The river Pamba has changed its course in the area around Sabarimala in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, forcing the local authorities and the Travancore Devaswom Board to ban entry of devotees into the hilltop shrine. Assessing the damage on Wednesday, Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar appealed to the Centre and state governments to help with funds to bring the area back to normal.“The loss is around Rs 100 crore. The height of sand that has piled up here is around 50 feet. Two bridges have disappeared and the river has changed its course,” he said.It is the first time in recent history that devotees will not be allowed in Sabarimala shrine during Onam, Kerala’s biggest festival. Padmakumar said the decision followed a report by the special commission in the high court. “We have to abide by the court directive,” he said. To reports that police were stopping devotees on the way and sending them back, he asked: “How will they go? There’s no bridge there now and you can’t cross over the present course of the river.” Meanwhile, as some social media users claimed the flood disaster was the wrath of Lord Ayyappa following the recent controversy over entry of women into the hill shrine, it invited a furious backlash from others. While those linking the two events say that it was because injustice has been done to Sabarimala - by questioning the ethos and dragging a case to the Supreme Court - that the disaster unfolded, others feel that those should not be linked. “It is just an emotional outburst of a popular sentiment. However, we shouldn’t link Sabarimala case and Kerala floods,” says Rahul Easwar, author and activist. RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy had taken to Twitter on the issue, posting: “Supreme Court judges may like to see if there is any connection between the case and what is happening in Sabarimala. Even if there is one in a million chance of a link people would not like the case decided against Ayyappa.” Following brickbats, he clarified saying this was “a comment on people’s view.” However, devotees are a disappointed lot. “I usually visit Sabarimala three times every year; during the Mandala Pooja season, Vishu and Onam. This time I will have to break that tradition,” says Santhosh Kumar, a software professional in Ernakulam. Ayyappa devotees in Tamil Nadu who were planning to visit Sabarimala this season are making a beeline to other Ayyappa shrines in Raja Annaimalapuram and Madippakkam areas of Chennai. Both the temples have 18 holy steps like in Sabarimala. According to A Ponnusamy, a senior priest who has climbed Sabarimala more than 18 times, the devotees were left with no option but to visit local temples to complete the rituals. “A devotee who needs to visit the Ayyappa temple, observing fast and other traditions for 41 days, has to wear a chain of tulsi beads from a guruswamy. In order to complete the rituals, they have to visit another Ayyappa temple which has 18 holy steps,” explains Ponnusamy. K Ayyappan, state secretary, Akhila Bharata Ayyappa Seva Sangham, Tamil Nadu, said that there is nothing wrong in visiting nearby Ayyappa temples to complete rituals under such an unexpected situation. “Raja Annamalaipuram temple and Madippakkam Ayyappan temples has 18 holy steps like Sabarimala. So, the trustees have allocated separate time slots for devotees who have worn holy beads and observed fasting to do the Neyyabishegam ritual. Even many senior citizens who cannot climb the mountain in Sabarimala were visiting these temples every year,” he said.