Cash-strapped Sabarimala finds new way to fill its coffers
Amid the standoff between the state government and protestors at hill temple Sabarimala in Kerala over women entry, the cash-strapped temple board has devised a new way to fill its coffers. It has installed swiping machines (POS) at the shrine. Now devotees who don’t have hard cash can swipe and donate money to the temple account directly.
The South Indian Bank, official banker of the temple, has installed swiping machines and Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) which runs the temple is making special announcements to make use of “digital kanikka” (offering). Once swiped, money will go to the ‘kanikka’ account directly.
“It is the digital age and it will help devotees. I feel swiping in the name of presiding deity will give more satisfaction to the pilgrims,” said TDB president A Padmakumar. The board has also put up boards and makes regular announcements to use this facility.
“We have installed five POS (point of sale) machines at the hilltop and getting good response from pilgrims. Depositors get a receipt instantly and that make them happy. This facility is only available at the hilltop,” said a senior official of the bank adding it is nothing to do with the present crisis born out of the Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages to worship at the shrine.
TDB officials say it will also help them save counting costs. Every year the TDB appoints many employees on deputation to count the offerings coins, currency and precious metals. There was a big controversy some years ago after counting employees complained that they were not allowed to wear under garments fearing they may stash money in inner wears. The ‘brief discomfort’ was later lifted after the state human rights commission intervened and directed the board to install hi-tech facilities at counting centres.
The temple has been witnessing protests over the verdict which also affected footfall and revenue considerably. The TDB says there is a 60 per cent dip in pilgrims and revenue in first two weeks of the annual pilgrimage season which began on November 17. Last year, 16 lakh pilgrims had visited the shrine in first two weeks but this time their numbers came down to seven lakh and revenue also dipped to at least Rs 30 crore.
To add to the TDB woes, many religious outfits are carrying out a campaign not to buy ‘aravana,’ (kheer made of rice, jaggery, ghee and cardamom), the main source of revenue at the temple, and put money in shrine saying the temple board is using pilgrims money to destroy the age-old tradition of the shrine.
What really irked them is the position of the TDB which toed the state government decision to implement the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court which allowed woman all ages to worship at the temple.
When ‘hundis’ (donation boxes) were opened last week, temple authorities were shocked. They got more white papers written ‘Save Sabarimala’ slogan than currency. Worried TDB is also planning an ad blitz in neighboring states saying pilgrimage to Sabarimala is safe.