The Madras High Court on Thursday directed the State government and the Tiruvannamalai district administration to permit 20,000 devotees (5,000 from Tiruvannamalai district and 15,000 from other districts and States) to circumambulate the holy hill attached to the Arunachaleswarar temple, during the annual Karthigai Deepam festival on Friday and Saturday.
Acting Chief Justice M. Duraiswamy and Justice Sathya Narayana Prasad ordered that the devotees be allowed to book their slot on the virtual mode and entry be permitted only on production of such online ticket. Those who succeed in online booking must produce COVID-19 double vaccination certificates.
The authorities concerned were ordered to ensure that all devotees were subjected to temperature check at the entry point and made to follow COVID-19 protocols as per the guidelines issued by the State government. It was ordered that no devotee should be permitted to climb the holy hill and surveillance should be strengthened at multiple pathways leading to the hilltop.
“The visitors/devotees must not stagnate the path of Girivalam (circumambulation) and the authorities must ensure smooth movement of the other devotees during the said period. Three hundred Kattalaidars a day shall be permitted inside the temple on November 19 and 20, 2021,” the order read.
The court ordered that the devotees should not use banned plastic products in the temple town and the district administration should make adequate security arrangements during the festival days apart from providing safe drinking water, modern toilet facilities, vehicle parking lots and so on for the smooth conduct of the festival.
“Facilities for handwashing shall be provided by temple administration at frequent intervals all along the path and queue,” the first Division Bench observed. The orders were passed while disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed by D. Senthilkumar, spokesperson of Indhu Makkal Katchi, against the restrictions imposed on congregation of devotees.
Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram said the district administration had been discouraging devotees from visiting the temple since the festival would be live streamed.
When it was pointed out to the court that the petitioner himself would not be able to participate in the festival if double vaccination certificate was insisted, the judges asked him to get vaccinated immediately if he desired to visit the temple.