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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

Kerala’s Sabarimala is in the news again: Overcrowding, politics and more

The famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district finds itself embroiled in yet another row as the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has come under fire for failing to manage the heavy rush of devotees. As many devotees have been forced to return without a darshan, it has also turned into a contest of political upmanship with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and caste groups accusing the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of crowd mismanagement in the hill shrine.

Nestled amidst the Periyar Tiger Reserve, the temple has been witnessing a massive footfall in December, resulting in chaos and frustration among the devotees. Many devotees, especially those from states like Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have had to return without offering their prayers at the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Devotees have also been complaining of insufficient KSRTC buses to transport them from the Nilakkal base camp to Pamba, which is at the foothills of the temple. As a result, the existing buses are overcrowded, leaving devotees numbering tens of thousands stranded and waiting for more buses to take them to the temple foothills. 

The current situation is unfolding on the backdrop of the 41-day Mandalam-Makaravillaku pilgrimage season, which began on November 16. However, it was only in the second week of December that reports started to emerge of devotees having to wait long hours – some as long as 12 to 14 hours in the queue – to offer their prayers.

According to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, while an average of 62,000 pilgrims visited Sabarimala during the initial days of the Mandalam season, the number increased to 88,000 in just four days from December 6, leading to challenges in managing the crowd by security officials and temple administrators. “One of the reasons for the sudden overcrowding at the temple is that many devotees from states like Telangana and Tamil Nadu, who couldn’t come during the initial days because of elections and floods, are flocking the temple now. Taking this into consideration, the time allotted for offering the ‘darshan’ has been extended by one hour,” said the Kerala CM.

The opposition parties – the BJP and the Congress did not waste any moment to mount attacks on the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government, accusing them of not providing adequate facilities to the devotees and for not making the necessary arrangements to ensure a smooth pilgrimage.

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