India

Puttingal: India's 'temple of fireworks'

A man walks carrying empty shells of fireworks past a collapsed building after a massive fire broke out during a fireworks display at the Puttingal temple complex in Paravoor village, north of Thiruvananthapuram, southern Kerala state, India, Image copyright AP
Image caption The Puttingal temple is one of the oldest in Kerala

Fireworks and firecrackers are commonly used at temple festivals in the southern Indian state of Kerala, and the Puttingal temple is no exception.

Every year temples in the state organise fireworks displays, often competing to stage the most spectacular ones.

"The devotees burst firecrackers to appease the female deity," local MP NK Premachandran told the BBC.

Now the Puttingal temple has earned worldwide infamy for Sunday's explosion and fire that killed more than 100 people.

This is not the first incident of its kind in Kerala: the famous Sabarimala temple banned fireworks in 1952 after 68 people died in a firecracker explosion.

'Places of carnival'

The Puttingal temple is one of the oldest in the state, built on the site of what devotees say was an ant hill where a goddess appeared many centuries ago.

On Sunday, two groups of devotees, defying a ban by authorities and opposition from nearby residents, set off fireworks intended to dazzle the thousands of other devotees who had participated in the temple festival.

Local police say they were misled by the temple authorities, who claimed to have received oral permission from the district authorities.

"Temples have become places of carnivals. There is no religious sanction for any of these actions like fireworks displays or competitions,'' activist and author Rahul Easwar says.

"There are about 8,000 to 9,000 temples in Kerala out of which 2,500 are controlled by the government. Everyone likes a celebration."

Image copyright Vikram Nair
Image caption The temple authorities do not plan to ban firework displays

"So you have to do something to attract devotees. Fireworks are one way. Some temples even have cinema dances in the name of cultural programmes."

"This is a serious issue. There is no teaching of any religious text or even yoga at the temples. There has to be some welfare activity otherwise you will get only floating devotees."

But Prayar Gopalakrishnan, a senior temple official, does not agree that there is no religious sanction for fireworks festivities.

"We are not interested in banning the custom. We cannot allow any fireworks competitions but the custom [of firework displays] as per Hindu tradition will go on."