The Sri Venkateswara temple in Tirumala was closed for three months for the first time in over a century
For the first time in a century, temples in Tirupati had to remain closed for months together in view of the COVID-19 situation and the subsequent lockdown triggered by it.
It was exactly 129 years ago that Sri Venkateswara temple at Tirumala was kept closed only for three days for reasons unknown. The year 2020 witnessed the second such closure, that too for nearly three months, and the first ever since the formation of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) in the 1930s.
Though the lockdown and the restriction on public movement was prevalent across the country, the standstill at Tirumala and the inactivity in Tirupati downhill was unprecedented and beyond anybody’s imagination.
When the lockdown was partially lifted and restrictions on inter-State vehicular movement eased, the first thing that many Hindu devotees contemplated was undertaking the ‘long-delayed’ pilgrimage to the abode of Lord Venkateswara. “When we look back, the pilgrim footfall tumbled from 2.75 crore to a mere 80 lakh devotees this year,” TTD Executive Officer K.S. Jawahar Reddy told The Hindu.
In an informal chat, Mr. Jawahar Reddy said that the average number of visitors, usually pegged at 20-25 lakh per month, slid to 4.5 lakh to 8 lakh this year. “Naturally, the Hundi collections took a dip from ₹1,281 crore to ₹500 crore so far this financial year,” he said.
Rising to the occasion
Rising to the occasion, the TTD management got down to providing meals to the stranded pilgrims during the entire period of the lockdown. Food prepared in the mammoth kitchens were packed into tens of thousands of packets and distributed among the stranded pilgrims, starving alms seekers and jobless workers during this period.
As the TTD’s cash flow took a severe hit, it also had a cascading effect on its finances. In this tough period, thousands of employees had to take a partial pay cut, which was to the tune of 50% for the supervisory staff and 10% at the lower level. The health workers and security staff were spared, in view of their pivotal role in ensuring continued sanitation and enforcing lockdown.
Going a step further, the TTD offered its accommodation complexes like ‘Srinivasam’, ‘Vishnu Nivasam’, ‘Sri Padmavathi Nilayam’ and Govindaraja choultry to be converted into COVID Care centres. The munificent gesture proved a boon for not only Chittoor district, but the entire Rayalaseema region, as the facilities were extensively used to isolate and treat the COVID-19 positive cases, which was crucial in tackling and taming the pandemic.