A row is brewing in Andhra Pradesh over the design of pillars to be used at the popular hill shrine of Tirumala, with Sangh Parivar organisations alleging that they resemble the Holy Cross.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), which manages the temple's affairs, placed an order with a Bangalore-based company for supplying 250 pillars made of plaster of paris and featuring engravings. The pillars were to be used during the annual Brahmotsavam festival beginning from September 15.
A sample piece has raised the hackles of BJP and other Sangh Parivar groups, who alleged that such a design amounted to hurting the sentiments of Hindus.
"Already, there has been a systematic proselytisation campaign in and around the holy town of Tirumala. The installation of cross-shaped pillars is yet another instance of insulting Hindu sensibilities," local BJP leader Bhanu Prakash alleged.
The controversy comes against the backdrop of recent protests against alleged religious conversions in Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateswara.
The state government had banned the propagation of other religions in notified places of worship including Tirumala.
Alleging that designing "cross-shaped pillars" was part of a conspiracy to encourage missionary activity at Tirumala, BJP activists held a protest at Alipiri and damaged the 15-foot sample piece on September 11.
"The state government is intentionally hurting the sentiments of Hindus. Getting this pillar designed like a cross is part of that gameplan," Prakash said.
However, TTD chairman B Karunakar Reddy, who is also the local Congress legislator, rubbished these allegations and said the design was inspired by symbols used at the time of the Vijayanagara empire, which patronised the temple.
"When we chant 'Govinda' in praise of Lord Venkateswara, it sounds like 'amen' to the BJP. This is unfortunate," Reddy said and asserted that TTD was committed to the propagation of Hindu dharma.
The temple's executive officer K V Ramanachary said the design was not yet finalised. "We have prepared the design on the lines of the architecture symbolic of the regime of Sri Krishnadevaraya," the TTD chairman said.
The proposed pillars are meant to be installed for hanging pots and bells adorned with flowers as part of decorations during the nine-day Brahmotsavam festival.