The once-in-40-years Athi Varadar festival drew to a close today, with the deity set to be immersed into the Ananthasaras tank at the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram district late Saturday evening.
With priests and the management at the Devarajaswamy temple, where the idol is currently being kept, making arrangements to immerse the deity back into the tank, here are a few highlights of the festival which was in the limelight for the last 48 days. READ | Athi Varadar festival: All you need to know about the event
Duration: This year, the Athi Varadar festival was celebrated for 48 days from July 1 to August 17, with the deity, Lord Athi Varadar offering darshan to devotees in the Kidainda Kolam (sleeping posture) for the first 38 days and Nindra Kolam (standing posture) for the last 10 days.
Venue: Every 40 years, the festival is celebrated at the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram. This year, however, increasing footfall prompted the management to shift the deity to the nearby Devarajaswamy temple to accommodate the swelling crowds.
Footfall: The festival saw a turnout of over 1 crore people visiting the Varadaraja Perumal and Devarajaswamy temples in Kancheepuram this year. Such was the crowd that schools and colleges in the district were given holidays since students were unable to reach the institutions amidst the throng.
VIPs: It also saw several VIPs and their kin, ranging from politicians to members of the entertainment industry visiting Kancheepuram to offer prayers to Lord Athi Varadar. President Ram Nath Kovind, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and actor turned politician Rajinikanth were among the celebs who offered their prayers to the deity.
WATCH VIDEO | Athi Varadar Festival Recap
Facilities: With people from across the country flocking to Kancheepuram, the district administration and temple management left no stone unturned to ensure hassle-free darshan for devotees. Separate queues were made for the general crowd, VIPs and senior citizens, pregnant women and differently-abled people. Medical camps were set up at strategic points, along with facilities for parking, drinking water and restrooms.
Further, district authorities had set up waiting halls for people near the Devarajaswamy temple during the last leg of the festival, after the waiting time for darshan increased from five hours to two days. Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) had also set up mobile banking facilities at the temple to provide easy access to banking facilities for pilgrims during the 48-day festival. READ | Athi Varadar festival: Online booking woes and rising hotel costs irk devotees
Security: Several platoons of the Tamil Nadu State Police were pressed into service to oversee security during the festival and help in providing assistance to the devotees.
Accidents: With devotees thronging the temple in lakhs every day to offer prayers to Lord Athi Varadar, 11 devotees lost their lives and over 150 devotees suffered injuries over alleged police high-handedness, stampedes and suffocation caused due to poor crowd management.
Transport: In light of the festival, the Southern Railway had introduced special trains to Kancheepuram to help devotees offer prayers to Lord Athi Varadar. Further, the Tamil Nadu government had introduced over 350 buses to transport devotees from major cities to Kancheepuram for 48 days.
Cases: On August 14, the Madras High Court dismissed a PIL which had been filed by a senior citizen, requesting the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) department to extend the festival by another 48 days. The petitioner had stated that several devotees in the queue including senior citizens, pregnant women and differently-abled were unable to offer prayers despite waiting in the queue for well over six hours and requested the department to not immerse the idol into the Ananthasaras tank.
In light of the various accidents and loss of lives, several cases had been filed over the Athi Varadar festival against poor management, lax security and a request for paramilitary security during darshan. The Madras High Court dismissed all the cases after observing that the temple management and the police were able to handle the crowds at the temple.
Controversy: Kancheepuram collector P Ponnaiah found himself in the centre of a public storm, after a video of him reprimanding a police inspector on duty at the Devarajaswamy temple in front of fellow police officials and devotees went viral on social media on August 11. Following this, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) sent a notice to the collector, the chief secretary of Tamil Nadu and the Director General of Police (DGP) over the incident and the action taken by the State government against Ponnaiah.