What I am trying to share here is not something new or something that people have never conveyed. Eventhough I have faced such experiences earlier, the experience that I had in Palani this time disturbed me a lot.
When we decided to plan for a vacation in May, we automatically included Palani in the list of places to be visited. Though visiting Palani was a bit hectic for us, as we were travelling for the whole week, we still did not wanted to miss the bliss of visiting the divine place. Specially for me, who’s favourite is Muruga, visiting Palani gave me a super excitement and I was overjoyed.
After attending a wedding in Cochin, we took a night bus to Palani and reached there at around 3.30 a.m. We did not do any prior hotel bookings in Palani and decided to take some accommodation randomly as we need the place only for around 2 to 3 hours to get ready. The moment we reached Palani , even at 3 P.M, lot of auto / carts/ rickshaw drivers were waiting for us.
There commences the game. Once they notice that we were searching for rooms, they somehow convinced us to travel near the temple which was few kilometres away from the bus stand and take lodges that are available there, saying that it will be easy for us to take early dharshans. After being convinced with that we started with him in his horse cart.
Surprisingly he took us to a shop and not a lodge. The shop was just near the temple selling all the pooja items. When we aksed the reason, the driver said that the shop keeper will direct us to the room.
The shopkeeper who spoke to us in a friendly manner, directed us to a nearby lodge where the rooms were quite Ok (If the stay is only for few hours). He convinced us to do a “Paal abishegam ” in the temple saying that it was auspicious in that month and people who pay for abishegam can avail special dharshan in the mountain temple. He also promised to send his person with us who will completely accompany us to the temple and take us quickly. We gladly agreed for that and paid money for the same.
After refreshing, we came back to the shopkeeper where he gave a big list of things that we are required to take along with us for the abishegam like Viboothi, Turmrric, sandal, rosewater etc. The prices were exorbitant and the quantity that was mentioned in the list was also large. He told us that the sum that we paid already did not include all these and the same is only for milk and booking. We agreed to that as well quietly.
Then he introduced his assistant and asked him to take us to the temple. But actually he did not take us straight to the temple but to another shop which sells all the metallic items, idols of god and the small metallic offerings that we make to the temple. He left us in the shop and suddenly vanished. The other shopkeeper immediately packed a big “Vel” to be offered in the hundi without even asking us whether we need the same or not. When we refused to buy the same, he said that it’s a custom here for people to offer the vel to Muruga, and such offering is mandatory for people who do abhishegam. Based on the requirement and capacity of a family they try to impose something saying that the same is customary and mandatory. For instance seeing us who are a newly married couple, the shopkeeper was trying to sell us a small silver cradle for offering in the Hundi. When we continuously refused to buy the silver one, he then brought other ones which were cheaper in price. We agreed and purchased a smaller size vel alone, which he reluctantly offered for a costlier rate.
The moment we stepped out, the assistant came out of nowhere. He enquired for how much we purchased.
We went to the temple which was there in the bottom. The assistant told us that the abishegam done in the bottom temple will be more auspicious. He also asked to visit the hill temple in the meantime he does the abishegam in this temple for us. He agreed to handover the prasadham except for the milk (which he said that they will distribute in the temple) in our hotel. We agreed to that as well. To our shock, he further asked us to pay Rs. 600 for expenses involved in abishegam. My husband freaked out as we already paid so much to the shopkeeper twice. When he raised his voice and asked what he was upto, the guy all of a sudden reduced 300 from the expenses and said that 250 has to paid for the ticket and 50 to the prohit who does the abishegam. For the sake of Muruga, without a further argument we paid that as well.
Our shock did not end here. Leaving him there, we took an auto to reach the place where we need to take the cable car for going to the top. There two entries one for Rs. 15 and other for Rs, 50. Both were crowded as expected by us. When we tried to enter the 50 rs entrance, a man deliberately came to us and asked us if we are willing pay and go for a quicker route. Thinking that it was a VIP ticket, we enquired about it. He said that we should pay the officer a sum of Rs. 1500 per person, who will take us quickly. We refused to bribe and took the paid entry where the Queue was stagnated for nearly 1 and a half hours.
People started losing their patience and they tried to go back. Many of them left the queue and went to the so called officer’s room, where in front of our eyes they were bypassing the queue and marching towards the rope car. People started screaming at the security near the office asking the reason, where the security claimed that they are relatives/known persons to the officer and hence they are going to meet them. It took 2 hours for us to reach the top. Crying kids, Cribbing old men and women, accompanied us throughout along with our hunger, pain and more importantly anger.
We had a blissful dharshan after waiting for 2 more hours in the queue at the top after getting a 100 Rs. Ticket. We came down and rushed to the bottom temple where we got the final shock that the charge fixed for doing an abishegam are less than Rs. 50.
We really felt very bad. For both of us, this was the first trip to Palani. Our travel and tiredness along with the hectic schedule took us to this extent which did not give ample time for us to think.
Now these are the questions that came to my mind:
The state Government took the management and control of Hindu temples claiming that the same is not managed properly and the state will offer better administration. Is the term “better administration” is only for the revenue and the resources?
I have seen such things happening in many temples. Corruption does exist in other temples as well. But what we faced here was so deliberate and arrogant that things happen in front of your eyes. Now how will people get a satisfied Dharshan?
How can we call people who make money by misusing the belief and faith of people?
If HR & CE is responsible for entertaining complaints relating to the temple, then where is the mechanism for filing complains against its own Government officials?
If these vendors and agents are able to cheat educated people like us, then what about uneducated people? What is the plight of people who are unaware of these happenings? What is the mechanism to curb these?
Left with no answers for these questions and praying Muruga quietly, we left the place. We are interested in taking some actions against such practices. It may be a legal remedy or any kind of activism. If any of you had faced similar grievances and are interested is supporting us, please let us know!
Thanks for the read!