Tirumala may be shut down again; less pilgrims seen at other temples

Sruthi Vibhavari

Hyderabad: The COVID-19 crisis brought unprecedented challenges to every known sector in the country. The public health crisis has also hit places of worship. With religious gatherings becoming the hotspots of the spread, many were forced to shut. Popular temples had to deal with severe revenue losses as darshans were stopped.

World’s richest temple struggle

Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara, is known for its grandeur and riches. The average monthly income of Tirumala stands at Rs.200-220 crore. Besides, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) board also owns nearly eight tons of gold and Rs. 14,000 crore in fixed deposits.

On March 19, the Tirumala temple closed its doors to the pilgrims in view of the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. Since then, the monthly income is reduced to almost zero. The board, however, had to pay salaries and meet other fixed expenses. So far, it has spent more than 300 crores towards salaries and pensions. It is also learnt that the temple board is mulling ways to manage things without having to use gold and other fixed reserves.

Yadadri temple also faces hardships

The lockdown has affected Telangana’s very own Tirupati that is Yadadri, the cave temple of Lord Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy too. It was earlier known as Yadgiri Gutta temple. It has also been closed for darshans on March 19.

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The temple’s income is known to have dipped by 10 per cent, with the management incurring a loss of Rs 30 crore. The treasury of the temple which was over Rs 6 crores before the lockdown was imposed fell to Rs 2.2 crores after paying salaries, pensions and incurring fixed expenditures. The Yadadri temple trust is considering to seek permission from the government to release the fixed deposits in order to meet financial distress.

Despite the lockdown, the new temple construction works were in progress. The Yadadri Temple Development Authority (YTDA) is overseeing the renovation activities, which are currently taking place at a brisk pace.

Masked pilgrims, quicker darshans

Even during the lockdown, the day-to-day rituals in Tirumala were carried out by the archakas (priests) as usual. The collections via e-hundi — an e-collection box, initiative launched by TTD — also increased. Laddus were sold across cities.

The temple was re-opened on June 11, with the number of pilgrims restricted to 12,000. Several other precautionary curbs were put in place. G Narayana Reddy from Gadwal who visited Tirumala last week said, “Our darshan was completed in less than 20 minutes as the crowd has thinned. Regarding the precautions he said, “We did not undergo any temperature check up but hand sanitization was done at the ticket checking points. All the staff and pilgrims have to wear masks. Inside the temple premises, 2 meters distance is maintained.”

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“However, no such precautions were seen at the prasadam counter,” he added. 

Tirumala recorded a sharp decline in the number of pilgrims and a consequential effect on the revenue generated since its re-opening for darshan.

Yadadri also resumed darshans from June 8, with all the necessary precautions. The devotees are asked to compulsorily wear face masks and bring hand sanitizers along.

Chilkur Balaji Temple located on the outskirts of Hyderabad is popularly called the ‘Visa’ Balaji temple. It has voluntarily chose to remain shut.

Risk imminent

Last week, the TTD board reported that as many as 140 staff, including 18 out of 50 priests at Tirumala had tested COVID-19 positive. On Monday (July 20), Srinivasa Murthy Deekshitulu, one of the 18 priests who contracted the virus has passed away. Because of the imminent risk that faces pilgrims, demands for another temporary closure of the temple are on the rise.

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