Satellite images show lake burst caused devastation

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Bengaluru: It was not a torrential downpour which triggered the catastrophe in Kedarnath valley, claiming the lives of hundreds of pilgrims on June 16 and 17 but a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood, that swept away everything in its path.
Images beamed by satellites of National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA, and Cartosat satellite of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), have revealed a new dimension to the disaster in Uttarakhand.
Though the skies opened up on June 16 as forecast by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and satellite images confirm a dense cloud cover over the valley, the trigger was a couple of kilometres upstream of the river Mandakini: a lake formed by landslides over the years which came apart, opening a new canal of the river and flooding the valley, a possibility to which the Uttarakhand government had been warned previously.
Satellite images bear out the formation of the lake as well as its disintegration because of the melting of glaciers. In scientific jargon, the devastation was wrought by a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).
"It occurs when a lake is created behind an obstruction created by a landslide. When this dam built by moraine (soil and rock left behind by glaciers) breaks, water behind the dam gushes out," says Prof Jayaraman Srinivasan, chairperson of Divecha Centre for Climate Change at IISc. 
But disaster, wrath of Gods, insist Dev Bhoomi residents
 
Amit S. Upadhye | DC
 
Chamoli: Meteorologists and environmentalists may blame unchecked development and bad weather for the disaster in Utt­a­r­a­k­hand, but local people believe it was a re­sult of  religious observances bei­ng flo­­­uted that invited the wrath of the gods. 
 
First, Kedarnath temple was shut for three days, and thereafter, the idol of Dharidevi idol was moved from its original site near Srinagar, and local people believe the temple samithi ignoring poor pilgrims and favouring the rich who offer more money was the third mitigating factor.
 
Rituals at Kedarnath were halted on June 13– three days before the floods– to protest against helicopter services, which ate into the business of locals who transported pilgrims on mules and dholis.
 
Bad omen: Priests unhappy about deserted temple
 
Chamoli: The religious heads of Uttarakhand are upset that the daily rituals in the Kedarnath temple have been halted. This is said to be the first time in 2,500 years that puja at Kedarnath, one of the 12 Jyothirlings in India, has been stopped. They consider it to be a bad omen.
 
Many priests who officiate at the rituals have left Kedarnath, and the Jyothirling is deserted. The front, eastern and southern doors of the temple are open, and local priests are worried that damage may be caused to the sanctum sanctorum.
 
The temple authorities have made no attempt to check what condition the main deity in the temple is in. “The Kedarnath temple is open for six months and when it closes during the winter season, the idol is taken to Ukimath and worshipped. When the pandits enter the temple after winter, they are not allowed to even cross the river.
 
The priests are tied by varni, a thread, which means they continue to do rituals no matter what happens in the temple and in their families. During the floods, the temple complex and the place where the priests stay were not damaged. So why did the priests and members of the temple samithi abandon the temple?” asks Shrinivas Posti, a senior priest from Guptakashi.
 
Pandit Guru Charan from Rudryaprayag has another point. He says the entire Chardham is considered as Punya Bhoomi (holy land) and it does not require any cleaning. “There has been calamity but it doesn’t concern God. What we must do is clear the debris and bodies from the temple complex and continue the daily rituals,” he said.
 
Members of the temple samithi, however, say that the temple’s surroundings have been damaged to such an extent that there is no chance for any ritual to be held. “Moreover, the rescue teams had asked the priests and others to evacuate, fearing more damage. There are bodies lying around the temple and it will take time to clear them. Once the work is done, the rituals will begin. We shall conduct the shuddikaran process and vaastu for the temple,” said a samithi member.
 

Wrath of the gods
 
A mule ride costs Rs 2,500, while dholiwallas charge Rs 4,000 per pilgrim. But with many opting for quicker helicopter service even if it cost around Rs 7,500 per trip, dholiwallas instigated local leaders to protest and the temple was shut down.  
 
“How can one shut down a temple and conduct no ritual? When this happened, we had a fear that something bad was going to happen,” says a local from Chamoli. Worse still, the temple and idol of Dharidevi, situated near Srinagar, was shifted against the wishes of the villagers to make way for a hydel project.
 
The developers shifted the idol from the Alaknanda river and the same night everything was washed away. “We had requested the developers to carry on the work without shifting the idol.
 
The idol of Dharidevi is an ancient one and many pilgrims and locals visit this temple in large numbers. The idols are established in certain places for reasons. When you shift them it’s like a bad omen and everybody knows what happened after that,” adds another villager.

 

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