Entering the Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple in Tiruvannamalai on a Friday is in itself a divine experience. And what strikes one, apart from the intricately-carved walls, pillars and divinity of the place, are the metal detectors. Clearly, the temple authorities aren’t taking any chances. Police personnel ask all visitors to go only through the detectors placed at three entrances, including at the Raja Gopuram.
“We are strict when it comes to safety of the temple and devotees. There are three door-type detectors at three entrances and fourth entrance is closed. There is a scanner at the entrance of Kili Gopuram, which is the main entrance to the temple, where the deity is seated inside the sanctum,” said an official.
He also added that bomb squads are always kept ready. “Devotees are allowed with their handbags which are invariably checked in the scanner machine. They are not allowed to take luggage inside the temple, which is also done to prevent flammable things getting inside the temple. They should place the luggage in a cloak room available outside the temple. There are two officers at the scanner on important days as the temple witnesses heavy crowds.”
He added that even before the Madurai Meenakshi Temple fire incident, they had taken precautionary measures as a minor fire accident in 1996 in a mandabam outside the temple proved to be a wake-up call.
“A total of 63 shops are located outside the temple premises and we have taken steps to ensure that fire safety measures are in place. Electric cables have been made fire-proof and are changed whenever required. We have placed 15 fire extinguishers, which and they are replaced before the expiry dates. There are also 24 sand-filled buckets to douse fires. If there is power leakage, the power supply will automatically stop. We have also ordered devotees not to light camphor inside the temple premises and only ghee, oil dheepams are lit inside the temple.”
One concern is that there seems to be no fire alarm. Another area to be bothered about is that the shops seem to be selling everything from plastic toys to clothes. And they restrict free movement of visitors.
Another striking aspect of the temple is the cleanliness. There are no plastic covers, tumblers, papers or other inflammable objects lying around the floor. “A total of 82 sanitary workers have been employed to clean the premises. They work in two batches, with 41 workers in each batch. They also clean the pillars with water mixed with cow dung,” an official said.
With the Annamalaiyar Hills standing majestically behind, the temple is a serene place. One hopes the peace is never disturbed, by fire or by any other emergencies.