On Saturday, the narrow roads leading to the Aluva Manappuram Sivan temple in Kerala witnessed milling crowds and a spectacle never before seen in the temple's history.
Devotees, who would usually flock to the shores of the river Periyar, where the temple stands, were performing the ritual of ‘Bali’ on the roads. Scores of people could be seen squatting on the roads to offer 'Bali' to their ancestors, because the Aluva Mahadeva temple itself now lies almost fully submerged in the overflowing Periyar river.
Around 9:30 am, families could be seen sitting on the roadside, complete with the paraphernalia, offering their 'bali'. Yellow and white flowers, strips of banana leaves, curd and ghee were brought by families doing the ritual. Scores of priests stood and instructed devotees on how to offer their homage too.
The Aluva temple road and surrounding bylanes showed all signs of festivity and littering. Sesame seeds and rice floated on wet puddles on the road. However, toward the end of the lane, the road was swallowed by the overflowing river blocked only by the steel gates of the temple which also prevented devotees from crossing over to take a dip.
The temple, which is located on the low lying plains of the Periyar, got submerged on Thursday after four shutters of the Idamalayar and one shutter of the Idukki dam were opened to release water from the reservoirs which were fast filling up due to heavy rains in Kerala.
On Saturday too, the temple continued to be underwater. Only, the tiled roofs of the temple with the letters 'Om Nama Shivaya' could be seen, while the rest of the structure was submerged under the brown flood waters of the Periyar.
As a result of the dams opening their shutters, the low lying areas of Aluva and other parts of Kochi were flooded, and thousands of people had to be relocated to over 500 relief camps set up in the district.
"You see the lamp post straight ahead? Until there it was concrete. This place that is flooded was the car parking area. Right next to the temple it was all sand. And that's where every year, for the 'Karkidaka Vavu', lakhs of people sat and offered their Bali," said Sudarshan, a devotee who had come to witness the ritual.
Arrangements for the ritual
Special arrangements were made for the devotees to offer ‘bali’ despite the floods. Police forces were deployed to ensure crowd control. Fire and Rescue personnel stood with life boats by the temple. Life guard personnel too were stationed by the side of the swollen river in case of crisis.
"We've been stationed here since 2 am today. Crowds started streaming in by 3 am to offer ‘bali’. Last night we were on duty at the Cherai beach, Fort Kochi and Munambam beach. The ritual is only till 9:30 am, but since crowds are still coming we will be here until everyone leaves," says Shajan, who has been serving as a life guard for 12 years.
Ernakulam collector K Mohammad Y Safirulla also visited the temple on Saturday. Confirming that the situation was completely under control, he said, "The water level in the Periyar has risen by only one foot since yesterday. The situation is being monitored and is under control now.”
“Even then, an alert has been issued to those on the banks of the Periyar. Forces have been deployed to ensure that people are safe. Apart from the police and the fire and rescue services, there is the NDRF, the coast guard, navy and army personnel also. In case any situation does arise, we are prepared to handle it," the collector assured.
The Vavu Bali or Karkidaka Vavu is an annual ritual performed by the Hindus of Kerala to pay homage to their dead ancestors. The ritual is performed in the month of 'Karkidakam' in the Malayalam calendar on the no moon day or 'Karutavavu'.
On this day, devotees offer their homage or 'Shrardham' to dead members of their family and the offerings are done on the river or sea shore. Every year, the Aluva Manappuram or the Aluva Periyar's river banks see lakhs of people offering ‘bali’.