Hundreds and thousands of devotees visit the holy shrine of Sabarimala every year. They not only come from all over India but also from various parts of the world. A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Chennai airport to receive my wife. At the international terminal, I was surprised to see scores of Ayyappa devotees, clothed in black, arrive by the Air Lanka flight from Sri Lanka.
Today, I was watching the Makara Jyoti on television, as I have been doing in recent years. I always wonder how exactly when the temple opens in the evening after puja, the light shines on the Ponnambala Medu or Kantamala where, according to legend, Ayyapa spent his last years before merging with Sastha or the lord.
How is it that despite the surge of crowds, television cameras only show devotees, most of them made of people from the Devaswom or temple management team, standing close to the sanctum (they do not carry irumudi kettus or wear black) with lots of elbow space and no jostling whatsoever? Today, for instance, right outside the sanctum was a devotee clad in all white, hands folded in prayer, who spent almost half an hour there without any policeman or temple staff pushing or shoving him. There were many others like him there outside the sanctum with all the space in the world. The question I ask is: why give these people special treatment when the common man or woman has to literally shove their way through gaps, to beat the surge of people all around before having a glimpse of the deity, if you are lucky, that is. And those who have the clout or are in positions of power or are part of the temple management in some way get to stand and gaze at the idol for as long as they want. Isn’t that totally unfair? Can’t the common man or woman have justice even at the doors of Lord Ayyappa?
And quite strangely, I noticed that television cameras, whether they be from Asianet, Manorama, Surya or good old Doordarshan do not pan so much on policemen pushing devotees away as much as on areas that are quite peaceful. Of course, the policeman’s job at Sabarimala is not enviable – controlling crowds anywhere is no easy task and at Sabarimala more so, when there are lakhs of people bent upon having darshan. And people can not to be faulted, too, for after all that is what they come for, all the way from homes far away.
Some newspapers reported a couple of days ago of vehicles to Pamba being halted several kilometers away because the flow of pilgrims at Sabarimala was too much to handle. Imagine the plight of all those who were stranded thus. Can’t adequate arrangements be made at Pamba and at Sannidhanam to ensure that large numbers of pilgrims can be accommodated, no matter how thick the flow? Why should vehicles be halted for hours together and devotees be caught unawares and made to suffer to make up for administrative inadequacies? Surely, the Devaswom is financially very well off and can afford necessary expansion (not at the cost of chopping trees and reducing forest cover though). With the peak pilgrim season happening only in the months of November-December, Devaswom authorities have ample time to set things right. And they’ve had all these years.
I have been visiting Sabarimala since 1984, although not every year. There are many more buildings now, more toilets and rooms, but not enough. There are still people who urinate in bushes and at tree stumps or defecate a distance away. Why does nobody stop them? Doesn’t a healthy environment matter here? What is done to dispose of the tones of garbage, waste food, plastics etc? Is it all done hygienically? Are the Pamba waters cleared of waste discharge and cleansed, as they ought to be? Are newspapers or magazines reporting about all this?
And we talk about climate change and global warming. Everybody has to be a responsible citizen, even if you are a member of the Travancore Devaswom Board or the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam. With responsibility comes duty; with duty comes planning and devising strategies to shape things according to a system. Sadly, people in responsible positions more often than not appear ignorant of the basics. It’s only when a disaster happens that people wake up.