Ten days after a fire gutted several shops in the historic Meenakshi Amman temple complex in Madurai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss new rules to be implemented at temples for the safety of devotees.
According to a report in the Times of India, a slew of new measures were decided upon at the meeting. A panel will be constituted under TN Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan to look into safety measures. The panel will collect reports of fire audits and also keep track of the funds required for strengthening the safety of the temples.
While devotees are barred from lighting camphor at big temples, there will be designated spaces marked out for the lighting of lamps. Big temples will also have a fire engine on standby in order to attend to emergencies.
The report further clarifies that big temples are not measured in terms of size but by their annual earnings. A temple earning more than Rs 10 lakh per annum is considered a big temple.
The Chief Minister has directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) Department to evict all shops located within temple premises. The HRCE is also expected to find spaces for the shops to relocate to.
In addition to this, fire extinguishers are also expected to be installed in the temples.
A part of the Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai was engulfed in flames on the night of February 2 and it was suspected that a short circuit in one of the shopsâ€™ electrical fittings was behind the fire. Another theory is that the fire may have been sparked by a ritual carried out by one of the shops to ward off evil.
According to the Times of India, fire safety officials said that this was a disaster waiting to happen. They claimed that they had issued multiple warnings to temple authorities to remove the shops, which posed an obvious fire hazard on the premises. The officials had also said that they gave suggestions about securing electrical lines and avoiding the sale of plastic toys.
The Veera Vasantharayar Mandapam on the eastern entrance of the temple reportedly suffered the most damage, with intricately built 14th century columns burnt to embers. The eastern wing of the temple apparently consisted of several shops selling everything from puja articles to childrenâ€™s toys.
While there were no casualties, the fire also gutted 36 shops in the temple. Over 60 fire tenders were deployed to douse the flames.
A recent report in TNIE also revealed that temples in the state lack basic safety measures. This includes the famous Thanjavur Big Temple where halls laden with wooden mounts lack even one fire extinguisher. The UNESCO World Heritage site was the venue of a tragic accident in 1997 when 55 lives were lost in a stampede cum fire on the eve of the templeâ€™s Kumbabhishekam.