Action plan for Sabarimala
In the wake of the gruesome tragedy that occurred in Pulmedu this year, it is time for a rethink about the proposed Master Plan. Only Lord Ayyappa’s grace must have prevented such incidents till now, considering the apathy and callousness of the authorities in implementing the necessary precautions. Perhaps the Lord Himself must have been disgusted with the situation and He chose to signify His ill-will through this incident. At least now the authorities should consider this as an eye opener and discharge their responsibilities with due respect to the lives of innocent devotees and the money they pour in. Many people might have considered the Sabarimala season as an occasion for personal gains and filling the coffers of the Devaswom Board and the State Government. As the HC has observed rightly, there was no co-ordination among the different Departments of the State Government. Even after the unfortunate incident, these departments are entertaining themselves by blaming one another. The details are an open book before the public.
What happened in Pulmedu is the sum total of the greed of some people to make quick money, the haste of the devotees to get back to their places after seeing the Makarajyothi and the selfish manner in which they trampled over their fellow beings. Much money must have changed hands when nearly 2000 vehicles were allowed to park in the Periyar Tiger Reserve Forest where entry of vehicles is prohibited; how none of the authorities came to know of the 2 lakh+ people camping on the Pulmedu for hours together and how they got there unseen by anyone is a real mystery. Who gave the eco-development society permission to put up shops there to fleece the devotees remains to be seen. Nearly twenty people boarding an auto rickshaw, and it crushing under the weight blocking the narrow path, speaks volumes about the avariciousness of the people there.
The question whether Makarajyothi is man-made or divine is totally beside the point. The debate is initiated only to camouflage the real issue. There are hundreds of places where much bigger crowds assemble and disperse within shorter periods of time without causing disasters. Whatever be the outcome of the debate, the crowd is only set to increase during the coming years too. It is a question of faith and faith is not rational. People undertake the perilous journey to the temple in the midst of the forest knowing fully well that the legend of Lord Ayyappa itself is a myth. What is required is a systematic and professional approach to crowd management and the development of the necessary infrastructure.
Well, the attitude of the people who gather in such a place cannot be changed much overnight, but the authorities can do a lot to enable the pilgrimage a better experience without causing any reduction in their ‘official’ income. This requires proper planning in advance and executing the projects on a time bound basis, of course, with ample help and sponsorship from willing devotees. PPP should be ideal in this respect.
The Master Plan for Sabarimala should urgently include the following projects:
1. Make the trekking routes to Sabarimala and back one way. The present blockage of the incoming pilgrims is caused mainly by the returning devotees using the same path up to Pampa. The long queue of the devotees waiting for hours together to seek entry to the 18 steps can be avoided.
2. Construct a flyover from Sannidhanam to Pampa Hilltop to allow people to go back to their native places as fast as possible, because once the Darsan and offerings are over, that is exactly what the devotees want to do. This path will also help in evacuating the crowd in an emergency and carrying indisposed people to the hospitals urgently..
3. Make the system of collecting the ghee-filled coconuts and issuing aadiya neyyu in return more popular. Now the devotees climb up the 18 steps with the irumudi on their heads, and once they reach the top, they have to find a place to unpack it, pour out the ghee into pots and wait in a long queue for hours together to get the abhishekam done. The coconuts thus collected can be mechanically opened, the ghee taken out hygienically and offered for abhishekam, and the pieces of coconuts sent down through conveyer belts.
4. The coupons for all offerings should be made available along the entry route; the prasadams can be distributed by the side of the flyover during return.
5. The system of allowing people for long hours around the sanctum sanctorum should be discontinued. The only counter required there is the one collects the ghee-filled coconuts. They need to stay there only until the darsan is over, after which they should move over to Malikappuram and other places of worship and then enter the flyover for the return trek. They can collect the prasadom on the way. This will enable more and more people to come up the steps without being kept waiting.
6. The number of days on which the temple is kept open may be increased gradually. In addition to the first day of every Malayalam month, the temple may be kept open on Uthram, the birth star of the Lord. But it is certain that all such measures will not reduce the number of devotees thronging the premises during Makaravilakku.
7. Discourage people who come on a pleasure trip for trekking. I mean, those who go up the path through the forest wearing footwear like canvas shoes and socks, leather chappals or just rubber slippers. The path from Pampa up to the temple is sacred and need to be climbed barefoot. The police can easily prevent such people at the foot of the hill itself.
8. The ropeway to carry goods for use in the temple is a must. The foot route through the forest – both traditional and the other – should be widened, the sides well bound by concrete structures and the path properly laid with pre-stressed interlocking concrete bricks, which can be laid even during the rainy season.
9. The heavy rush in Pulmedu is experienced only on the day of the Makaravilakku. At the flat plane before Pulmedu from where devotees start moving on foot should be cleared for parking vehicles. No vehicle whatsoever should be allowed beyond this point. The trekking route to Sabarimala should be widened, leveled and cleared of all obstacles well ahead of Makaravilakku day.It is high time that Sabarimala is declared a National Pilgrimage Centre and effective co-ordination between the State and Central Governments be enabled. There will be a great number of devotees and firms willing to provide the necessary infrastructure, once the Master Plan is finalized with the help of the experts in the field.