Religious bodies in Kerala are doing away with displays of fireworks during temple festivals in the wake of the fire tragedy that killed more than 100 people at the Puttingal temple in Kollam district on Sunday.
Thrissur Pooram,regarded as Kerala’s biggest cultural pageant, will avoid high-decibel crackers during its week-long festivities that begin on Monday. Authorities of the Tiruvambadi and Paramekkavu temples who usually compete with each other, have further decided to skip the loud crackers that follow the hoisting of the Pooram flag. The Sabariamala supreme priest, Kandararu Raeevaruru, also said the exercise was a mere waste of money that invited unwanted danger. A ban on fireworks was earlier supported by former defence minister and Kerala chief minister A K Antony.
For many Hindu shrines in the state, fireworks and caparisoned elephants are essential adornments to the festivities. Higher the number of elephants and longer the fireworks display, the more superior a shrine is considered, and priests often take pride in making these arrangements. Over the years, even churches have picked up the practice.
In the last five years, at least 400 people have died in firecracker-related incidents in the state. Of Rs 2,000 cr worth crackers burst in Kerala, Rs 840 cr – almost one-fourth of the amount – is used for fireworks during festivals. In Kollam, the Puttingal Devi temple had acquired an estimated 50 tonnes of gunpowder and assorted explosive material, costing around Rs 10 lakh.
Officials investigating the accident suspect that sparks from a lit cracker had ignited the reserve stock, leading to the explosion that damaged the area, killing and injuring dozens, and even collapsing a portion of a one-storey concrete building.
The district administration had apparently denied permission for the fireworks display, following a complaint by local resident living close to the temple. Temple authorities had however gone ahead with the show.
Flouting the stringent provisions on the use of explosive material is common practice, and is often done with impunity.
A 2005 Supreme Court judgement in fact imposes a blanket ban on the use of sound-emitting firecrackers between 10 pm and 6 am. But it isn’t just temple officials who break the ban; people also ignore the restriction, especially during festival celebrations like Deepavali.
The problem though not only lies in the complete disregard for norms and safety provisions, it also lies in the lack of safe equipment.
Grand pyrotechnic displays are not uncommon across the world – the Dubai Shopping Festival and the Olympics have some spectacular shows, viewed and enjoyed by thousands of people on the ground. But explosives experts in India say temples still use primitive methods for the display. Murali Thummarakudy, chief of a UN disaster reduction team, said, “We have to do away with most of the primitive techniques.”
For now, temples will be doing away with firecrackers entirely. Churches that followed suit in allowing fireworks during their religious celebrations are also doing away with the fire hazard. Baselois Mar Thoma II, head of the Malankara Orthodix church has even asked believers to avoid using crackers.