Thiruvananthapuram: The International Airport in Kerala is perhaps the only one in the world that shuts down entirely twice a year all for the sake of a centuries-old temple procession to pass.
The International Airport in Kerala’s capital has been shutting down its runways, stopping flight operations, and rescheduling flights twice a year for the past several decades as part of the annual festivities of the famed Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
All flight operations to and from the international airport will come to a halt for about five hours when a procession passes through its runway. This is the famed ritual bath procession of temple idols known as “Aarattu” and it passes through the runway on the final day of the festivals of “Alpassi” and “Painkuni” of the shrine which are held for 10 days.
A week before the scheduled procession, the airport issues a NOTAM, which is a ‘Notice to Airmen’ containing important information concerning the establishment. It details conditions and changes in any service, facility, or procedure and other things in airspace management.
As part of the arrangements at the airport, armed CISF personnel are placed standing guard on either side of the runway when the idols are taken through in a ritualistic procession. They are taken crossing the airport premises for a bath in the close by Shankumugham Beach.
Once the ritualistic holy bath is complete, the idols are taken back the same way using the same route at night time. The idols are carried and escorted by a large group of people carrying burning “theevettis,” which are the traditional fire lamps.
The people accompanying the procession include temple priests, erstwhile members of the Royal Travancore Family, armed police guards which include mounted police personnel, caparisoned elephants, and scores of devotees.
This year, the Aarattu procession which will mark the end of the ongoing ‘Alpassi’ festival is scheduled to be held tomorrow evening. As per this schedule, airport authorities said that flight operations at the airport were scheduled to be halted/canceled between 4:00 pm and 9:00 pm.
According to temple management, the ritualistic procession passes through the airport route as this is reportedly the same route that’s been used for several centuries now to reach the beach. They claim that the procession passed through this route much before the international airport was established here in the year 1932.
George G. Tharakan, Thiruvananthapuram Airport Director, said that the NOTAM was generally issued only a week prior to the procession so the flight operators can be notified of the change in schedule.
Tharakan was quoted as saying by the PTI, “I don’t think such a practice is followed anywhere in the world. The runway will be closed completely and all flight operations, both domestic and international, will be halted for five hours. It is the time when modernity meets tradition.”
After the procession to and from the beach through the airport, temple authorities will be requested to completely clear the airport premises by 8:45 pm and the NOTAM withdrawn. Normal flight operations are scheduled to resume by 9:00 pm, added Tharakan.