April 13 is one of the two days in the year when flight operations at the premier airport in the State in Thiruvananthapuram come to a grinding halt for five hours on the basis of a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) issued worldwide.
The reason: closure of the airport runway to enable the passage of the ‘Arat’ procession marking the conclusion of the 10-day Painkuni festival at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Around the world, it is the only airport that is closed for a few hours for a festival. The airport remains closed for the Painkuni festival and the Alpassi festival that will follow later in the year. The runway has remained closed during the festival for decades since the reign of Sree Chitra Tirunal Balarama Varma and after Independence.
The present head of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore, Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma, wielding the ceremonial sword and wearing the traditional green cap, symbolically leads the procession.
On Sunday, midway through the procession along the Arat Road to Shanghumughom beach, the skies opened up drenching the idols of the deities, members of the royal family, caparisoned elephants, mounted police, police band, armed police, priests and hundreds escorting it.
The idols of Sri Padmanabhaswamy, Thiruvambadi Krishnan and Narasimhamoorthy were carried by priests in Garuda Vahanas. The procession moved along the 3,398-metre runway under the watchful eyes of the elite Aviation Security Group personnel even as the rain continued.
Airport Director V.N. Chandran told The Hindu that the AAI was happy to permit the procession to pass through the traditional route it had been following. Only bona fide persons carrying the pass from the temple are permitted to move through the airport premises now, he added.
The NOTAM was withdrawn by 9 p.m. to resume flight operations from the airport after the idols moved along the runway back to the temple after the customary dip in the sea at the Shanghumughom beach.
On its return from the beach, the only difference is that the procession moves with the way lit by traditional torches.
NOTAM is a notice containing information concerning the establishment, condition, or change in any aeronautical facility, service, procedure or hazard, the timely knowledge of which is essential to personnel concerned with flight operations.