Vultures continue to give a miss to a temple in Tamil Nadu
Deccan Herald, May 03, 2014
Some 14 years ago, newspapers published a report stating sick vultures were being taken by an Indian Airlines flight from Jaipur to Mumbai for finding out the reason, why most of the vultures in India, as much as 97 per cent, have become extinct.
In the famous Keoladeo sanctuary in Rajasthan, during breeding season, only 20 nests were found in 1999 compared to 350 nets the previous year! After all, they have a life span ranging from 50 to 60 years and they breed every two years by laying a single egg at a time.
This scarcity of vultures has affected urban and rural life in various ways, and in Mumbai, the Parsi community with its hallowed Towers of Silence (where the dead are disposed off by being eaten by vultures), is thinking of starting an aviary for vultures! But, everybody forgot about the disappearance of the most famous vultures in Indian history--Pakshitheertham Temple in Chengalpat district in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil name of Pakshitheertham is Thirukazhugundram, meaning the “Hill shrine of sacred vultures”.
Till 1998, exactly at 11.50 am, two vultures would circle around the hill shrine of Shiva and alight on a platform at the hill-shrine, where a priest would be waiting for them with the temple prasadam.
For hundreds of years as per tradition and at least for 328 years as noted by historians, two vultures had been paying their respect/visit to the famous Vedagirishwarar temple at Thirukazhugundram. Dutch visitors to this shrine in 1670 had witnessed the two vultures descending from the skies to feed on the food provided by the temple priests and in 1998 many had photographed the two vultures coming in for the daily meals, exactly at 12 noon, even as hundreds of tourists stayed a few yards away. Then on one day in 1998, the birds failed to appear and till about 15 years later, have not reappeared.
Much before the vultures arrived, the priest in charge of their feeding would come with buckets of prasadam and wait for the “guests”.
As the vultures were spotted, there would be a sudden burst of enthusiasm among the watching devotees, and everybody would become silent, lest the vultures refuse to land in midst of noise.
After a slow meal, they would take off in the direction of Sri Lanka and would soon vanish from view.
Sacred vultures fed by temple priests at Thirukalukundram, 1906
Source: Ethnographic notes in Southern India
Author: Edgar Thurston