The callous attitude of authorities in power has taken its toll once again at Sabarimala. More than a hundred lives have been lost in an ‘accident’ that is not accidental at all. In a way we can easily see that it is a disaster by design. It does not need a doctorate in disaster studies to foresee the accident that is waiting to happen when a crowd of 200,000 people are crammed into an open area without lights, barricade, drinking water, police control and with very few exit paths in the midst of a dense forest. Disasters at Sabarimala have become a routine affair every year and even the news media are only waiting to hear the annual toll. And once it happens it is ‘festival’ time for all the electronic media with visuals of dead bodies piled up in lorries and pickups. God’s Own Country and Kerala Model have now become undesirable nightmares that frighten others.
Sabarimala temple at the heights of Western Ghats is a highly symbolic one. It embodies the message of Advaita, which is the very essence of Hindu Sanatana Dharma (HSD). Advaita philosophy signifies the heights of human philosophy and it takes HSD into the unique realm of Ishwar (the truly omnipresent and omnipotent) whereas all other religious paths are stagnating at the lower level of Devatas, the personal gods of tribes or communities which are vying with one another to become the one and only God or his son. Our ancient sages had their own reasons to set up such a unique temple at a unique place. But time has moved on and Hindu society must demonstrate the sagacity to reflect the same level of resilience that their Hindu Sanatana Dharma has always displayed in history. Solutions to problems at Sabarimala must come from within Hindu society. We respect Nature (of which forests are an integral part) and we live in a noble nation which has adopted a secular constitution, though its implementation has been pseudo-secular in every sphere.
So many people have suggested so many solutions, most of them well intentioned, for solving the problems involving deficit of infrastructure and resources at Sabarimala. But given all the constraints and opportunities (which are well known to be listed again) that exist in HSD and Indian nation, I see only TWO plausible solutions to the Sabarimala issue:-
1. Spread the Season:
All the present problems at Sabarimala are essentially because of visit by about 50 million people in a narrow window of 60 days time. It is almost impossible to acquire more and more forest land to set up facilities for such a big population for a mere 60 days usage every year. The more we encroach into forest land the more damage we are inflicting on the forest and its animals, which is very much against the ethos of HSD. There must be a complete freeze on the forest land already acquired and the human corridor must be completely segregated by providing frequent underpass for the passage of animals. And the temple authorities must decide to spread the Sabarimala season to atleast 6 months (October to March) instead of the present two months. If this is done, the present infrastructure is more than sufficient for the expected pilgrim population. All that is required is constant upkeep of the available facilities and infrastructure.
2. Setup more Sabarimalas:
Setting up a few more Sabarimalas is the next solution. Tantris (parent priests) of Sabarimala Ayyappan are clearly designated and they should take the initiative in setting up more temples for Sabarimala Ayyappan at different places in similar terrains. To make a beginning, Sabarimala Ayyappan temples can be set up on hill tops in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It is definitely not a pre-requisite to do it in the midst of thick forests or game sanctuaries for wildlife. The surrounding areas can be nurtured into thick forests at the temple expense in due course. This would be immense help for our environment also. Pilgrims can avoid the ordeal of train / bus travel and loot by unfriendly vendors like in Kerala. The name and fame of Sabarimala Ayyappan will also spread to more areas.
The number of Sabarimala pilgrims every year is bound to increase whatever be the scale of disaster this year or any other year. This is inevitable because the concept of Advaita, which the Sabarimala temple essentially represents, is the most cogent concept of God that can satisfy the innate rationality of any free thinking human being. Those of us who are bonded by the various types of organized religious thoughts, some of which are more political than philosophical, are bound to break free some day. More and more Advaitic spaces like Sabarimala and Oachira are the need of the hour and we can only hope that the authorities in power now will open their eyes to our spiritual demands.