Ariyalur and Badaga Pilgrims
by Dharmlingam Venugopal [Nilgiri Documentation Centre]
The moving story recalling the chilling experience of the Ariyalur train tragedy in the columns of the Hindu has rekindled varied memories connected with the incident.
Among the 142 ill fated victims of Ariyalur train accident on Nov 24, 1956 were 34 Badaga pilgrims from the Jakkanarai village of Kotagiri in the Nilgiri district. Members of the village Pandarpur Bhajan Sabha, a group of 60 of them were returning from Pandarpur when they decided to extend their tour to Rameswaram.
An young lawyer from the same village who had then just finished law in Chennai had pleaded with them to wait till the cyclonic rains abated. He had also had an ominous dream the previous night. The pilgrims consoled the young lawyer saying that a young one’s dream was harmless and proceeded towards their watery grave.
14 of them escaped with serious to mild injuries but some of them died soon after haunted by the nightmare of the ghastly memory, one man literally taking his gun out and shooting in the darkness for days.
The young lawyer later got all the victims compensation through a prolonged effort and they all together invested in an Ariyalur Tea Factory which ran for over twenty years.
The people of Jakkanarai village built a memorial near the spot of the accident with the names of the victims and for the next fifty years regularly offered prayers at the spot on the day of the tragedy. The memorial still stands covered by roadside bushes. Since then they have built a replica of the memorial in their village itself for offering annual prayers.