More than 200,000 people have pledged at the famous Sabarimala Temple here not to throw their clothes into the Pamba river as per a tradition and to keep it clean. It's a part of "Mission Green Sabarimala" that aims at collecting enough signatures to make it to the Limca Book of Records.
The pledge, in six languages (Hindi, English, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu) reads: "I won't throw clothes in the Pamba. I will dispose it with the waste."
Pathanamthitta district collector S. Harikishore told IANS: "All the pilgrims who come here bathe in the Pamba river; so it is crucial for us to keep it clean. There is a myth that one should dispose of one's clothes in the river after taking a dip in it. This is not true. We decided to rope in 10 people every day, all college students, to volunteer for us and ask the pilgrims to take the pledge and sign the canvas."
Harikishore said that four years ago, a wild elephant in the area had died after ingesting a large amount of waste material, including clothes and plastic, from the river. Following the incident, the administration felt the need for cleaning up the river.
As per the official, each person who goes to Sabarimala leaves behind at least 250 grams of plastic. Last year alone, 8,750 tonnes of plastic, including water bottles, food wrappers, use-and-throw raincoats, plastic carrybags and the like, was deposited in the area. The 1,500-year-old temple, which is surrounded by the flora and fauna of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, faces a major environmental threat.
Ajai Kumar, national head of public affairs of the Coca-Cola Company, conceptualised the idea more than six months ago as a part of the Mission Green Sabarimala initiative which started last November.
"After the initial meeting, the district magistrate asked me if we have any other ideas to make people more involved in the cleanliness campaign. So we decided to put a canvas each day near the Pamba river asking people not to throw clothes or other garbage but to deposit them in the dustbins instead," Ajai Kumar told IANS.
"During the first few days of the pilgrimage, less than 2,000 were signing the pledge each day. From December 1 till now, we are getting almost 3,500 signature per day. On some days, we have also recorded 5,000 signatures. We have collected all the signed canvases and will submit them to the Limca Book of Records when the pilgrimage ends," he added.
About 35 million devotees visit the temple during the 60-day period of the pilgrimage from November 15 to January 15. Some devotees however stay on till January 20.
Apart from Kerala government agencies like the Suchitwa Mission that aims at improving the aesthetic surroundings and upgrading the overall environment and various other departments, the "Mission Green Sabarimala" initiative is supported by Kudumbashree, Kerala's largest women's self-help group, and corporates like Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd.
(The writer's visit was at the invitation of the Coca-Cola company. Archana Rao can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)