Over 100 pilgrims were killed on Friday night in the stampede at Pulmedu, one of the vantage points on the route to Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple, for witnessing the "Makarajyothi".
On January 14, 1999, 52 pilgrims were killed following the crashing of a hillock under pressure of the jam-packed crowd of thousands of pilgrims who had opted the spot in Pampa for witnessing the "Makarajyothi".
Lakhs of pilgrims concentrate in and around Sabarimala because of the halo of "divinity" thrust upon the "Makarajyothi", the "heavenly miracle light" that "used to appear" on the eastern horizon above Ponnambalamedu of the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple when the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord Ayyappa temple was opened for deeparadhana to Lord Ayyappa on the day of Makara Samkramam.
The biggest high-level fraud of the "divinity" of Makarajyothi had been bared by the traditional Sabarimala temple thantri himself on May 27, 2008.
The "miracle light" called Makarajyothi is created by lighting a big heap of camphor by the people at Ponnambalamedu, the thantri clarified.
Thantri Kandararu Maheswararu, however, tried to make a distinction between the "Makarajyothi" and the Makara Vilakku. The Jyothi is a star that appears on the eastern horizon on the Makara Samkranthi day and that the Makara Vilakku is the "light worship" of the tribal people.
The thantri had made the disclosure in a statement issued to set at rest a controversy over the "Makarajyothi".
The disclosure, obviously with the approval of the then Devaswom Minister and the Travancore Devaswom Board authorities, had given the golden opportunity to the Kerala Government and the Travancore Devaswom Board to put an end to the biggest fraud being perpetrated for decades on the millions of innocent Sabarimala pilgrims and other believers.
The gullible pilgrims had believed till then that the light that appeared on the eastern horizon thrice was divine. Makarajyothi and Makara Vilakku were synonyms for them. The nuances of the difference were never aired by none.
In fact, the pilgrims were forced by several sections of people to believe that the light was divine and a miracle.
The role of the media in drumming up the frenzy over the light is not negligible. Every year, on the next day of the Makara Samkranthi the newspapers used to come out with the screaming headlines of the sighting of the "divine light".
Technological advancement has facilitated the publication of colourful photographs by the print media. Full credit must go to All India Radio for launching for the first time the live broadcast of the Makara Samkranthi evening ceremony of sighting the "divine" light. The advent of the visual media further cemented the myth surrounding the light by the live telecast of the event.
Those who were unable to go to Sabarimala Sannidhanam and Pampa Top sat with folded hands in front of their TVs to see the divine light.
The crescendo of Ayyappa cult used to peak on the Samkranthi Day evening just because of the "divine light". The pilgrims used to scan by straining their eyelids the eastern horizon for the rarest of rare moment, ignoring even the most auspicious deeparadhana which was in progress in the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa! Millions of pilgrims, especially from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, used to camp at all the vantage points in and around Sabarimala and Pampa to catch a glimpse of the "Makarajyothi" even a week before the Samkranthi Day.
The camping of pilgrims had thrown up problems of crowd management and security. The overcrowding had led to the Samkranthi tragedy, which claimed 52 lives, on the Pampa Hill Top on January 14,1999.
Who should be held guilty for one of the greatest unpardonable crimes against the pilgrims?
Murder charges should be framed against those who conspire to allow this fraud to continue. But against whom?
The scope for making easy money in an overcrowed condition was never missed by the petty traders from Pampa to Sannidhanam. Fleecing of pilgrims and supply of low quality food has become the trade mark of the peak time of Sabarimala pilgrimage. Old timers such as the Melsanthi of the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple in the early 1950s recall that the divine light had not been sighted during his priesthood. However, the Makara star used to appear on that day.
"It was the late thantri Kandararu Sankararu who had installed the present idol of Lord Ayyappa in 1950 after the fire mishap at the temple in 1949. My father was the melsanthi then. The divine light phenomenon started after the priesthood of my father," said a senior member of the Mavelikkara Vadakkam Illam. This shows that the "divine" light has a history of only around 55 years. This fraud being committed by the TDB at the expense of the people should not be allowed to continue.
Places of worship are meant to lead the devotees on the right path of a righteous life. The efforts to make them money-spinning centres are unethical. Similarly, hoodwinking of devotees is abominable.
The State Government should immediately take steps to end this fraud. Wide publicity may also be given to the truth that the Makararajyothi was being lit by the people at Ponnambalamedu.