The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which has remained shut for public since March 20 even as the nationwide lockdown was announced four days later, has sought permission from the Andhra Pradesh government to reopen its doors for darshan.
TTD Chairman YV Subba Reddy told CNN-News18 the temple authorities are awaiting government approval for reopening after the lockdown. However, the management is planning to keep it low-key at the initial stage along with following all guidelines.
The Venkateshwara temple sees anywhere between 70,000 to 80,000 devotees on a daily basis. On big days, this figure touches a lakh. Once it reopens, the plan is to cap that number to not more than 10,000 devotees a day.
All protocols, including thermal screening, compulsory wearing of masks and social distancing, would also be followed.
Reddy said, "We plan to try things on an experimental basis to test our capacity to follow all due protocols before we go public. We have our internal staff of 21,000 and we want to do a dry run with them one of these days. Under no circumstances, do we want to put people's lives at risk given the scale of the coronavirus outbreak."
Bookings for ‘darshan’ will continue to be online and detailed guidelines for those visitors will be issued soon. The temple authorities has also set up a quarantine facility to deal with any exigency. At present, normal daily rituals are being carried on at the temple without any presence of public.
In June, a three-day ‘Jyestha Abhishekam’ is scheduled to be held wherein a large gathering is witnessed usually. However, this year, it may not be the same given the lockdown which is unlikely to be lifted completely anytime soon.
There have been reports in certain sections of the media about the temple authorities may soon not being able to pay salaries of employees due to stoppage of funds by way of donations since the lockdown was imposed.
However, sources said the temple trust faces no such financial crunch. Also, services of 1,300 contractual staff who were recently terminated stand extended for now.
Reddy, who is a former YSRCP MP, said, "We have to renew the contracts, but given the present crisis, we have decided to extend the contract of these employees purely on humanitarian grounds. The humble appeal made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands in our commitment not to victimise anyone in these tough times. We will further see how to help these employees."
TTD is one of the richest temple trusts in India. The independent trust manages not just the Lord Venkateswara Temple in Tirumala but several other temples across the world.