Bengaluru: The Tirupati temple, one of the world’s richest, is gearing up to reopen with precautionary measures.
According to home ministry guidelines, places of worship can’t reopen until 31 May, but Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the trust that manages the temple, has asked permission from the Andhra Pradesh government last week to open doors to its devotees, government officials told ThePrint.
“Tirumala has been in the green zone since the beginning of the pandemic. We closed down the temple as a precautionary measure. Lord Venkateshwara has always been our guide and will keep us safe with his blessings during this time,” TTD chairman Y.V. Subbareddy told ThePrint.
A TTD official, who didn’t want to be named, said the trust’s revenues have dipped by over Rs 200 crore during the lockdown.
The temple was shut down on 20 March, the first time in its history.
The temple has begun preparations to welcome its devotees by marking circles on the premises where people usually stand in queues, making wearing of masks compulsory and capping the number of visitors per day.
“We will make every possible effort to ensure that Covid protocols are followed, including using thermal scanners, social distancing and making wearing of masks compulsory. We will also be reducing the number of devotees who come for darshan,” Subbareddy said.
The temple witnesses a footfall of 80,000 to 1 lakh devotees on a daily basis. But, post-lockdown, 25,000-35,000 devotees can visit the temple.
“We will ensure that devotees do not come in groups. They will get darshan one by one. Social distancing has to be maintained. We have already made arrangements and painted the main areas with circles to ensure people follow rules. We have also decided to limit the number of people coming to the temple between 25,000 and 35,000 per day,” he added.
“They will be made to enter in a phased manner. Timings (of darshan) also will be managed as we will have to sanitise the temple each time we finish one slot,” he said.
The temple also plans to conduct a mock drill involving its 21,000 employees to see if it can manage the movement of devotees after the lockdown. The drill will see some employees queuing up like devotees on the temple premises, while others will manage them to ensure precautionary measures are followed.
A quarantine facility has also been earmarked near the temple in case of any emergency.
Prasad will continue to be distributed
Unlike several other temples in south India where they have decided to do away with prasadam (food offerings), the TTD chairman said the world-famous Tirupati ladoo will continue to be given.
“… offering of holy water and the prasadam (offering) will continue. We will follow strict sanitisation protocol and it may be given in a box, instead of handing it over,” he said.
“The offerings are from Lord Venkateshwara himself; we believe he keeps us safe from this pandemic as he has done all this while,” he added.
Temple revenues badly hit
Asked about reports that the trust may not be able to pay salaries to its employees, Subbareddy dismissed them.
The TTD official mentioned above also denied the claim. “On an average, Tirumala gets around Rs 3 to 4 crore a day. During the lockdown, our revenues have dipped by more than Rs 200 crore. But that does not mean we are financially strained and cannot pay our employees. We have managed to pay them until the month of May,” he said.
The TTD’s revenues come from contributions from devotees, sale of the prasadam, rent from lodges near the temple, among others.
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