Pandalam Palace which has a significant role in the affairs of the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala and the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sanghom (ABASS) have welcomed Monday’s verdict of the Division Bench of Kerala High Court on the lighting of lamps at Ponnambalamedu on the Makaravilakku day.
Disposing a petition filed by Kerala Yuktivadi Sanghom, the Court had maintained that ``lighting of the lamps at Ponnambalamedu could not be termed a non-forest activity meant to recognise the age-old rituals and that there was no reason to refuse permission to carry out the rituals at Ponnambalamedu.’’ The Court had further directed the Forest department and the police to provide aid and support for performing the ritual.
Talking to The Hindu, P.Ramavarma Raja, Pandalam Palace Managing Committee (PPMC) president, R.R.Varma, palace spokesman and D.Vijayakumar, ABASS national vice-president, said TDB should take adequate steps to clear the misunderstandings and confusion regarding `Makarajyoti’ among the scores of Ayyappa devotees across the country, especially those in the South Indian States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh with a view to avoid the excessive human pressure at Sabarimala situtated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve during the last lap of the annual Makaravilakku festival.
They said TDB should launch appropriate awareness campaigns, atleast, in the South Indian States, highlighting the importance of maintaining a healthy pilgrimage to Sabarimala, protecting the serene environs of the sacred grove as well as the ritualistic traditions at the Ayyappa shrine.
Any attempt to make `Makarajyoti’ or lighting of the lamps (`deeparadhana’) at Ponnambalamedu a centre of controversy would in no away affect the strong faith of the scores of Ayyappa devotees across the globe, they added.
Travancore Devaswom Board too had stated before the Court that the lights seen at Ponnambalamedu on the Makaravilakku day were man-made.
According to TDB, the lighting of lamps was part of the continuation of a religious practice followed by tribes at Ponnambalamedu, `moolasthanam’ (origin) of Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple.
The TDB maintained that `Makarajyoti’ was a star that appears on the horizon at the time of deeparadhana at dusk on the Makarasamkranthi day.
A report appeared in these columns on Tuesday, on the basis of a reply provided by the Forest department to a query made under the Right to Information Act in February, had given the travel details of a TDB-police team that had proceeded towards Ponnambalamedu hillock on January 14, ahead of the appearance of a light source atop the hill on the Makara Sankranthi day.
Talking to The Hindu, one of the members of the TDB-police team that proceeded to Ponnambalamedu on January 14 afternoon had given an account of the lighting of lamp (`deeparadhana’ as stated by the board) there. He did this on the condition of anonymity.
According to him, the team carried camphor, a gunny bag, a wireless set and a radio set to Ponnambalamedu. The timing of the lighting was determined based on a running commentary on All India Radio broadcast on the ‘Makaravilakku’ festival from the Sabarimala Sannidhanam, he said.
According to him, the TDB engineer and the retired DySP lit the camphor in a can kept on platform constructed at Ponnambalamedu as soon as the commentary over the radio confirmed that the `deeparadhana’ at the temple was over. They would cover the fire twice with a damp gunny bag at intervals to create the effect of a flickering flame.
The PPMC-ABASS leaders said devotees used to camp for days together at various vantage points at Sabarimala and surrounding forest areas from where they could worship the flame that flickers atop Ponnamabalamedu, mistaking it as the sacred `Makarajyoti’. The overcrowding of people in tents pitched in the forests had led to the stampede tragedies at Pulmedu, claiming 102 lives on the Makaravilakku day on January 14 and at Pampa Hilltop that claimed 53 lives on January 14, 1999.
They said the camping of such a large number of devotees in the deep forests also pose the threat of a possible fire outbreak as they used to cook food there itself. Camping of pilgrims inside the forests should strictly be checked in the larger interests of ensuring their safety and protecting the sacred grove, they added.