Kerala Temples: Story of Fires, Stampedes & Elephants Running Amok
The number of temples and the scale of festivities is increasing day by day in Kerala (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/ Lijumol Joseph)
The number of temples and the scale of festivities is increasing day by day in Kerala (Photo: The Quint/ Lijumol Joseph)

Kerala Temples: Story of Fires, Stampedes & Elephants Running Amok

As the burnt and injured in the Kollam Temple fire get treated and the dead are put to rest by their near and dear ones, a few temples in Kerala may still be busy hosting festivities too grand to be held safely.

Competitive fireworks, accidents, stampedes and elephants running amok killing people are tragedies not new to Kerala. The number of temples and the scale of festivities are increasing day by day, leading to more and more people risking their lives to seek divine blessings.

Fireworks on display at Puttingal temple in Kollam before the mishap. (Photo: The News Minute)
Fireworks on display at Puttingal temple in Kollam before the mishap. (Photo: The News Minute)

Firecrackers: The Deadly Spark

Kollam temple fire is said to be deadliest such tragedy, but the recorded history of accidents in Kerala temples dates back to 1952. In Sabrimala alone, more than 224 people have been killed and hundreds injured in firecracker blasts and recurring stampedes.

Competitive fireworks may not be peculiar to Kerala but they have led to consistent accidents. In 1978, eight people died in the famous Thrissur pooram festival, in which fireworks are a major attraction. A firecracker fell on the spectators, killing them and injuring many more. The temple has seen three such accidents after that, but no lessons seem to have been learnt.

 Onlookers stand as a decorated temple elephant tries to attack its mahout in Kerala (Photo: Reuters)
Onlookers stand as a decorated temple elephant tries to attack its mahout in Kerala (Photo: Reuters)

Elephants Running Amok

Elephant parades and fireworks have been central to the pride of temples in Kerala. The grand display of decorated elephants in festivals like Thrissur pooram, is now common to every small temple in Kerala. Ignoring the idea and scope of space, the smallest of small temples line up three to four elephants in narrow lanes and courtyards.

The louder the show, the better it is, and in the scorching heat, decked up head to toe, the tuskers often lose their senses.

At various temple festivities, elephants running amok have led to deaths, stampedes and excessive damage to property. The number of elephant deaths due to harsh treatment is also the highest in Kerala.

More than 106 people were killed in the stampede at Sabarimala on 14 January 2011, during  Makara Jyothi celebrations. (Photo: Reuters)
More than 106 people were killed in the stampede at Sabarimala on 14 January 2011, during Makara Jyothi celebrations. (Photo: Reuters)

Crammed Spaces: A recipe for Stampede

The oldest of old temples in Kerala are now surrounded by resident populations. The commercialisation of the temple spaces means even more shops, crammed by-lanes and unplanned encroachment.

In case of accidents, its not just the devotees and the temple staff who suffer, but also the people in the surrounding area. Such situations can only be controlled if the capacity of the place and the grandeur of the festivities are submitted to a reality check.

With the number of temples increasing rapidly the sentiment of competitiveness is never less than ‘mega’ and ‘grand’. (Photo: Reuters)
With the number of temples increasing rapidly the sentiment of competitiveness is never less than ‘mega’ and ‘grand’. (Photo: Reuters)

‘Competition Kills’

Temples managed by the boards and trusts in Kerala have huge money at their disposal.

As in the case of the Kollam fire tragedy, the involvement of local politicians makes things worse. With the number of temples increasing rapidly, the sentiment of competitiveness is never less than ‘mega’ and ‘grand’. The local TV channels do the live broadcasts of the Pooja, and the business interests are high.

Gods Own Country now seems to be in the rat race of grandeur in festivals, leaving the essence of celebration behind. Its high time temple boards and devotees understand that rituals are meant to be a path to divinity, not to untimely death.

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