TTD head priest seeks temporary closure of Tirumala temple as Covid-19 cases rise; demand gets rejected
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), which manages the country’s richest shrine, held an emergency meeting of officials and priests on Thursday, but turned down the demand for a temporary suspension of darshan for devotees.Updated: Jul 16, 2020 18:09 IST
A spike in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) positive cases in Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district, has triggered an uproar in the shrine, as a section of employees and even the honorary chief priest have demanded that the temple be temporarily closed again for darshan for pilgrims.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), which manages the country’s richest shrine, held an emergency meeting of officials and priests on Thursday, but turned down the demand for a temporary suspension of darshan for devotees.
“There is no question of closing the temple again for darshan, as the situation is under control,” said YV Subba Reddy, chairman, TTD.
Earlier on Thursday morning, AV Ramana Deekshitulu, the honorary head priest of the temple, lashed out at the TTD officials for their insistence on allowing darshans, despite a surge in Covid-19 cases in Tirumala.
Deekshitulu tagged Andhra Pradesh (AP) chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and tweeted that 15 out of 50 archakas (priests) had tested Covid-19 positive and were quarantined, while “still 25 results are awaited. But TTD executive officer and joint executive officer refuse to stop darshans”.
Deekshitulu, who was forced to retire in 2018 by the then Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government on attaining the superannuation age of 60, was back in the shrine after the YSR Congress party (YSRCP) government came to power in June 2019.
Initially, he was made Agama (a code of conduct for temple management) advisor to the Tirumala in November, and later appointed as the honorary chief priest of the shrine.
He alleged that the TTD officials were embracing the anti-hereditary archaka and anti-Brahminical policies of TDP, led by former CM N Chandrababu Naidu. “Disaster if this continues. Please take action,” he requested CM Reddy.
On Wednesday, the TTD Staff and Workers’ United Front, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), had submitted a representation to TTD executive officer Anil Kumar Singhal, requesting that darshan at the temple be temporarily suspended because of the viral outbreak in the Tirumala hills.
The TTD staff pointed out that over 1,000 Covid-19 positive cases were reported in Tirupati town and around 100 TTD employees had contracted SARS-CoV-2, which causes the viral disease.
“These employees can end up infecting devotees, when they go up the Tirumala hills to perform their religious duties. We are very worried,” they said.
They also requested the TTD to allow employees to work in shifts in a bid to comply with social distancing norms, as only 33% of the staff would work on a day.
The TTD chairman, however, said there was no possibility of temporarily suspending darshans again. “It is true that 140 TTD employees had tested Covid-19 positive since the temple was opened on June 11 for darshan. They include security persons, priests, and workers of the temple kitchen. More than half of them have already recovered from their viral infection,” he said.
Subba Reddy said none of the devotees, who had come for darshan, had tested positive in the random tests being conducted by the TTD authorities. He, however, announced that the restrictions on the number of pilgrims being allowed for darshan would persist.
At present, only 12,000 pilgrims are allowed daily because of the pandemic.
The TTD chairman said all facilities would be provided to the priests of the shrine in a bid to ensure that they don’t get infected by the pathogen.