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Updated: January 23, 2011 03:07 IST

TDB was lighting the fire: ex-Commissioner

Radhakrishnan Kuttoor
Comment (10)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Nalinakshan Nair.
Nalinakshan Nair.

More questions over annual Sabarimala-Ponnambalamedu spectacle

The ‘Makarajyothi' issue has taken a new turn with a former Commissioner of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) writing to the Devaswom Ombudsman in Kerala, asserting that the TDB had indeed been lighting the fire seen atop Ponnambalamedu. The TDB president had said on Friday that the Board had nothing to do with the Ponnambalamedu event, that is watched reverentially by hundreds of thousands of Sabarimala pilgrims directly, and many more through live telecasts, over many years

In his letter to Justice (retired) R. Bhaskaran, Ombudsman for the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Boards, the former Commissioner, P.V. Nalinakshan Nair, said that he himself, along with a few Devaswom officials, had visited Ponnambalamedu where the Makarajyothi was being lit every year. He had done this six months after he assumed charge as Commissioner in 2008.

The Devaswom Ombudsman is a former High Court Judge chosen by the Kerala High Court, while the Devaswom Commissioner is appointed by the TDB on the basis of a selection made by the Kerala High Court from a panel of names submitted to it by the State Government.

A copy of the former Commissioner's letter is with The Hindu. His tenure ended on November 6, 2010.

According to Mr. Nair, Makarajyothi has a history of nearly 45 years. He said: “The lighting of the Makarajyothi had originally been done by a few families of the Malayaraya tribe. Officers attached to the Kerala State Electricity Board continued the practice when the forest-dwellers were evicted in connection with the Sabarigiri hydro-electric project. The TDB and the Police Department took over the duty when the KSEB officials too left the place at a later time.''

According to him, the Devaswom Executive Engineer at Pampa has been in charge of lighting the Makarajyothi. The expenses for this have never been debited as Devaswom expenditure, according to Mr. Nalinakshan Nair, who is a former Additional Commissioner of Income Tax.

“When asked why this ‘fraud' was being perpetrated, the officers said that the ‘Jyothi' was a signal to disperse the crowd gathered at the Sannidhanam and if the ‘Jyothi' does not emerge as expected, the pilgrims would be restive. The officers were trying to make a necessity out of a blatant falsehood,'' Mr. Nair said in his letter.

The letter stated: “When it dawned on me that the TDB will never have the will to abandon the practice, I suggested that the Board should at least make it legitimate by incorporating it as a Devaswom ritual, for which expenditure could be debited in the Devaswom accounts and in course of time declare ‘Makarajyothi' as a Devaswom ritual. My suggestion fell on deaf ears and I left it at that, later.''

Mr. Nair told The Hindu on Saturday that the TDB, the Police Department and the Forest Department cannot evade responsibility for the January 14 stampede at Pulmedu that had claimed 102 lives. He added that their “fraud has now become a crime” against the pilgrims who had gathered for Makarajyothi darshan.

Mr. Nair said that the “Sabarimala pilgrimage is not built or rests on falsehoods of this nature.” Doing away with the lighting of the fire would not in any way adversely affect or diminish the importance of Sabarimala pilgrimage. Rather, it would add spiritual lustre to it, he asserted.

Asked why he has come out with this revelation after relinquishing the post of Commissioner, Mr. Nair said he had written the letter to the Ombudsman to be submitted before the Kerala High Court which is now seized of the matter, as “the spectral images of the bodies with tenuous spasm of life, thrown together and carted off like carcasses, linger in my thoughts and hound me as a nightmare.” He was referring to the stampede that claimed 102 lives at Pulmedu after an estimated 2.5 lakh pilgrims gathered there to watch the Makarajyothi were dispersing in unregulated conditions.

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It is really a pity that even the well educated in the modern society are fooling the people for their own gains.
Hope it wont be soon enough that people might prefer live telecast or get rid of the age old rituals

from:  Kolur suresh Gowda
Posted on: Jan 28, 2011 at 15:00 IST

Dear Mr.Jerome,

Happy that you rang us and discussed about your timing problem.As suggested,please send me your preferred dates after 4.2.11, so that we can co-ordinate with the trainer for the remaining classes.

from:  Narendar Kesav
Posted on: Jan 28, 2011 at 11:56 IST

I am unable to buy the revelations of Shri Nalinakshan Nair, former Devaowom Board Commissioner for granted. He owe a clear explanation to the people for hiding the secret and making further confusion by disclosing it at this juncture, the intention of which seems to be to divert peoples attention from the core issue.

from:  Nandanan
Posted on: Jan 28, 2011 at 11:24 IST

I fully agree with what Mr Nair has stated in the article,written by Mr Ramakrishnan Kuttoor,that doing away with the lighting of fire would not in any way adversely affect or diminish the importance of Sabarimala pilgrimage.Rather it would add spiritual lustre to it.I hope the Court, the Government and the Board considers this bearing in mind the safety of the pilgrims and with a view to avoid future tragedies like the recent one

from:  M.Navin kumar
Posted on: Jan 28, 2011 at 06:08 IST

Lets get this straight. There are two issues -
1. Why was there no adequate facilities to handle the crowd?
2. Is the MakaraJyoti natural or man made?

What is the need to combine both? The need of the hour is to address issue 1.

Let's assume for one moment that the MakaraJyoti is man made. If one argues that: "if the ritual were not there, the stampede would not have happened", I humbly disagree with this argument. If the temple were not there, the stampede would not have happened. If there were no bus faciolities, nobody would have gone there. There is no end to this route.

It is the duty of the authorities (TDB, and the State Govt. overseeing the TDB) to ensure that proper safety measures be put in place. Instead of addressing this issue, I believe there is a vicious attempt to divert attention to issue 2. This is dangerous and uncalled for. As the Supreme Court has pointed out in the Ram Sethu case, and the Allahabad High COurt has pointed out in the Ramjanmabhoomi case, it is not necessary to toy with the faith of people.

from:  RG
Posted on: Jan 28, 2011 at 03:22 IST

Doing away with the lighting of the fire would not in any way adversely affect or diminish the importance of Sabarimala pilgrimage as mentioned.
Kerala high court should not spare the individuals responsible for this.

from:  sai prasad
Posted on: Jan 25, 2011 at 09:31 IST

It is really heartening that the ex-commissioner,TDB has come out with the fact behind the divine spectacle at the Sabarimala temple.Incidents like this, that killed hundreds of innocent lives would change even a staunch believer in God into an atheist. I wish the authorities in-charge wake up and act swiftly to avert such tragedies. Else we would again be a tame on-looker of such disasters.

Posted on: Jan 24, 2011 at 09:15 IST

The "rationalists" who have moved a petition in the Supreme Court, want the Court to issue a direction restraining the "authorities from defrauding the religious followers and believers by making them believe that the light that appears at Ponnambalamedu was a miracle".
I am also an agnostic and a rationalist (without quotes). Sir CV Raman was a rationalist too. It appears to me, however, that the "rationalist" petitioners have been very selective. Why have they not moved petitions in any court of law against other fraudulent and superstitious religious practices?

from:  Bandit Moorkhjee
Posted on: Jan 23, 2011 at 18:16 IST

People from various parts of the country go to sabarimala after performing the required poojas from their home. If the family members did not get their loved ones back to their home from sabarimalal pilgrimage, whom they will blame?. Will they blame God ? Definitely not. We are Indians. We believe things. We believe that this incident is also may be due to God's anger against pilgrims who do not follow required rules of pooja or so. However, happened is happened. Now we have to console the families who lost their loved ones. For that the Governement at Centre and State should do something more.Just announcing the solatium is not sufficinet. In some families,bread winner might have been lost. Kerala State Govt. and Central Govt. should identify those families and provide some jobs to the next of kin to mitigate the sorrows being faced by the families.

Please take adequate steps (both the Govts.) that such incidents should not occur in future.

Posted on: Jan 23, 2011 at 16:09 IST

These were Pilgrims, good people, looking for Peace, who had trekked to Sabarimala. Their lives have ended unexpectedly, tragically. Such a thing should not have happened and should not happen in the future. If they believed that they would get what they sought at Sabarimala, then possibly they might have found it. Peace be with them. To the civil society, what has happened is not acceptable. Please see the trauma of the ex- Commissioner, TDB. I can also imagine the plight of the TDB and Police Officials who probably were lighting the camphor at the Ponnambalamedu. They may have been under the belief that they were only continuing the rituals which were being practiced for a long time. We do not know whether the TDB had been trying to attract people to the Holy place by advertising or in any other ways to increase their revenues. On our way to the Temple, if a tragedy happens, can we blame God for that? Ultimately people would do what they believe in and want to do.

from:  Sundar
Posted on: Jan 23, 2011 at 11:02 IST
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