Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's suggestion that a Tirupati model ticketed darshan system be implemented at the famous Sabarimala temple has sparked off a debate with Travancore Devaswom Board President Prayar Gopalakrishnan accusing Vijayan of commercialising the temple and trying to create division among devotees.
A review meeting held at Pamba on Thursday ahead of the annual festival season saw heated exchange between the chief minister and the TDB chief. Vijayan called for abolishing the VIP darshan queue in the temple and recommended that tickets at various prices be issued for special queues.
“Instead of VIP queue, there can be a fast track queue which anybody can use after paying Rs 250 and a super fast track queue where anybody can stand after paying an amount of Rs 1,000,” Vijayan said at the meeting.
At present, those who offer poojas for over Rs 500 are allowed to have darshan after standing in a special queue. However, there are allegations that this facility is always misused with those who come with a letter from a minister or an MP being allowed to stand in the special queue.
Talking to THE WEEK, Gopalakrishnan said that the Tirupati model was not practical at Sabarimala and that Ayyappa's message was that of equality. “Everybody is equal before the deity in Sabarimala. Lord Ayyappa's best friend was Karuppu Swamy, who was a downtrodden,” he said.
“Devotion without sacrifice is futile,” he said.
Asked about the allegations of the misuse of special queue system at the temple, Gopalakrishnan said the authorities would soon think about bringing in a new system to check this. With the new system, those who come along with a VIP would not be allowed to take special darshan. He, however, refused to say if the system would be in place from this year's pilgrimage season.
The temple, situated on the Western Ghats around 4,000 feet above the sea level in Pathanamthitta district of south Kerala, is one of the largest annual pilgrimage centres in the world, with an estimated over 100 million devotees visiting every year. During the annual festival season, devotees may have to wait 10-15 hours in the queue which extends for kilometres in the sloppy forest path from the Pamba valley.
The two month-long Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, which begins in November and ends by mid-January, will fetch an estimated revenue of over Rs 200 crore making Sabarimala one of the richest temples in India.
The hill shrine has been in the news for quite a while after the Supreme Court questioned a centuries old tradition which bans women aged between 10 and 50 from entering the temple.