The recent fire at the Madurai Meenakshi Temple has served as an eye-opener for shrines across the State. A simple check on Peruvudaiyar Koil, popularly known as Thanjavur Big Temple, has shown that it lacks on-site firefighting equipment and emergency exits. Though a well-maintained shrine, the 11th century Chola monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site is lacking in fire-safety measures.
Besides the main entrance in the Rajarajan Gopuram, there are two side entrances — one on the south and another on the north — in the circumambulatory hall of the temple. The northern entrance was called ‘Anukkan vayil’, through which Emperor Raja Raja Chola used to visit. However, the doors of both entrances remain closed.
As the main entrance is cramped with pilgrims during special days such as the Pradosham, the devotees have been seeking the opening of the second door for one-way passage.“We demanded that the northern entrance be opened, so that the devotees could exit the temple via the Sivaganga park area. But the Archaeological Survey of India officials said the visitors would like to see the temple fully and hence would consider opening the southern side gate for entry,” a member of the Thanjavur Tourism Promotion Council told Express.
“The visitors could exit the temple through the main entrance,” he added. However, this suggestion is yet to be implemented.There are no firefighting equip. However, the temple premises, of which the inner prakaram itself covered an area of 242m length and 122m width. The main shrine of Peruvudaiyar, which has a long mandapam housing the various wooden mounts, do not have a single fire extinguisher.
Similarly, the mandapam of the Subramaniyar Temple, which houses the coir floor mats used in summer along the pathways inside the temple to help devotees beat the heat, is also devoid of an extinguisher. There is a small powder-based extinguisher in the ‘Madapalli’, the temple kitchen. The in-charge said he was trained and tested on how to use the extinguisher. The powder-based extinguishers, however, did not have an expiry date.
The second extinguisher is kept at the main power room in the temple. Both these extinguishers are available in the eastern side of the circumambulatory hall and hence could not be reached in time if fire breaks out elsewhere. Except for the shoe repository, there are no other shops in the temple.
When contacted, an official of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department told Express that the structure of the temple is basically made of granite and there was no major fire hazard as such.
However, there has been a proposal to place fire extinguishers wherever there is a power point in consultation with the ASI, the official added.
The 1997 accident
As many as 55 lives were lost on June 7, 1997, in a fire at the Thanjavur Big Temple on the eve of the Kumbabhishekam. More than fire, it was the stampede in the narrow entrance that caused the deaths.
The structure is huge and footfall increases during holidays.
The area which encloses the shrine, enclosed by circumambulatory hall measures.
242-metre length and 122-metre wide.
Only one entrance at present.
On an average 15,000 visitors per day.
During weekends, Government holidays it’s 25,000-30,000 per day.
During the vacation time, it reaches 50,000 per day.