Vandiperiyar (Ker), Jan 15 (PTI) The vast grasslandsof Pullumedu had been bursting with religious fervour lastevening moments before being consumed by an overwhelmingtragedy that left 104 Ayyappa devotees dead in a stampede.
The tragedy was all the more heart rending as mostvictims hailing from Tamil Nadu were rushing home to celebrate''pongal'' festival today with the satisfaction of having had agood darshan of ''Makaravilakku.''
The accident spot, almost like a ground, provided anideal location for devotees to take rest during the arduousdownhill journey from Sabarimala temple after witnessing the''Makara Jyoti'' (celestial light) on the Eastern horizon thatmarks the finale of the two month long pilgrimage season.
As the day dawned, the spot wore a deserted look withbodies having been removed and the injured hospitalised afterthe tragedy.
Black and saffron bundles of pilgrims and cloth bagscarried by them to take ''prasadam'' to their homes lay strewnaround.
According to local people, many victms took the routeto reach home to Tamil Nadu celebrate Pongal, the mostimportant festival of the state.
"I have never seen such a huge crowd before in mylife. It is obvious they were rushing home to celebrate Pongalwith family members after holy darshan at the shrine on theauspicious Makaravilakku day", a man from a hamlet close toPullumedu told PTI.
An unusually large crowd had converged there lastnight as the place offered a vantage point to have a cleardarshan of ''makarajyoti''.
Groups of pilgrims had spent their evening singinghymns and performing ''aarti'' with camphor, considered anauspicious offering to the deity of the hill shrine.
Though the tragedy struck at around 8.15 PM lastnight, it took almost two hours before the outside world cameto know of the magnitude of the incident as the terrain isremote and difficult to access even without sufficient rangefor mobile phones.
Deployment of police for crowd management was alsolean in the area as a vast majority of pilgrims go down theshrine through the Pampa route where forces had been deployedin large numbers.