Saturday, January 22, 2011
The Sabarimala Tragedy-It Could Have Been Avoided
The tragic stampede at Sabarimala on Makara Sankranti day this year when 102 people were killed and 55 people injured caused by a jeep which crashed into them could have been avoided. It has once again brought to centre stage the phenomenon of the flash of light that appears three times every year without fail on this auspicious day. Every year thousands of devotees throng Sabarimala to witness the flashing light across the eastern skies off the shrine. It is generally held by devotees that it is a divine phenomenon, whereas rationalists see it as a hoax on the gullible people committed by the Devaswom Board authorities. Even the Kerala High Court has asked the TDB to clarify the cause of this happening- whether there is a human hand behind it or whether it is a divine dispensation. Undoubtedly, this whole subject cannot be settled legally as it falls under the zone of belief and traditions. People often confuse between Makara Jyothi and Makara Vilakku.Makara Jyothi is supposed to be natural.It is the appearance of a star in the evening of Makara Sankranti day, while Makara Vilakku is admittedly man made.It is a fire which is lit in a hill neighbouring the Sabarimala Hill. It is an unnnecessary controversy hiding the real issue. Why did this stampede take place? It was not because of Vilakku or Jyothi but because of lack of proper facilities for pilgrims.
Interestingly, eminent architect late Laurie Baker had prepared a report about fifteen years back on how without damaging the environment basic amenities could be provided for the pilgrims.He travelled from Pampu to Sabarimala Hill through the thick rainforests when he was 79, no mean a task at that age.In a 36 page report full of illustrations and drawings in his own hands,he had warned that if the roads leading to Pampa ,the base camp, is not made into a fourlane walkway,we would be waiting for a disaster to happen.His prophecy has come true. He emphasised on drinking water,sanitation and cool and shady trees on both sides which would provide relief to the pilgrims who undertake this steep climb to the temple atop. All this was to be done with minimum disturbance to the environment. About 50 million pilgrims visit Sabarimala every year and about 1.5 million pilgrims watch the Makara Jyothi. The Devasom Board and the Kerala Government earn huge revenues from this massive inflow of people. The least that they could do is to follow Laurie Baker's recommendations.
Let them learn from this Makara Sankranti's tragedy and create the basic infrastructure and facilities required for safely enduring an arduous journey by the Ayyappa devotees.
Hopefully the Travancore Devasom Board will wake up and follow what Laurie Baker in his brilliant report has recommended so that another tragedy of this magnitude can be prevented in future.