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'A temple is a place to pray, not for fireworks'

April 12, 2016 21:16 IST

The damaged temple building of the Paravur temple in Kollam district. Photograph: PTI

IMAGE: The damaged temple building of the Paravur temple in Kollam district. Photograph: PTI

'You can understand the ignorance of people, but how can we forgive the authorities and police when they very well knew the dangers?'
'Just see how many families are destroyed.'

Paravur resident R Radhakrishnan explains to Shobha Warrier/ the importance of the temple festival, but does not want fireworks or elephants to be a part of it.

Radhakrishnan decided to live in Parvaur quite close to the temple because his wife belonged to the area though his business is based in Kollam.

On the fateful day, his wife, children and her family were at the temple enjoying the fireworks till 2.30 am. Barely half an hour after they reached home, while his daughter was still watching the fireworks from her room, there was an explosion and all she could see was fire at the temple site.

Radhakrishnan, below, left, talks about the need to ban fireworks and parading elephants in temples in Kerala in the name of tradition.

My wife Shailashree grew up in Paravur and lived here till we got married. I have been coming here regularly for the last 20 years. We built a house and came to live here only three years ago. Our house is just half a kilometre from the temple.

From the time I got married, I have noticed that the natives of Paravur make it a point to take leave from work to be a part of the festival wherever they are. Some of them take leave for all the seven days, while some come here at least on the last day if they get only a day's leave. People of Paravur are passionate about this temple festival.

My family believes in God, but does not believe in visiting temples and following rituals blindly. But all of them used to go to the temple during the festival especially on the last day as they enjoy watching the fireworks. I didn't go as I don't believe in these kinds of rituals and traditions.

I watched the fireworks for a while from our terrace. I got the impression that every explosion was stronger than what I had seen before. Each group was trying to do better than the other. Somehow, I felt uneasy watching it and hearing the ear splitting noise.

My wife and children were at the temple till 2.30 am. They left when the last round of competition was going on. We went to bed by 3, but our daughter was still sitting in her room and watching the fireworks. That was when the explosion happened and we all got up.

Even though I knew the situation would be grave at the temple ground, I was not in a mental condition to go and help people. I went there only after 10 the next morning. It was like a war zone. By then, the local people and the police had cleared all the dead bodies. One has to appreciate the kind of united effort of the people of this place to help the injured.

The entire village is so shell shocked that they are not in a position to talk about the disaster.

R RadhakrishnanI am absolutely against these kinds of things, which we call tradition. Whether it is fireworks or parading elephants, I am of the opinion that it is time we stop this nonsense. But all the local people look forward to the festival.

Till 8 at night, they were apprehensive as the district collector had said no to competitive fireworks. They were so angry that I heard many people abusing the collector for doing so. The rumour was that somebody went to Thiruvananthapuram to get permission from the government.

I could see excitement in the air when they got the news by 9 that after all, the fireworks would happen. All the disappointed faces lit up.

When the fireworks started, there was a speech thanking all those who intervened to make it happen. As they didn't name anyone specifically, I do not know the people who worked behind the scenes.

You cannot blame any politician as they were under tremendous pressure from the local people to somehow get permission to have the fireworks. Naturally the temple authorities try their best to seek the help of those politicians who would be able to get permission.

You cannot blame any particular political party as I am sure all the political parties might have tried their best to see that the fireworks happened.

My opinion is that you cannot take such serious issues so lightly just to get some votes. I feel whoever they are, they should be given proper punishment so that nobody influences matters like these for their benefit.

The common people might have behaved in a stupid manner, but the authorities should have been firm when they are dealing with the safety of tens of thousands of people. There should not have been any lenience on their part while enforcing rules. They should have made people aware of the dangers involved. Just see how many families are destroyed.

It is true the people of Paravur are intoxicated with Kambam (competitive fireworks). Only when something goes wrong will they see the bad side of it. That is the reason why local people go and shout at those who speak against this. They haven't got anything against the person; they are just passionate. That was why they abused the collector for denying permission.

It is a fact that the sick and the elderly people find it difficult to tolerate the noise pollution we have for several hours. Even healthy people get upset when loud explosions goes on continuously for hours.

It is due to the lack of knowledge and disregard for rules that such a tragedy happened. I am told that not only men, but even women refused to move away from the ground where the fireworks took place.

The reason why the event that was to start at 10 pm, started only at 12 am was because they could not control the surging crowd. They had to be far away from the place, but people just pushed each other to stand very close. They didn't understand the danger involved.

But if the organisers had stood their ground that they would not start unless people moved away, this would not have happened. They should have been stricter.

I feel they should have been careful as they knew what they were handling. The police also should have been strict. They also erred.

You can understand the ignorance and passion of people, but how can we forgive the authorities and police when they very well knew the dangers?

Had the explosion happened earlier, the magnitude of the tragedy would have been much, much, more.

When the explosion happened, it had reached almost the end of the festival and the majority of people had left. Also, 80 per cent of the explosives was used by that time.

Imagine what would have been the situation if it had happened earlier.

I strongly believe that this should not happen again in any temple in Kerala, so also the use of elephants for temple festivals and also some barbaric activities like piercing the spear through your body. All these acts should be completely banned.

A temple should be a place where people can go and pray peacefully.

Had this been under the Devaswom Board, I feel this might not have happened as when it is under the government, they are bound to follow certain rules.

On the other hand, here they themselves are the lawmakers. They conducted it without the permission of the collector. It is true that it is not possible for the Devaswom Board to manage all the temples, but there should be a common code of conduct for all the temples in Kerala.

Shobha Warrier