Devaswom callousness set to mar Sabarimala pilgrimage

via Pioneer News Service | Pathanamthitta published on September 24, 2008

The conduct of the annual pilgrimage this year to the Lord Ayyappa shrine among the holy jungles of Sabarimala, the second biggest pilgrimage centre in South India after Tirupati, could be as bad – or even worse – as that of last year. Lack of amenities for the devotees, total chaos in the distribution of Aravana and Appam, the chief prasadams of the temple, shortcomings in security procedures, explicit examples of corruption, etc had marred the pilgrimage last year, taking the devotees to the verge of furious response.

Caretakers (Kazhakam personnel) at the hill shrine and the Lord Ganesh temple at Pampa, the base camp for the pilgrims on the banks of the holy river, say that all these occurrences of last year could be repeated, perhaps in a worse manner, this year too. With just 40-odd days remaining for the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season, virtually no arrangements have even been initiated at the hill shrine, where around four crore devotees are expected to offer worship in a two-month period, they say.

If the conduct of the pilgrimage last year was thrown out of gear mainly by the disputes among the three members of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which was in charge of administration of all the major temples of southern Kerala including Sabarimala, the factors that would destablise the smooth conduct would be plain callousness on the part of the TDB as well as the clash between the TDB president and the Devaswom Commissioner, the main executive officer of the board.

TDB president CK Gupthan, a nominee of the CPI(M) and son-in-law of yesteryears’ Marxist theoretician EMS Namboothirippad, has already taken the war against the commissioner to outside the premises of the Devaswom Board. And inside the premises, right inside the Devaswom office, Gupthan and the commissioner had nearly staged a physical clash last week. Devaswom Minister G Sudhakakran, also from the CPI(M), has given stern instructions to Gupthan to make peace with the commissioner, though nobody expects this to happen.

In the meantime, State Additional Chief Secretary K Jayakumar, who was last year appointed as Special Commissioner for Sabarimala by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan in the wake of unmanageable problems at the hill shrine, said in a report to the Government that the Devaswom Board had not carried out any preparation for the oncoming pilgrimage season. He has said explicitly in the report that the Devaswom Board has miserably failed to take lessons from the last year’s painful experiences.

Jayakumar’s report, presented to G Sudhakaran the other day, said the board, which was taking the serious issues at Sabarimala, was running away from reality, but the Government should not remain complacent. The callousness of the Devaswom Board during last year’s pilgrimage had almost led to a law and order situation in Sabarimala with lakhs of pilgrims, fed with their wait for prasadam, had nearly turned violent.

Devaswom Commissioer PV Nalinakshan Nair had earlier reported to the Government that some person(s) in the TDB had been conniving with some “external forces” to derail the systematic manufacture and distribution of Appam and Aravana this year. It was after this report the feud between the commissioner and Gupthan had started. Gupthan had last year accused the other two members of the TDB, P Narayanan from the CPI and Sumathikkutty Amma from the RSP, of derailing the Aravana production and distribution.

Jayakumar had prepared his report to Sudhakaran after visiting Pampa and Sannidhanam, the abode of Lord Ayyappa, on September 20 on the basis of the report from Nalinakshan Nair. The top official also pointed out to the Minister that the TDB had not implemented even a single recommendation of the meeting held a month ago to review the preparations for this year’s pilgrim season.

One of the biggest problems the TDB would face this year also would be on the Aravana and Appam front. A month ago, the Devaswom Minister had said filled Aravana cans to last a week would always be there once the season started. This promise is unlikely to be fulfilled if the present condition of the Aravana manufacture plants is any indication. The necessary repair and maintenance works in the plants is yet to be taken up. Also, the TDB is silent about how many Aravana cans have been stocked for the season. Shortage of Aravana cans was the biggest problem last year.

There is a host of other problems like insufficient number of toilets at the base camp in Pampa, non-completion of sanitation procedures, shortage in boarding facilities for police personnel, etc. Caretakers at the hill shrine and the temple at Pampa do not expect a smooth pilgrimage season this year too. “Everything is going smooth only because of one thing: The blessings of Lord Ayyappa!” says a Kazhakam employee at Pampa.

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