With the national elections around the corner in 2019, K Padmarajan, who holds the record for losing the most polls — 197 — is out to seek blessings of the Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimala temple.
A regular to the hill shrine in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district for the past 46 years, the 72-year-old “election king”, whose record is registered by the Limca book of records, is overwhelmed by the scale of destruction caused by the recent floods at temple’s Pambha base camp. Padmarajan, a shop owner in Tamil Nadu, chooses to contest against newsmakers and also contested against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Vadodara in 2014.
Where once were buildings and roads, there is nothing now, only mounds of slush, sand, uprooted trees and a large phalanx of roots. Locals say at the peak of the deluge, water rose as high as 30 feet decimating all structures that came its way.
During the floods between August 15 and 22, Pambha river, Kerala’s third largest after Bharatapuzha and Periyar, had changed its course at several stretches that cover vast areas below the Ayyappa temple.
The temple was cut off for more than three weeks as floodwaters inundated the region around the base camp from where the five-kilometre trek to the shrine begins.
On Sunday, the temple was opened for the first time after the deluge, and an estimated 10,000-15,000 devotees thronged the shrine.
“Though the base camp was completely destroyed, I was relieved when I entered the temple. It is intact. Lord Ayyappa is there,” observed V Raghavalu, who is from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh.
Like Raghavalu, many devotees believe the Lord helped the temple remain unscathed in the face of calamity and they were profusely thanking the presiding deity.
Two bridges across Pambha river were damaged, but relief workers had built a temporary foot-bridge placing stones across the river and named it ‘Ayyapa Sethu’ to ensure smooth flow of pilgrims.
“It is time we learn a lesson from the calamity. I feel crass commercialization led to landslips and flash floods. If we take a lesson from this it is better,” said Ramamurthy, another regular, hailing from Puducherry.
The Travancore Dewasom Board (TDB), which manages the temple affairs, has now decided not to allow any constructions in Pambha, and make Nilakkal, 15 km away from Pambha, the new base camp.
“The floods have opened our eyes. We will allow only nature-friendly development in the temple and new base camp,” said TDB president A Padmakumar.
After Mecca, Sabarimala is considered the second largest seasonal pilgrimage site in the world. According to TDB, around four crore devotees offer prayers at the temple during the season starting in November.
First Published: Sep 16, 2018 22:59 IST