January is pilgrimage season in southern India. Across the region, one sees bands of people dressed in specially colored traditional garments making their way toward holy places on foot or in buses and vans festooned with banners and flower garlands. The most popular of these sites — in fact, one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the world — is the mountaintop temple at Sabarimala in the state of Kerala, which is devoted to the Hindu god Ayyappa, son of the god Vishnu and an avatar (manifestation) of the god Shiva. Tens of millions visit each year — more than the state’s population of 30 million — and their number has increased rapidly in recent years because of the deity’s growing popularity with young people. Last Friday, tens of thousands of black-clad devotees were climbing the forested route to the temple when an as yet undetermined traffic incident sparked a stampede that killed 102.
of caste, religion or place of origin. Their offices consist of mixed work
groups who often use English as the common language. Although women of reproductive age are not allowed to participate, the rites at Sabarimala are open to men of all castes and religions, unlike most other places of worship in India, making the Sabarimala trek especially suitable to Bangalore’s high-tech pilgrims.