Shelter, public convenience, safe drinking water top the list
Pilgrims bound for Palani or Sabarimala on foot do not find the trek arduous, but are worn down by non-availability of basic facilities on the way. From mid-December to early January, pilgrims walk to Palani in Dindigul district or Sabarimala in Kerala.
Safety on the road, non-availability of shelter and public convenience, protected drinking water are causing concern among them. They walk before dawn and stop midmorning for bath, breakfast and rest. They resume when the temperature dips in the evening and continue throughout the night. Though they move in groups, many devotees fear getting hit by speeding vehicles during night on the highways.
‘It is not safe even while walking on pedestrian lanes,’ said G. Thulasimani, a pilgrim from Salem. Installing delineators, reflectors and ensuring vehicles ply at medium speed during the season would be helpful, she said.
V. Krishnan from Edapadi in Salem said that since trees were removed for road expansion works, pilgrims could not walk during day. Halls must be made available for devotees at particular locations so that they could plan their journey and rest.
For Subramani, who runs a grocery shop at Periyakallapadi in Tiruvannamalai district, padayatra has been a regular exercise.
Either with friends or relatives, he had covered on foot nearly 340km, taking the route of Harur, Salem, Namakkal, Karur and Dindigul to reach Palani, over 10 to 12 days.
For the groups from Cuddalore, food and accommodation are not a problem. A team that moves ahead in a van makes arrangements for food and stay for the padayatris. “Pilgrim groups usually avoid eating outside,” Prem Kumar of Sivagiri said.
“Food or accommodation is not a problem as the place of stay every day is planned. But, there is a need for drinking water en route and toilet facilities, especially for women pilgrims,” he said.
Pilgrims walking to Sabarimala from Coimbatore usually start on December 30 or 31 to reach the Ayyappan temple for ‘Makara Sankaranthi’ as the journey takes 13 days, said city resident N. Ram Mohan, a regular padayatri to Sabarimala.
Pilgrims pass through Palakkad, Thrissur, Angamaly and Perumbavoor by halting mostly at temples at night.
On a few occasions, he had the support of a few families who accommodated him at night. And those include a few Muslims families as well.
In a petition to the district administration in Coimbatore on Monday, the Indu Makkal Katchi urged the State Government to provide various facilities along the route to Sabarimala.
It called for free buses for aged pilgrims and a rest house at Sabarimala to provide free accommodation for devotees from Tamil Nadu.
(With inputs from S.P. Saravanan in Salem, R. Krishnamoorthy in Erode and Karthik Madhavan in Coimbatore)