Thursday, 30 June, 2022
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Masked pilgrims, barbers in PPE and shorter queues as Tirupati temple reopens after 80 days

The crowds were noticeably thinner as the famous Tirupati shrine, the world’s richest temple, reopened with Covid-related precautions in place.

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Tirupati: As the Tirupati temple reopened Thursday after an 80-day shutdown on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, the entrance had an elaborate security framework in place.

People were made to sanitise their hands and bags as soon as they got down from their vehicles. The bags were then separately screened, while people had to undergo a temperature check with their vehicles subjected to a simultaneous assessment. 

Nobody was allowed on the temple premises without a mask and, at regular intervals, the loudspeaker that usually plays devotional songs reminded people to keep a bottle of sanitiser with them, wear masks and maintain physical distance.

Nestled in the Tirumala hills, the famous Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district is home to the shrine of Lord Venkateswara. It is believed to be the most important Vaishnavite shrine. The temple in Tirupati, known as the spiritual city of Andhra Pradesh, had shut down days before the nationwide lockdown was announced on 24 March to check the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Speaking to ThePrint, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) chairman Y.V. Subba Reddy said, “This [the lockdown] had never happened before in the temple’s history.”

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Restricted number of devotees

Government guidelines meant to ease the lockdown allowed reopening of religious places from 8 June. Though the temple opened for outsiders Thursday, it was opened for TTD employees on 8-9 June and local devotees on 10 June. 

Before the Covid-19 lockdown, the temple saw anywhere between 75,000 and 90,000 pilgrims every day. However, the temple has now restricted entry to no more than 6,000-10,000 people daily. 

“After relaxations in the lockdown, we decided to reopen the temple as we were getting many requests and devotees were very eager for the temple to reopen,” said Reddy, when asked what prompted the board to reopen the temple.

He, however, advised people aged above 65 years and children below 10 years against visiting the shrine. To restrict the number of people coming to the temple, the board has set up online booking for darshan (obeisance) tickets. 

Meanwhile, most of the shops in the temple complex continue to remain shut. Signboards posted for directions are now accompanied by those bearing reminders to maintain distance, not touch surfaces, keep sanitisers in hand, and wear masks. 

Surendra, who is in charge of security at the temple, said it opened at 6 am while he had reached the premises by 5 am. 

While no ‘prasadam’ was distributed inside the temple, some counters of famous Tirupati laddus were open outside the premises.

Reddy said only 10 out of the 20 laddu counters outside the temple were functioning, and they maintained all social distancing norms. “Even at these 10 counters, every two hours they shut alternatively for disinfection and then start running again once the process is completed.”

Known to be the richest temple in the world, Tirupati lost crores on account of donations during the lockdown, according to TTD officials. The temple faced a loss of Rs 200 crore per month, said a senior TTD official, adding that they received Rs 25.7 lakh in hundis, boxes placed in the temple to collect cash offerings from devotees, on the first day of reopening. In 2019, the temple netted more than Rs 1,100 crore in hundi collection. 

However, all TTD employees received their salaries, the temple official added. 

Also Read: Tirupati temple chairman credits Lord Balaji for saving Rs 1,300 cr deposited in Yes Bank

Worship during a pandemic

While worship has resumed, the fear of the pandemic has led to tweaks in the rituals observed. 

At the Coconut Handi, people were seen waiting in a line for their turn to break the coconut and pray, as opposed to earlier when everybody could gather together. A policeman manning the handi said, “We have to make sure everybody wears their masks at all times. There were a few who tried removing them but we made sure they kept them on.”

The last darshan, the policeman said, will get over at 7 pm.

No ‘prasadam’ was given inside the temple, but the famous Tirupati laddoos were being sold outside the premises. Reddy said only 10 of the 20 laddoo counters outside the temple were functioning, in keeping with social-distancing norms. “Even these 10 counters are shut alternately, every two hours, for disinfection,” he said.

At the Kalyana Katta, where people go for a tonsure to donate their hair, all male barbers were seen in PPE kits. The female barbers were, however, dressed in saris, wearing face shields, gloves and masks for protection. The special PPE gowns for women to wear over their saris were due to come either Thursday or Friday, Reddy told ThePrint.

As people queued up to go inside the temple for darshan, the temple staff constantly reminded devotees to maintain distance and pull up their masks. 

Kiran Kumar, a devotee who took the 6 pm train from Hyderabad to Tirupati for the reopening of the temple, said he came “especially for darshan early in the morning”. 

“I have never seen the temple so empty. There used to be 70,000 people earlier and now there are barely 3,000 people,” he added. 

A local resident of Tirupati, Ajeesh Kumar, who visited the temple with his mother, said, “We were eagerly waiting for the temple to reopen. Today, the only thing I prayed for was Covid to go as it has caused a lot of suffering to people.”

Kumar and his mother made the trip to the temple in one of the buses organised by the TTD for devotees.

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This report has been updated with additional information

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  1. Replica or model temples, even though administered by TTD are not comparable to the original Balaji temple, as it has the sanctity and power of yantra at the base. Take for example the most beautiful and attractive idol of Sri Kalyana Venkateswara at Srinivasa Mangapuram. The architecture of the temple, its location and large premises dono attract the attention of many pilgrims.
    Coming to the point, what I suggest is that Devotees should not feel it as a tourist trip. They should reduce their frequency keeping the interest of co-devotees. But, they are free to donate their mite as much as possible and as frequently, as they desire, so that TTD continues its services without any interruption or deviation.
    Commercial aspect or political view of TTD, if any should be thrown aside

  2. This present scenario of 6000 to 10000 maximum devotees visiting Tirumala is highly desirable even in future as against 80000 to 1 lakh used to visit previously creating lot of stress to TTD infrastructure,leaving apart the difficulties and hardships faced by old & children waiting in the qué for long hours in suffocating conditions( once our family of 4 with 300 spl darshan ticket had to opt out to come out of the prison like chamber/ room where 2000 pilgrims in the qué were locked in 500 capacity sandwiched and cameout getting wasted the spl darshan tickets tho were told in half an hour would get darshan as we neared the temple but felt may die of suffocation before that).Only to obviate such kind of difficulties to devotees and to reduce the strain on TTD infrastructure,it has been suggested by many thro media that TTD may better construct Proto Tirumala Tirupathy Balaji/ venkateswara model temple with same ambience and same size Lord Venkateswara statue with same idols and things presently in the original temple ( exactly replica as being done by film art directors thro temple carving artists( shilpacars of T.N) in each state .This facilitates easing of rush on Tirumala temple and also less expenditure for devotees to have Balaji darshan as TTD only maintain those temples also in each state with all the facilities ( presently avlbl in Tirumala)provided there also to give the satisfaction to all devotees that they are in Tirumala only but getting satisfactory Darshan of Balaji instead of a glimpse and getting pushed off by security staff after waiting patiently for long hours of 8 to 10 hours at Tirumala.It is sincerely hoped that TTD trust board and AP govt gives a serious thought for this good suggestion as it not only eases the enormous strain on Tirumala staff but also helps Devotees to have comfortable darshan ,besides increasing the revenue of TTD as more devotees visit the new temple in each state not once but twice/ thrice in a year with less expenditure and easy darshan in one hour every where.Thisway throughout India Balaji devotees increase and TTD would get more revenue to do many philanthropic activities like constructing orphanages,widow homes,women shelters,Sanskrit& Veda patashalas,dharmashalas,hospitals& education Al institutions etc in all states creating lot of employment opportunities.if these suggestions are given serious thought by appointing an expert committee,these suggestions would take concrete shape in next 10 to 20 years and Balaji/ venkateswara Bhaktas in other states would be very happy .

  3. दुसरे राज्य से आने वाले दर्शनाथियो को भगवान वैकटेशवर के दर्शनों की अनुमति कब से मिलेगी।

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