It was not the first time that he was witnessing the Makara vilakku. “This was my fourth Vilakku darsan and the third time I was witnessing from Pulmedu. This time, the rush was so much that things began to get a bit difficult by the time the Makara Jyoti became visible.”
According to him, it was nothing but the rush of pilgrims that led to the catastrophe. “As soon as we sighted the vilakku, there was a mass run from the hilltop down to the places where the vehicles were parked haphazardly.
In the melee, we saw a jeep hitting some pilgrims and then before I realised what was happening, people were over me.’’ When Murugan regained consciousness he was at the Vandiperiyar Government hospital. “I was only unconscious, not dead thanks to the lord though my right arm has sprained,’’ he said still refusing to give up faith in a belief which had all but failed to save many lives.
According to Dil Prakash, one of the first reporters to reach the site of the accident, the scene was heart-rending. “Many were lying motionless and a few people were gasping for breathe while some others were going through their last moments,’’ he said.
In the darkness, it was the headlight of vehicles which provided some relief to the rescue workers. But then, communication facilities including cell phone range were absent. There was very little the onlookers could do other than untangle the bodies which were crushed.
“The prasada, the clothes, utensils, mobile phones and irumudi kettu (the cloth bag carrying the offerings to the lord) were strewn around. There were children too among the dead,’’ he said. The post-mortem report has found that the internal organs of many of the victims were broken or crushed which points to the ferocity of the stampede.
Survivors looked shaken, hardly able to utter a word as if an earthquake had reduced their world to rubble. At the Vandiperiyar government hospital, there were many sullen faces and pilgrims frantically trying to sift through the bodies which had arrived in a lorry in the early hours of Saturday.
Among the crowd were mostly those from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for whom Pulmedu provided easy access. “Somebody, please help me, I can’t see my grandson. What will I tell my daughter,” Reghuram, 51, from Secunderabad cried out. Some onlookers tried to comfort him pointing out that some people had strayed into the forests nearby and his grandson could be among them.