Damaged Sabarimala infrastructure being repaired at brisk pace to ensure smooth pilgrimage
Authorities are working overtime to rebuild damaged infrastructure at Sabarimala temple’s base camp in Kerala to ensure that the annual, three-month pilgrimage to the shrine in November is smooth. The base camp on the banks of the Pambha river is located five km from the shrine atop a hill in Pathanamthitta district.
Last month, the worst floods in Kerala for nearly a century cut off the hill shrine and left over 300 dead besides uprooting around 10 lakh people.
Pilgrims have to cross a pedestrian bridge over the river before trekking to the shrine. Slush and uprooted trees had buried the bridge at Triveni. Public works department officials said a thorough inspection was needed before it could be reopened. Gushing flood waters washed away many buildings and uprooted power and communication towers at the base camp.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa and located about 3,000 feet above sea level. Devotees trek to the shrine through thick forests. The temple opens on the first day of every month as per the Malayalam calendar while the annual pilgrimage in November is one of largest religious gathering in the world.
The Travancore Devasom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, expects at least four crore people to trek to the temple for the pilgrimage this year.
TDB president, Padma Kumar, said relief workers have built a temporary passage named Ayyapa Sethu across the river by placing stones. He said as of now machines cannot be taken there because of the hilly terrain and damaged infrastructure.
“Our first priority is to restore power and water supply. Work is progressing on a war footing. For the Ayyappa Sethu, 350 workers worked for more than a week. We will overcome all hurdles like this,” he said.
“The temple was cut off for over two weeks. We managed to enter it through Ayyapa Sethu on Monday. We will seek the army’s help to build a bridge. Power and water plants will be restored on a war footing.”
Kumar said they would ensure eco-friendly constructions in rebuilding the base camp. “We have learnt a lesson. Things would not be the same in Sabarimala. We will not allow big concrete constructions either at base camp or the hilltop,” he said. He said the temple’s sanctum sanctorum remained safe.
“It is nothing but God’s grace. I have been visiting the temple on the first of every month (Malayalam calendar) for the last 14 years. I am eager to visit the temple in the second week of September,” said Padmanabhan Nair, a businessman from Thiruvananthapuram.
Pambha, Kerala’s third largest river after Bharatapuzha and Periyar, changed course across several stretches in hilly Pathanamthitta from August 15-22. Efforts were on to ensure the 176-km long river regains its original route, which covers a vast area below the temple.
Pilgrimage to Sabarimala is open to people of all faiths. But women aged 10 to 50 are banned from entering the temple. The Supreme Court is hearing a petition against the ban.