Thiruvananthapuram: With the Thiruvananthapuram airport moving towards privatisation, clouds of uncertainty hang over the much-renowned Arattu procession of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple here.
The colourful procession carrying the idol for Arattu, the ritualistic bath of the idol after the Painkuni and Alpassi festivals at Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple passes through the Trivandrum International Airport, moving along the runway complete with the traditional retinue of decked up elephants and percussionists and led by members of the royal family of Travancore, towards Shanghumugham Beach. After the Arattu, the procession returns along the same route with the accompaniment of ‘theevatti-s’ or torches.
Usually, the airport shuts down its operations for two days every year for the festivals which fall in March - April and October.
The ritual that had started centuries ago had continued unperturbed even after the Trivandrum Airport was first established under the Royal Flying Club in 1932 in the property which belonged to the royal family. The custom was continued even after it was converted into an international airport in 1991. The Airport Authority of India used to issue Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to the operators for suspending the services on the Arattu day.
However, with the privatisation moves on, there are doubts whether the tradition would be allowed to be continued in future. The temple authorities are now examining the documents between the Travancore royal family and the AAI related to the handing over of the property where the airport is situated to ascertain whether the Arattu procession could be continued.
However, sources point out that there is no need for panic as the central government has not yet taken any final decision upon the privatisation of the Trivandrum airport. As the final decision may be taken only after the polls and the new government assumed power in the centre, the Arattu procession of the Painkuni festival which will take place on April 20 will not be affected.
The Arattu procession usually starts from 5 in the evening from Padinjare Kotta and will enter the compound of the airport within 45 minutes. A special platform – Arattu Mandapam – has been built within the airport premises for resting the idols and accompanying team. After taking a break for around 30 minutes, the procession leaves for Shanghumugham along the runway. The procession will cross the airport after the Arattu again by 8:30pm. The airport used to suspend all activities between 5pm and 8:30pm on the Arattu days of both Painkuni and Alpassi festivals every year.
Some historians point out clear conditions had been spelt out in the agreement that the Travancore royal family had made with the government regarding these matters when the reign was handed over to the democratically elected government after Independence, and that there are conditions that the Arattu procession of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple should not be affected. The temple executive officer V Ratheesan said that the temple authorities are hopeful of the state government taking steps to protect the continuance of Arattu procession on the basis of that agreement.