The Lord’s Own Town
There’s a saying in Tirumala: come earthquake or war, the devout will continue to trek uphill for a darshan of Lord Venkateswara. But these days, the pilgrims’ progress is a bit impeded by politics. Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra are convulsed by the agitation against Telangana. Silent marches and loud rallies, dharnas and rasta rokos are all in their fourth week now. Tirupati itself is a centre of protests. But the worst cut has come from the strike by the state transport bus service. Some 500 buses ferrying pilgrims are off the road. About 2,000 private bus operators too have joined the strike. As a result, hundreds of pilgrims were stuck at the hilltop shrine; others who arrived for a darshan found no means to traverse the steep Alipiri ghat to reach the temple.
Chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy managed to negotiate with striking state transport staff and get 107 buses on the route. Hardly enough. Earlier, there were about 1,500 bus trips to the temple daily; now, it’s no more than 600. A temple administrator estimates the number of pilgrims has fallen from 70,000 to 40,000 daily. “In 38 years after the Emergency, this is the first time such a situation has arisen,” says Chakravarti Raghavan, who teaches at the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati.
The very atmosphere in the seven hills nestling the temple complex has changed. Earlier, in every lane and bylane, houses would play recordings of M.S. Subbulakshmi singing Lord Venkateswara’s praises. What’s heard now are the slogans of Samaikhyandhra protesters, seeking a united Andhra. Some 6,000 temple employees have joined the agitation, so the temple administration too has more or less come to a standstill. The temple offices, once described as a mini-secretariat, are deserted.
There are unique positives for devotees in this situation, says Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam PRO P. Neelima. The pilgrims who do turn up are having a peaceful darshan, without the jostling and the long queues! “They are able to stand in front of the Lord for some time. More pilgrims are getting laghu darshan, in which the idol is no more than 35 feet away. In the usual rush, most people can only manage a mahalaghu darshan, with the idol some 65 feet away,” she says. “What’s more, some pilgrims are even managing two darshans in a day.” Availability of rooms in the TTD’s guest-house complexes like Srinivasam and Madhavam, and at private guest houses, is also much easier.
But why is Tirupati, often mooted as a prospective capital for Seemandhra, seeing protests? Dr P. Krishna Mohan Reddy, assistant professor of history at the S.V. University, says the rage is only natural. “Tirupati is a major educational centre, churning out engineering, pharma, IT and medical graduates. These students aspire to go to Hyderabad for jobs. Everyone knows that 95 per cent of IT and engineering jobs are in Hyderabad. With the state’s bifurcation, who will protect the interests of Seemandhra employees in Hyderabad, especially those in private companies?” he asks.
Says Chakravarti Raghavan, “Our leaders are dividing cities among themselves as if they were chocolates, without understanding what people want. Politicians such as TRS chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao are inciting fear and hatred by saying we are outsiders: we are being made to feel that visiting Hyderabad is like visiting Pakistan.”
Such is the intensity of the agitation in Tirupati that the police have had to put posters asking taxis not to charge more than Rs 60 per passenger. On a busy Saturday, when taxi services too stopped, there were 2 km queues for buses.
Tulasi Reddy, a Congress leader who resigned as the party’s spokesman in protest after the Telangana decision, says, “Of course, water wars will break out.” He says all districts in the Krishna delta will be affected; water supply to Hyderabad, too, could be affected. “The Congress is a great party and Sonia Gandhi is a great leader, but the bifurcation decision is a blunder,” he says with feeling. The Congress, he says, will be wiped out in Seemandhra; it won’t even be able to find suitable candidates.
The call to protest is so strong that it has even affected the iconic markers of a Tirupati visit. The temple’s famous laddoo prasadam, for instance, is in short supply: the workers who make them by the thousands daily have joined a relay stir, taking turns to keep off duty in protest. This is a first: generally, cooks and other employees involved in day-to-day rituals and activities stay off strikes.
Even the priests, who help pilgrims do the rounds of the temple and guide them through the rituals, are taking a holiday. Business is poor and they have nothing to do but while away the time. Residents of Tirupati, however, and people from nearby places like Kadapa, Gudur, Nellore and neighbouring Tamil Nadu are making frequent trips to the temple; they feel this is an opportunity to get a proper darshan. “Even the wait in queue has reduced by half,” says T. Srinivasacharyu, a local pujari.
And so, the busiest temple town in India wears a sleepy look. Raja Reddy, a Samaikhyandhra leader, expresses his faith in the Lord of the Seven Hills: Venkateswara, he says, is with the protesters and he will certainly keep the state united. It’s a fervent hope, typically Andhraite. United Andhraite, he’d say.
The Tirupati temple lost its sanctity the day the late YSR made a political appointee chairman of the trust that runs it (A Partial Lord, Sep 2). From then, it has been a downslide. The temple continues to function on the strength of the faith of hundreds of thousands of devotees.
Tirumala temple lost its sanctity the day the late YSR made a political appointment to the post of Chairman, TTD. The slide has continued ever since with persons being appointed who have neither the background nor the outlook needed to uphold the dignity and the aura associated with the temple from ages past. It is a pity that there is a seeming drift in the affairs with no one willing to take the bull by the horns and bring about a semblance of the past glory of the temple. Today, it is solely the immense faith of the common visitor to the Temple that is working hard to sustain the Temple's sanctity, despite the scandals of corruption, mismanagement, the bending of all norms for the VVIPs and the VIPs while treating others with a patronising attitude rather than the minimum courtesy and the respect that the common visitor who takes extraordinary pains to complete his 'pilgrimage' needs and deserves.Also a pity that the Governor of AP, who is a regular visitor to the Temple, has chosen to ignore the complaints, when he is in a position to mend some of the wrong doings and the wrong doers.
The idea that the govt. can make a person, even Pravin Togadia not enter a town, where there is a holy site, makes me wonder, why? There must be temples in Mr. Togadia's home town, or city. Also, would any Chief Minister want to visit temples, mosques, and churches, after this? Who likes footwear in temple premises, because of security? Chief Ministers don't like people to visit them, without prior permission. I didn't know the Sarayu River is in Ayodhya, and I felt offended, that the Police wear footwear on the steps of the ghat to the river. These Hindu policemen, wouldn't enter mosques, or churches in footwear, unless it is a practice. People wouldn't want to visit Ayodhya, because of it's significance.
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