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Sabarimala: Tragedy revisited

india Updated: Jan 15, 2011 02:39 IST

As horrific as the Sabrimala tragedy is, what is worse is the fact that today's stampede is a chilling replay of a similar accident eleven years back, to the day.

On January 14, 1999, 53 pilgrims died in a stampede at the Pamba base camp just after witnessing the "Makara Vilakku" or divine light, the culmination and high point of the two month pilgrim season at the forest temple of Ayyappa. Like Friday's incident, that stampede was caused by a combination of factors, one of them being the collapse of the sides of a hillock.

The Sabrimala temple and its two month annual pilgrim season is probably the biggest religious event in the region, attracting devotees from all the neighbouring states. According to the Travancore Devaswom Board, which administers the temple, the number of pilgrims keeps increasing by 30% every year.

Consequently, on that fateful day, every vantage point in and around the temple, the hills and valleys surrounding it was filled with people, who had observed some two months of fasting and abstinence and trekked their way up the hills to have a glimpse of what they believe is divinely lit light. As the light faded, pilgrims rushed towards the shrine for the evening ceremonies and a rope snapped, the edges of a hillock collapsed under the weight of so many people and some pilgrims on a mound of coconuts slipped and started falling, one on top of the other.

Soon, a stray wire of an electric post snapped while a bus at the hilltop parking lot rolled under the weight of pilgrims panicking on its roof. All of these separate incidents spread between a huge mass of people catalysed the stampede and made it worse. In the end, over fifty lives were lost while hundreds were injured.

The Justice T Chandrasekhara Menon Commission, which probed the 1999 stampede placed the blame squarely on the state government and the temple authorities for lack of infrastructure and gross negligence.