Hindu temples - there is a need for precautions against fire mishaps and stampedes

 As per civil and municipal laws all  public places where people gather in large number must have proper fire  safety  precautions. Particularly, high rise buildings, malls, etc.,  must have proper Fire Escape Route.

Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple, fire mishap, 2018.oneindia.com

A New Indian Express article published in 2018 observed that many places of worship  particularly temples  do not have safety devices in place in case of fire.   It is quite disappointing that the  world famous  temple the 11th century Chola monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thanjavur Big temple, though well-maintained by the ASI  lacks  on-site fire-fighting equipment.  So is the popular Madurai Meenakshi temple where the fire mishap in 2018 took the country by storm.  Another sad commentary is many temples do not have fire-hydrant  near the main shrine or in a vantage place from which fire fighters could draw water to put out the fire.  Temple water tank is not the right answer for the solution.   In western counties in all  cities and small towns  almost all streets may have 3 or 4 fire-hydrants at street corners with red or green paint on them for contingency purpose in case of fire.  But, in our country we just don't give serious attention to fire hydrants at vulnerable places.

Many famous temples in Tamil Nadu and other states  lack emergency exits, a proper well-planned escape route with  a sketch map at various places in the temple.  Mention may be made of  Ranganathar temple,  Srirangam, Sri Villiputhur Andal temple and Thiruchendur Murugan temple  that need proper FER (fire escape route). It is also true of numerous medium sized  temples. The Covid threats having come down, the temples and other places of worship,  of late, are  crowded with people, as they need a break from the monotonous life. It is time for the govt. authorities to chalk out proper plan and come up with fire-safety precautions. This preplanned preauction will help them a lot if an emergency situation arises.  

Thanjavur Big temple:

Thanjavur big temple.  trekearth.com

Some temples like the Big temple in Thanjavur has one entry and exit gate in the inner part just like box canyon - one way in and same way out. This  is also true of Sankaranarayanan temple on West main street  near Sivaganga Poonga and of  Kaliaperumal kovil on South main street. With one entry and exit gate, many Tamil Nadu temples face similar risk unless all  cardinal gates are open. In may temples only one entry gate is open because of threats from terrorists. 

At the Thanjavur big temple side gates on the north and south are closed for safety precaution. During pradosham  the main entrance (east facing) is cramped with devotees  as the exit via the Sivaganga park area is closed.  In the main shrine of Peruvudaiyar, the long mandapa has various wooden vahana for festival occasions, but the hall does not have a single fire extinguisher. The Amman sannidhi temple kitchen‘-Madapalli’ and also  Subramanyar  sannidhi lack fire  fighting equipment. 

When the fire broke out way back on June 7, 1997, on the eve of the Kumbabhishekam  that resulted  in the death of 55 people. it was a scary experience for those who were trapped inside. The primary cause of death was due to  stampede in the narrow entrance more than a fire.  Reason: Fire cracker lit near the temple fell on the yagasala, a temporary structure built to  conduct ritual  ceremonies. There were as many as 120 pundits conducting the rituals.  Fire began to spread quickly on the dry thatched roof - pandal. At the only East facing exit gate, panic-stricken  people surged  causing  stampede. 

Madurai Meenakshi temple fire mishap 2018:

Meenaskshi temple fire mishap. scroll.in

Madurai Meenakshi temple, North tower. scroll.in

Above image: In the fire mishap taken place in February 2018 at Madurai Meenakshi temple, the heritage hall -  400-year-old Veera Vasantharayar Mandapam, temple’s East Wing. covering 7,000 sq ft suffered severe damages, Ornate pillars became defaced, many collapsed triggering fall of ceiling.  There was a mini bazaar with more than 100 shops operating, many selling non puja items like plastic toys, fancy jewelry, etc. They defied the fire regulations with impunity.  Parts of the hall’s roof and a few intricately-carved pillars collapsed, reported The Hindu. Reason for the mishap: 01.Over density of shops in the hall, 02. Short-circuit in a shop due to illegal connection - drawing power from adjacent shops that might cause over loading, 3.Human greed beefed up by official negligence. The blaze gutted more than 35 shops. There was  no fire-fighting equipment in the hall, not even fire extinguishers. ...

The unexpected fire mishap of 2018 at Madurai temple near the entrance  of East Tower  served as a warning for the temple administration across the state.  Countless shops on the temple premises   posed a threat to the temple's safety in terms of fire hazard and theft of idols.  The explanation from HR & CE  the granite structures are not prone to  major fire hazard is unacceptable.    Post the fire accident, the Madurai temple administration had  not permitted the setting up of shops near the temple entrance and completely removed all the shops in the temples. In and around  Madurai at  many temples Fire extinguishers are fixed at the selected places. 

Thrissur Poorum Featival 2005

Because of poor regulations governing lighting of fire crackers during festival time, the fire mishap  at the  Thrissur Pooram festival on April 10, 2016 at Puttingal temple, Kerala resulted in the death of 100 and more than 200 people were injured. Stray fireworks at the festivities sparked blasts.

Stampede  Mandher  Devi temple, Wai, in Maharashtra, 2005:

In 2005  owing to poor crowd management at  Mandher  Devi temple in Maharashtra more than 300 people were killed in a stampede at the inner garbagriha. Roughly 300000 people descended on the temple to witness 24 festival events. It was part of an  annual pilgrimage on the full moon day of Shakambhari Purnima, January 25,  2005.  The jostling crowd slipped on the wet  steps and the people were trampled upon by hell-bent crowd that tried to get into the inner sanctum caused the stampede. 

At some temples the historical mantabas are being misused as a sort of dumping place unwanted stuff.  According  to a  ground report by The New Indian Express, published soon after the fire accident at the Madurai temple in 2018, the fire safety measures  in the Kanchipuram  Ekambareshwarar temple are inadequate and poor.   “Unused wood, bundles of ropes, piles of logs, broken chariots, empty cans and broken electrical appliances are stacked haphazardly in an empty mandapam at the entrance of Ekambareshwarar temple in Kanchipuram. Electrical cables creep on the walls or hang loosely out of a broken switchboard. The temple is perhaps the perfect stage for a dangerous fire accident,” the report read

The temple authorities need to consider the following to avoid fire hazard and occurrence of stampede on crowded days: 

01. In popular and crowded temples on festival days there is a need to have separate entry and exit  gates to have smooth flow of pilgrims. 

02. Besides,  there must be an  escape route or gate in the inner shrine near the sanctum.

03. Adequate fire extinguishers are to be fixed at vulnerable places in the temple, particularly in the kitchen - madapalli. . 

04  Periodic checking of electrical/ power  lines is a must. 

04. at most  historical temples  the gate is not wide enough for the entry of fire trucks.  Temple make some kind of provision for the entry  fire trucks so that they can get into the temple and do their job without any difficulties. Of course, this can be done without compromising on heritage aspects. 

05. Regardless of temple tanks at vantage places in the temples fire hydrants must be fixed for accessing water. 

06. Most importantly unwanted stuff like wooden logs, ropes, etc., must be kept in a shed or place away from the temple. At many temples the festival Vahanas plus  huge wooden poles are kept in the mantap.  A few years ago  at Mahalingeswarar temple Thiruvidaimaruthur, near Kumbakonam  I myself  saw them dumped on one side of the hall. 

07.In case of overcrowding during festival times to avoid stampede and injuries  the crowd can be controlled with the help of police.