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How safe are the temple towns?

india Updated: Aug 04, 2008 01:15 IST
Archana Phull
Archana Phull
Hindustan Times
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Sunday’s stampede at the Naina Devi temple, which claimed 147 lives are a grim reminder of the state of things in Himachal Pradesh. Even as the state counts much on religious tourism, its temple towns, especially those housing the Shakti Peeths which receive lakhs of pilgrims every year, are in bad shape.

There is a total chaos in temple towns, including Jwalamukhi, Chintpurni, Kangra and Chamunda. Basic amenities like proper hotels, water, clean toilets and medical assistance are not available.

The government does not even have a disaster management plan in place for tackling a stampede. This seems to have led to a major chaos in the wake of the Naina Devi incident. Relief and rescue operations were badly hampered and the authorities were not able to handle the situation properly. No evacuation plans were in place. There were traffic jams on both sides of the road near the temple, making it difficult to shift the victims to nearby hospitals.

The government arranges for security in the temples during the Navratras, but the towns are usually neglected. While Naina Devi is located in an isolated village, one can see how much chaos is there in other towns during Navratras.

Especially in Jwalamukhi, everything goes haywire in Chaitra Navratras. With no proper hotels to stay, pilgrims stay in the open, leaving the town filthy.

However, languages and culture department director Prem Sharma says the government has proper facilities for pilgrims in all the temple towns.

The Naina Devi temple in Bilaspur district is one of one of the five Shakti Peeths, which is thronged by lakhs of people every year from Punjab and Haryana during the Shravana Navratras.

According to the legend, Lord Shiva’s consort Sati burnt herself in a ‘yajna’ to avenge an insult to Lord Shiva. The distraught Shiva then picked up her corpse and started his dance of destruction. Lord Vishnu then unleashed his ‘chakra’ and cut Sati’s body into 51 pieces to save the earth from Shiva’s wrath. The 51 places where the parts fell have come to be known as the Shakti Peeths.

Naina Devi is one of them. It is believed Sati’s eye fell here, thus the name Naina Devi. Naina means eye.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said reports of falling stones created panic among the devotees.

He said that the governments of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab were working in close coordination to carry relief and rehabilitation work.

He said Health Minister Rajeev Bindal has rushed to the spot while medical team from Bilaspur, Solan, Shimla and Mandi were reaching the spot.

He said that the post-mortem of bodies was also being carried at the Ropar Hospital and the bodies are being handed over to the next of the kin.