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.