Amidst raging criticism about the lack of arrangements at the Athi Varadhar festival in Kancheepuram, four persons who went to the temple for a ‘darshan’ lost their lives due to suffocation.
According to reports, all four victims complained of breathlessness while waiting in the queue for the darshan on Thursday. They were immediately taken to the temporary medical centre on the temple premises and administered first aid. The doctor in the medical centre also referred them to the Kancheepuram Government Hospital for further medical attention. However, all four of them died in Kancheepuram Government Hospital later. The victims have been identified as Anandhavelu (50) from Salem, Narayani (55) and Natarajan (61) from Chennai and Gangalakshmi (47) from Andhra Pradesh.
Athi Varadhar is a Hindu event that takes place once in 40 years. The statue of the deity, made out of the fig tree, is usually kept in the temple tank of the Varadharaja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram. It is taken out once every 40 years and kept for devotees to come and offer prayers for 48 days.
As this is a festival that takes place once in 40 years, devotees have been thronging the temple since day one. Currently, the average wait to catch a glimpse of the deity ranges between three and seven hours as thousands of devotees queue up in front of the temple.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami announced a solatium of Rs 1 lakh to the kin of those who perished in the tragedy. However, the Chief Minister claimed that all the four persons who had died had left the temple after the darshan and had developed health complications on their way back to their homes. He also added that all four of them had previous medical issues.
"We didn't expect such a large turnout of devotees for `darshan' of Athi Varadar. Even at the Tirumala temple, 75,000 devotees come a day and necessary facilities are there,” he said in the Assembly. According to him, around 1.75 lakh people had come for darshan on Thursday.
The massive influx of devotees from far and wide has thrown life in the small town of Kancheepuram out of gear. Numerous devotees have taken to social media to record their disappointment with the arrangements made in the spot. From setting up parking spots six kilometres away from the temple to lack of drinking water and fans enroute the shrine, people continue to raise complaints against the district and the state administration.