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Wristband shield for pilgrims on road

Chennai, Jan. 25: Jimmy Connors wore it on both arms when he ran over rivals on tennis courts.

Pilgrims trudging to a Tamil Nadu temple through the night have also been sporting wristbands on both arms ' but to avoid being run over.

Police came up with the innovative idea of strapping the pilgrims with bands fitted with reflectors so that approaching vehicles could spot them from a distance.

The trek to the Sri Dandayuthpani Swami hill temple in Palani forms part of Thai Poosam, one of the most popular harvest season festivals in Tamil Nadu. Tens of thousands walk up to the temple of Murugan (the lord of the hills) during the 10-day event.

M. Kandasamy, the Dindigul district superintendent of police, said: 'We tied these wristbands to both hands of each padyatri at a place called Oddanchatram, the entry point, 20 km from Palani. The bands glistened in the dark' and ensured safe passage.'

The bands, donated by some voluntary agencies, were similar to the ones tennis players wear but additionally equipped with reflectors that glistened when headlights fell on them, Kandasamy said.

Thai Poosam, which draws several lakh pilgrims to Palani every year, began on January 19. Today was the highpoint as the star Poosam fell in the Tamil month of Thai.

Initially, the police gave sticks with red reflectors to the pilgrims. 'But that proved an impediment. The sticks were heavy and added to the burden of their luggage,' Kandasamy said. Hence the wristbands.

About 3,200 such illuminators were provided to the pilgrims on the first day. The demand peaked to several lakhs today, said the police officer.

Over 500,000 pilgrims thronged Palani this evening. Devotees pulled Murugan's golden chariot in the evening in what was the festival's finale.

Asked if the havoc wreaked by the tsunami had brought more pilgrims to Palani this year, the police officer said: 'No, no, it is not the tsunami. It is just that there has been good rain in many parts of Tamil Nadu and farmers have had a reasonably good harvest.'

A balancing technique was used to regulate the pilgrims' flow to the hill temple, the police said. As the shrine on a peak of the Western Ghats can accommodate a maximum of 15,000 pilgrims at a time, 'we ensured that the inflow from the foothills and the outflow of pilgrims matched', Kandasamy said.

A temple official said that a ropeway facility, installed by a Calcutta-based company and inaugurated by chief minister Jayalalithaa recently, has 'also been of good use'.

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