and women in the menstruating age group of 10-50 years were prohibited from entering the temple.

Earlier this week, two women escorted by the police were forced to turn back after protestors blocked their path and hurled bottles at their vehicle. This came a day after protestors stopped a group of 11 women from visiting the hill shrine.

The Kerala Police made elaborate arrangements to manage the crowd as thousands of devotees thronged the temple to witness the special pujas and rituals on Thursday. Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran, Travancore Devaswom Board President A Padmakumar, and former Travancore Devaswom Board chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan were among those who offered prayers.

Surendran on Thursday claimed that more than a dozen women who attempted to enter the temple during the Mandala season were unable to do so because the state government itself was not interested in making it happen, The Times of India reported. At the temple complex, Surendran told reporters that the state government has often stated that it would not insist on any particular person’s entry into the temple.

“If the government had such a wish, young women would have entered the temple much earlier,” he said. “Nobody should doubt the government’s strength. Nobody must feel that young women were unable to enter the temple because a few hooligans tried to prevent them by shouting ‘sarana mantras’.”

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had earlier said that his government would not take any steps to help women enter the temple, but it was his administration’s “constitutional responsibility” to provide security to women who want to offer prayers.