Sabarimala’s revenues register sharp hike as pilgrimage season remains peaceful
With peace returning to the hill shrine in Kerala, after the Supreme Court referred the contentious issue of the entry of women to a larger bench last week, cash registers have been ringing along with the temple bells at Sabarimala.
Though these are early days yet since the temple reopened for ‘darshan,’ pilgrims’ footfall and temple revenue have been going up steadily much to the relief of the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB), an autonomous body that runs the shrine, which was in trouble after its coffers dried up.
Pilgrims will have to wait for 17 long years for one of the most sought after and expensive offerings at Sabarimala, the ‘Padi Pooja’-- bookings are over till 2036. The booking amount is Rs 75,000 and pilgrims will have to shell out another Rs 75,000 for other expenses.
In the elaborate offering, all 18 sacred steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum will be covered with flowers and each holy step will get different offerings. According to legend in Sabarimala these 18 steps are most sacred and each step signifies certain messages. Pilgrims who do not carry their offering bundle on their head (irumudi kettu) will not be allowed to climb these steps. Even Bindu Ammini and Kanakadurga, two women who made it to the temple last year under police protection, were forced to skip the 18 steps as they were taken through the backdoor.
“Each step signifies a sacred message. So ‘padi pooja’ is most sacred and sought after. Our calendar is full till 2036,” a senior officer of the temple board said. “Last year due to the unrest some of these offerings were affected and they will be done this year,” he said adding the temple is flooded with ‘padi pooja’ inquiries now. “In the first week itself we got more than 50 inquiries regarding ‘padi pooja,’” said the official who did not want to be identified.
Since peace has been restored, pilgrims have started swarming to the temple in hordes and base camps and trekking paths have literally turned black with milling devotees who usually wear a black cloth during the pilgrimage. But, this time slogan shouting, the deafening chanting of hymns, imposing police barricades and right wing volunteers are missing and grumpy policemen have turned amiable.
After witnessing a pitched battle between angry protestors and police in Pambha base camp last year P Padmanabhan (58), a small-time trader and a regular at the hill temple, said that he had taken a vow that he will walk all the way from his home to Sabarimala once peace returns to his favourite shrine. It is time to fulfill his vow. It took more than 12 hours for him to cover 90 km from his house in Kollam. And his pet, a local breed dog, accompanied him all the way and later he had entrusted his companion to a police outpost till he returned after ‘darshan.’ “I was in tears when I trekked to the temple,” he said.
Another video of a stray dog accompanying a group of pilgrims from Karnataka had gone viral on social media recently. It claimed the stray dog had accompanied the pilgrims for more than 500 km. Many pilgrims have such stories to share. “We are happy the temple is witnessing a steady flow. We hope we can compensate last year’s loss,” said TDB president N Vasu. Last year the board had suffered a revenue decline of Rs 120 crore while in 2017 it had collected Rs 268 crore in 2018 it was a mere Rs 148 crore. Noting that this season the number of piligrims and revenue had started off on a strong note, he said the board will release details of pilgrims and revenue after a week.
The temple and its base camps had witnessed violent clashes last year when the government tried to implement the Supreme Court order which allowed women of all ages to worship at the temple. Pilgrims say they relish peace because for them a trip to Sabarimala is more than a pilgrimage. “After each pilgrimage we look forward to next year. We will start saving and the pilgrimage is part of our life,” said Ramaiah Naidu, a native of Karnool (Andhra Pradesh) who has been frequenting the temple for 17 years. Besides Kerala, a majority of pilgrims are from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.