The police arrested the head priest of a Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam(TTD) run temple after he(the priest)disclosed on Friday that he had mortgaged ten pieces of gold and diamond jewelry belonging to the deity to a pawnbroker to raise money to pay back the loans incurred in the marriage of his two daughters.
AP Venkatramana Deekshithulu(55),the head priest of Sri Kodandarama Swamy temple in the pilgrim town, is said to have collected Rs 10.15 lakhs from Sagar Mal, the proprietor of Kamadhenu and Co ,a pawnbroker by pledging the Lord`s jewels at different times since early 2008.
After the TTD, under the directive of Andhra Pradesh High Court, started making an inventory of all jewels in all the temples under its jurisdiction, Deekshithulu felt that he could be exposed soon and chose to admit his culpability.
“Grinding poverty drove me to the brink of pledging lord`s ornaments though I knew it was sin. I have three daughters and am in deep financial crisis. Besides, I am suffering from a lot of ailments for several years. Unable to maintain the family and meet my medical expenses, I pledged the jewels,” he said.
He also said that though the TTD was the richest temple, the priests working in the sub-temples under it lived in abject poverty as till October last they were receiving monthly remuneration of Rs 2000 only. Only recently it was increased.
After his revelations, the TTD vigilance officer lodged a formal complaint with police regarding the loss of jewels. The police swung into action by booking case of theft, cheating, criminal breach of trust against Deekshithulu.
The police arrested Sagar Mal and booked cases against him under breach of trust and misappropriation of temple jewelery.
V Ganga raju, DSP of Tirupati police told HT that the priest had pledged 10 items of god`s jewels including a diamond necklace and had collected Rs 10.15 lakhs.Only 15 days back he repaid Rs 3 lakhs and redeemed three jewelery items. Apparently he could not organize entire money to redeem the whole lot.
“We recovered the remaining 7 items of jewelery weighing 1.305 kgs from the pawn-shop owner today,” he added.
Deekshithulu in his confession to the police said that his family were hereditary priests of Kodandarama Swamy temple and he was engaged in serving the lord from the age of six when his father was chief Priest. He was made head priest of the temple only in 2000.He said that two of his three daughters were married.
The TTD authorities placed under suspension the temple inspector for dereliction of duty.” We have taken serious note of the issue we will do whatever possible to restore the confidence and faith of the pilgrims.We are planning to appoint a special officer to exclusively look after the jewels in all temples,” said TTD Executive Officer,IY R Krishna Rao.