TIRUMALA TIRUPATI DEVASTHANAMS 1
Pandit Sitaraman was confused. As head priest of the famed [and revered] Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams [TTD], a post that he had held for long, for the first time he was up against a question of morality. The night before, a visiting Sikh priest had looked at the different lines that were formed for the darshan and had remarked, "At the Golden Temple, people who come, come with devotion in their hearts. Everybody's devQ.tjQI}jS equal, be they rich or poor. At Amritsar, we don't have separate queues for the rich and -poo. All come equally, all are treated equally",
Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara, is reputed as the most ancient temple in lncfi. The old religious texts all declare that in the age of Kal Yuga, one can attain mukti only through the worshipping of Lord Venkateshwara. Tirupati, in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, is situated at the foot of the Tirumala h The two townshiPs and their temples are under the religious trust of_T!Q.
The TTD today is one of the richest temple trusts in India. Its revenue comes from two sources. First, from donations. The rich and the poor, on fulfillment of their wishes, donate their chosen amount in £ash_g_r __g_Qid, to the temple coffers. This is purely voluntary, the amount being determined solely by the persons wishes. On any given day, an average of30,000 devotees, visit the temple. In addition, TTD has also set up branches all over India-where the donation can be deposited, the prayer performedat each
requested time and the "prasadam" sent b.Y post. This was very popular with the elderly devote !LWho could not-undertake the journ-ey- A second source of income comes from fhe-11dar ljg,n" .The "darshans" are timed throughout the day and the entry fee can vary from Rs 200 toRs QO [for special functions]. In addition there are also weekly sevas at specialrates:Forthe general "darshan", in order to control the crowds, the management of TID had thought it best to have different queues, at different prices. Thus, on any given day, there will be a fast movingllne-forRs Tcro a-son1eWfi-aTsfo; ;: moving line for Rs 50, and maybe a third extremely slow line for Rs I 0. The number of lines would vary, depending on the seasonality factor. There would also be a mandatory "free" line. Sitaraman, as the COO, has the power to decide on both the number of lines an-diheprTce attached to each line. Last year, the temple trust recorded a turnover estimated at Rs I 00 crores.
The decision to have several queues was taken many centuries ago when royalty, through the system of patronage, demanded exclusive treatment. Sitaraman had never felt the need to revise this decision although the moral question troubled him. Religion, he strongly felt, should not be based on class distinctions. The only consolation was derived from the fact that the exclusivity was only till the gates of the sanctum sanctoram. Once inside, in the presence of the Lord Venkateshwara, all were treated equally. Sitaraman could identify several merits to the existing system but then again he was very conscious ofthe class system that was being perpetuated.
1 This case, and the characters represent a fictional situation. It is not intended to be a comment on religious practices.
The queue system also presented its own share of problems. It was possible to control the crowds today through differential pricing. With the natural growth in population, the "lines" would have to be priced higher and higher. Sitaraman was not convinced of its the moral validity. There was yet another dimension to Sitaraman's problems. Although there had been no quantitative demonstration yet, Sitaraman was visible perturbed by the onslaught of foreign media through the cable network. If...
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