All of us are aware of the recent turmoil in one of the holiest sites for the Hindus world wide – Tirumala. The head priest Ramana Dikshitulu at a press conference alleged irregularities in temple administration. Some of them being
- Lack of commitment among TTD administrators in upholding ethos and sanctity of the Tirumala temple
- Corruption, Funds diversion
- Termination of Hereditary priest hood
- Ancient jewellery misappropriation – no inventory – no audit
- Shortening of rituals, no respect for Agama traditions
- VIP darshan misuse
Before we get to the real story behind this we need to understand the workings of TTD board which runs the temple.
TTD is the trust board that oversees the operations of Tirumala Venkateswara Temple. It is operated by a Board of Trustees. The board has eighteen members appointed by the state government. These are coveted positions and the mostly political appointments. In the past, a Liquor baron was a chairman, the current one is suspected to have soft corner for evangelists. Recently a brazen attempt was made to appoint a Christian to the board. She had to later resign due to pressure from Hindus. The daily operation and management of TTD is the responsibility of an executive officer who is appointed by the Government of Andhra Pradesh.
Not so sterling board –
No wonder the board is perceived as corrupt since the appointments are political and names of the members on the board do not inspire confidence. There are exceptions like in the case of Mrs. Sudha Murthy in the current board. It is said the board members pander to their political bosses leading to all sorts of compromises.
Private Property – The Tirumala hill and its real estate is owned by the lord and managed by the TTD. In principle, no one is supposed to have a private property. Industrialists and other moneyed folks in the guise of donating for pilgrim’s welfare build guest houses and resorts for their personal use with support from TTD officials. Apparently, these guest houses are blocked by these folks and are not allocated to the public.
Laddu contracts are said to money spinning, apparently material for laddus is bought from vendors at a premium for inferior variety of ingredients.
Dalaris – Middle men – It is said there are about 20,000 of them
VIP darshan – This is a big privilege given to the so-called VIPs at terrible inconvenience to the public. There is a classification of L1, L2 and L3 in this Darshan. L1 gives you the best darshan and privileges etc. This is a big tool used by TTD and its officers to pander to the rich and famous. This darshan knocks of 3 hrs of the total darshan time available
Printing Press – The board prints a lot of books. Apparently, the corruption in this department runs over 100 crores
Thousand pillar mandapam – In 2003 the massive granite structure which once majestically stood opposite to the hill temple was razed to the ground as part of the implementation of the master plan aimed at de-congesting the area around the main temple complex. There were protests on this demolition at that time
Potu digging – It is alleged that digging was done in Potu the place the lords offerings are prepared. There are allegations all round on this. Some say for maintenance purposes etc
Hereditary system – The board in a fit of rage has decided to retire all archakas who were under the Hereditary system on attainment of 65 years. This was an immediate aftermath of the allegations of the chief priest Ramana Dikshitulu. A former EO said this on the termination –
“Kainkaryam is a lifelong duty which a person performs as long as he is physically and mentally active. There cannot be a retirement for such kainkaryams since it’s not a secular duty. Further priests of Tirumala temple have not opted for a scale of pay with promotion benefits and are also not eligible for any post-retirement benefits. That being the case without the benefits of regular employment it would be unfair to insist on their retirement. TTD board has no powers to retire them. They are continued under a scheme approved by the dharmic Parishad as under the Act. Present government for reasons best known has not constituted the dharmic Parishad. In the absence of the dharmic Parishad, the board cannot retire the priests. The message seems to be if you question on relevant issues you are out “
Political intervention –
Right from appointment of the board members to the EO there is political involvement in the TTD.
During the late Chief Minister YSRs tenure it was alleged that evangelists were given a free hand and attempt was made to reduce the jurisdiction of the hills. He himself being a keen devotee of the lord though a Christian.
The current Chief minister is an equally keen devotee of the lord but controversies are not leaving him. His appointment of the Chairman Putta Sudhakar Yadav knowing his past actions leads to questions on govt’s intentions in protecting the holy shrine from unholy forces.
Tirumala- Tirupati under Christian siege–
It is also a fact that a lot of employees of the TTD are non–Hindus leading to questions about sincerity in protecting the holiness of the shrine. As per the guidelines of the temple, non-Hindus cannot work in any of its services. Though non-Hindus can visit and have a view of Lord Venkateshwara, they should sign a register before entering the queue complex declaring that they have faith in the lord.
A fact-finding committee established in 2006 after reports of undesirable activities had recommended (Sri R. Sivananda Kishore):
- As per Rule 197 of APCHR and E Act 1987 the population living in Tirumala shall adhere to the norms and shall follow the sentiments of Hindu Religion. As such thorough probe has to be taken up to verify the antecedents of Non-Hindu Employees who are working in TTD as well as Government departments i.e., Police, Fire Services, Commercial Taxes etc., who are staying in Tirumala. The identified employees and their families shall be shifted from Tirumala
- Some of the family members of the TTD employees such as wife, children are practicing Christian ideology and inviting the Pastors to conduct prayers in their houses at Tirumala. The above aspect may be carefully examined and steps taken to prevent the above activities in Tirumala.
- In the Rule 198 of APCHR & E Act 1987 the following activities shall be prohibited at Tirumala :-
- Carrying and possession of Holy books of other religions like BIBLE, QURAN etc.
- Any kind of propagation of other than Hindu religion by way of distribution of pamphlets, Literature, Brochures, Stickers, Banners, Flags, including prayers and speeches etc.”
- Other findings of the Committee included Christian proselytization in educational institutions at Tirupathi established on TTD land and with TTD funds, diversion of funds earlier being used for Hindu Dharmic activities for other purposes, irregularities in sale of ticks and missing antique jewellery offered to Sri Venkateshwara.
The second richest religious shrine in the world Tirumala is in the news for the wrong reasons. Too much political intervention, a weak board and moving away from the religious focus to commercialization is leading to confusion of priorities. Such confusions give opportunity for forces who are working to breach the strongest Hindu bastion of belief.
-Sri Rama Murthy Prabhala