Five years ago, 80-year-old Raman suddenly found himself destitute and utterly helpless when his wife and three children shut the doors of their Varkala home to him. With nowhere to go, Raman turned to the police and managed to reenter the house with their help. But his ordeal had not ended. He was completely ignored by the rest of the family, who would not even give him a drop of water to drink.
Seeing no other way out, Raman went to the Oachira Parabrahma temple in Kollam district, to join scores of other destitutes like him. “If I continued to stay there, I would have starved to death,” he says of his family home.
Like Raman, there are 374 other elderly men and women living here at the Oachira Parabrahma temple. They come not only from various parts of the state, but even from other states, and are accommodated in this temple on the border of Alappuzha district, irrespective of caste and religion.
Of the 374 people, the Temple Administrative Committee has constructed a special shelter for 30 of the oldest and sickest men and women. The others live in small tents scattered across the 40 acres of temple property, sleeping in its concrete pandal (roofed, open hall) during the night. The temple has given them access to the pay and use toilet on the premises, and they use the temple pond for bathing each morning.
Moreover, says 82-year-old Thamarakshan from Wayanad, they receive kanji (rice gruel) and tea in the morning, and a cup of tea and dinner each evening. Unlike Raman, Thamarakshan chooses to live at the temple because he doesn’t want to burden his daughters, he says.
“I am asthmatic and have pain in my leg. I am a diabetic too. What do I lack here? The only thing that I need to do is wash the kanji to reduce the content of starch. My wife died years ago. I don’t want to burden my daughters to take care of me,” he said.
Others too have similar stories of children and families that cannot or do not want to care for them in their sunset years. Saraswathy, who has been living with her husband Michael in the temple for the past five years, says that none of her daughters’ families can afford to support two more people. “I have five daughters, and all five are married off. Who will they take care of with their meagre incomes – their children or us?” she asks.
Bhaskaran, an 85-year-old man from Kundara in Kollam, came to the temple two years ago. He says that while his wife lives with his youngest son, he lives in the temple as his daughters-in-law are not in favour of him living with them. “I don’t have a house of my own. I have three sons. My wife lives with my younger son. She gave her property to him. My sons have no problems in looking after us, but their wives are not willing. Even the life of my wife is not good at my son’s home,” Bhaskaran says.
Some like 76-year-old Rajan and 72-year-old Vally have lived in the temple for almost half of their adult lives. Rajan lost his parents in his childhood, and when his two brothers died within a span of nine months 36 years ago, it prompted to leave home and relatives behind and come to the temple. Vally ended up at the temple when her husband divorced her at an early age, 34 years ago. “Where else will people like me go?” she asks.
Most of the stories here run along similar lines. Many of the temple’s inhabitants come from poorer backgrounds, and were left with nothing after bringing up and marrying off their children. While many people did not own property of their own, others passed them on to their children, only to be turned out on to the streets by them. Some people do not even have basic documents like a ration card.
For all these people, abandoned at an age when they need support the most, the Oachira Parabrahma temple provides much-needed succour. The Temple Committee provides free food twice a day to those living on the premises, as well as once a day for those living outside its walls. The temple’s many devotees also contribute to provide free lunches for all every day.
The Temple Committee also provides for their health needs with free treatment at the Parabrahma Multi Specialty Hospital situated nearby, which is also run by the Temple Committee. The Committee and other devotees also provide free clothing to these elderly people in need. What’s more, with the numbers of destitute elderly at the temple growing steadily, Temple Committee members say that there are plans to expand the housing facilities for them. “The number of destitute people finding asylum in the temple is increasing ever year. We are planning to construct a new building to house more people who are now living in the temple premises,” says advocate Gopinathan, Secretary of the Oachira Parabrahma Temple Administrative Committee.
The Committee is also planning to build a proper graveyard for those who pass away there. Currently, people who pass away in the temple are buried in vacant land near the temple.