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He lay beneath a pile of dead bodies for about 40 minutes and was counted among the dead in the Sabarimala tragedy. But when locals splashed holy water, R Dinesh Kumar (27) suddenly woke up from amid the heap of bodies. He is now back in his home in Coimbatore to narrate the intriguing story of how he survived the ghastly tragedy at the hill shrine.

"In the stampede, I fell to the ground and several people fell over. And then, I lost my consciousness," recalls Dinesh Kumar, sitting in the house of his cousin, Sabareesan, who died in the tragedy.

A mechanic at a tools manufacturing factory in Coimbatore, Dinesh had gone along with his younger brother, father's elder brother and a cousin besides 50 fellow-pilgrims. Five of the 53 Ayyappa devotees, who went on the annual pilgrimage, died in the stampede.

After witnessing the Makara Jyothi', they were trudging back from Pulmedu to the parking lot when the tragedy unfolded. But for his younger brother, who spotted Dinesh Kumar among the pile of dead bodies, he may not be alive today.

"I fell at the feet of a rescue worker and asked him to help me pull out my brother from the heap of bodies," said 16-year-old Gautham, brother of Dinesh Kumar. But the survivors, who were frantically searching for their close kin in the pile, stepped on several victims who were pleading for help, recalled Gautham. In the melee, finally help arrived as a sub-inspector offered to drive Dinesh Kumar and two other survivors to Vandiperiyar hospital.

Blood clots still remain in both his eyes. "It is a miracle that I am alive today," he sighs. Though an ardent Ayyappa devotee, his faith is shaken now as his cousin Sabareesan, who was named after the deity, died in the tragedy. "I am not sure if I will go again to Sabarimala," said Dinesh Kumar, who has been visiting Sabarimala for the last five years.


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