by Sumaa Tekur
There’s a faith magnet perched atop the Sahyadri Mountains in the Western Ghats of south India. Devotion to Lord Ayyappa, the idol in the Sabarimala temple here, attracts pilgrims by the millions (3 million to 4 million annually is a conservative estimate) each year between November and January, when its doors are thrown open.
On January 14, 2011, a stampede killed more than a hundred pilgrims and forever changed the lives of kin of the victims. But the faith in Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala is intact. What else can explain the hordes of devotees — running into thousands — gathered at the foothills of Sabarimala just one day later? “We have lost faith in the system, not in God,” said one devotee, whose pilgrim group lost one of its members in the stampede (DNAIndia.com, 16 January 2011).
This is not the first time concerns of bad crowd management, poor lighting and lack of facilities have come to the fore. A warning bell was sounded on January 5, 2011, when one person was killed in a mini-stampede. Exactly 12 years earlier, on the same day, 53 devotees were killed in a similar episode. But pilgrims have not hesitated for one moment.
This time, too, pious men (women can participate only before puberty or after menopause) who have taken the 41-day penance of abstaining from alcohol, non-vegetarian food and physical pleasures, culminate their penance by taking the ‘irumudi kettu’ (traditional offerings) to journey to Sabarimala.
It may seem illogical, but logic isn’t the point. As a saying goes: “Faith is like electricity. One cannot see it, but one can see the light.” The pilgrims to Sabarimala can perhaps see the light. Only staunch, unwavering faith can explain that.