As Lord Athi Varadar gears up to return to His abode in Devarajaswamy temple tank on Saturday, it is undeniable that the once in a lifetime event generated unprecedented excitement among people in the country and posed a big challenge to authorities on crowd management. The idol was brought out from the temple tank after 40 years last month and was kept for darshan in sayana kolam (lying position) and nindra kolam (standing position) for 48 days.
With district officials failing to foresee the arrival of humongous crowd, devotees complained of lax crowd management and inadequate facilities. The news of poor planning causing inconvenience to devotees spread on the social media leaving authorities red-faced.
The government was faulted for missing the opportunity to promote tourism in Kancheepuram, especially for weavers of world-famous silk sarees.
Suffocation claimed the lives of a few devotees standing in serpentine queues stretched for over 4-5 km for darshan. Some of them fainted due to exhaustion and dehydration. Soon, on Chief Minister's directive, crowds were streamlined, health camps set up and food and water facilities provided.
While battery cars were helpful for elderly and pregnant women in the first few weeks, the facility had to be withdrawn with milling crowds thronging the temple leaving no space for battery car movement.
The temple soon witnessed 2.25 lakh devotees daily and when numbers went up, the darshan timings were extended.
The mega festival had its share of dramatic incidents. There was a huge furore when Varichur Selvam, a Madurai-based rowdy, and his family were given VIP treatment and allowed to sit near Athi Varadar's pedestal.
Though there were serious discussions on finding an alternative place of worship for Athi Varadar, He remained in the same place. Also there was a heated debate among religious heads over Athi Varadar's stay in the temple instead of returning to His water abode.
Meanwhile, the Madras high court dismissed a batch of petitions seeking basic amenities to devotees. Also, the government said no modern machinery or technology was used to clean the temple tank housing the chamber to hold the idol. It added that fish and aquatic creatures act as natural cleansing agents and keep the tank clean. The government was responding to a plea filed in HC seeking authorities to desilt and renovate the temple tank. Yet another petition filed by a septuagenarian seeking to extend Athi Varadar darshan by 48 days was dismissed.
Meanwhile, a video of Kancheepuram collector Ponniah threatening to suspend a police inspector on duty over allowing random people in VIP queue went viral triggering mixed reactions. The State Human Rights Commission sought a detailed report from the Chief Secretary and the DGP on the issue. In retaliation, the police department released a short film highlighting the tough job of cops managing the massive surge of devotees and helping them 24x7 at the temple. Interestingly, a woman gave birth to baby boy on the temple premises.
As the state bids farewell to Athi Varadar’s mammoth and magnificent festival, authorities and devotees feel exhausted and exhilarated....