February 2015


Punyam Poonkavanam:
Keeping Sabarimala

By Sanjeev Ramachandran

The forest shrine of Sabarimala in Kerala is the destination to millions of Ayyappa devotees, who make it a point to observe the 41-day penance before they ascend the hill leading to the sanctum sanctorum. By way of the rigorous penance where each devotee goes by the principle of speak, act or think no evil, he gets transformed into a being that has renounced all worldly pleasures to be at the feet of the supreme power atop the hill. That, in fact, is the norm.

It is a common belief that the philosophy of man merging into the aura of godliness comes alive at the forest shrine of Sabarimala. The devotee immersed in devotion comes in close contact with the Lord himself and that where the Tatwamasi philosophy comes to the fore. Every pilgrim thus gets the name of the Lord himself, and that could be why Sabarimala pilgrims are called Ayyappas, after the deity's name.

However, things seemed to have taken a different path altogether with these devotees, who go by the name of Ayyappa, dump waste all along the path leading to the shrine. Thus, Sabarimala has over the years turned out to be huge waste dumps, which the pilgrims cast away on their return.

The sanctity of the Ayyappa demeanor thus has started fading, making irresponsible devotees the prime reason for the maligning of the holy path that leads to the shrine.

It has been estimated that, every year, around 1.5 crore devotees arrive at Sabarimala on pilgrimage during the two peak seasons. The estimates further reveal that a devotee who irresponsibly dumps 500 grams of waste from the time he enters the sacred grove, the amount of waste dumped in Lord Ayyappa's abode per day comes to a humongous 12,50,00,000 grams!

That is the reality, says Mr P Vijayan IPS, DIG of Police, and the brain behind the formation of a unique project called Punyam Poonkavanam (Sacred Grove), which has been spearheading the efforts to clean up Sabarimala and its vicinity so that the sanctity of the holy destination is brought back and the forest remains green.

The Punyam Poonkavanam project, according to Mr P Vijayan, was given shape in a bid to check the quantity of waste that is generated as the crowds throng the hill shrine. “The initiative aimed at cutting down on dumping of garbage in the zone between Pampa and the Sannidhanam and it is now into its fourth year,” he says.

“Any irresponsible act from a devotee's part could malign the sanctity of the sanctum. Every bit of garbage that is dumped along the way to the sanctum sanctorum and back would only add to the rising pile of waste the people who call themselves by the Lord's own name throw away as they keep walking,” he adds.

The Punyam Poonkavanam project has been applauded by the Kerala High Court on many an occasion over the past few years. One order spelt out by the High Court reads thus: “The High Court places on record appreciation for the enormous efforts rendered by the devotees at large and the staff of various organs of governance for contributing to make the sacred Poonkavanam a neat and tidy place”.

The coming years too are expected to see giant strides being made in eliminating garbage in and around the sacred Sabarimala. The pilgrims in fact have begun showing interest to offer worship in the form of service by way of cleaning the sacred grove and surroundings.”

The project has now gained momentum more than ever before. With a fresh pilgrimage season having started, the Punyam Poonkavanam project is active from the Pampa river onwards upto the Sannidhanam (sanctum sanctorum) with added vigour. Every pilgrim who arrives at the shrine is now actively participating in the cleanliness drive with active support from the Kerala Police, the Travancore Devaswom Board and the Forest Department. All dignitaries, actors, officials and the common man who ascend the hill make it a point to spend at least a few hours in lending a hand to the cleanliness drive.

The successful implementation of the Punyam Poonkavanam project ushers in hopes of a clean and green Sabarimala. After all, cleanliness is next only to Godliness, and every pilgrim knows that.


Amit Rahul

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