Thousands of ordinary devotees who throng the Tirumala temple in Andhra Pradesh shudder at the mention of “VIP break darshan”. It’s a decades-old practice that allows VIPs to breeze through, based on their “importance”, for a darshan of the deity, Lord Balaji, while the ordinary devotee, standing in queue for hours, are made to wait longer.
The YSR Congress Party government plans to effect changes to this practice.
The “VIP break darshan” comes under three layers — L-1, L-2 and L-3. L1 includes Ministers, MPs, MLAs, judges while senior government officials are grouped under the L2 category. L3 category includes all those who manage the much sought after recommendation letters from the offices of the Chief Minister or Endowments Minister or have a connection with a member of the TTD board.
YV Subba Reddy, the newly-appointed chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devastanams (TTD), an autonomous body managing the affairs of the hill shrine, said VIPs will soon be asked to restrict their visit to once a year so that the ordinary pilgrims are not inconvenienced.
“Hereafter, the VIPs, irrespective of their profile, will get special darshan only once a year,” said Reddy, who is a close relative of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Usually, there is a scramble for ‘break darshan’ with people using their clout with ministers, legislators and senior bureaucrats to secure tickets for a quick darshan of Lord Balaji.
“We want to scrap this system to avoid inconvenience to the ordinary devotees,” said Subba Reddy.
Relief for ordinary devotees
A common grievance among pilgrims visiting the popular temple is that the promotion of “VIP culture” has been undermining the sanctity of the shrine. The wait for the Lord’s darshan gets agonisingly longer with frequent “VIP break darshans”.
While it takes 6–8 hours for devotees on a normal day in the queue for “Dharma Darshan” (free darshan), the waiting period stretched up to 12 hours last week, with the queue at “Vaikuntam Queue Complex” stretching up to 2 km.
The break darshan is a discriminatory procedure that seeks to segregate pilgrims in the order of their stature and importance.
At Rs 500 per ticket, these devotees can not only have a quick darshan but can also stay for a while longer in front of the sanctum sanctorum unlike regular pilgrims who hardly get a couple of seconds.
Normally, judges, top bureaucrats, ministers, MLAs and MPs, besides those holding important positions in the government, who fall under L-1 category, are allowed to stand closer to the sanctum sanctorum for a couple of minutes for Aarti and other rituals.
The preferential treatment given to the VVIPs and VIPs has been incurring the wrath of the other devotees as the break darshan often runs into more than two or three hours a day.
Recently, an advocate Umesh Chandra filed a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court seeking a direction to the temple management to abolish the discriminatory system. The case is pending in the court.
On an average, 60,000 to 70,000 devotees from all over the country and abroad visit the temple every day. The number goes up to one lakh on festivals and special occasions.
The new government’s move may be music to the ears of ordinary pilgrims. “We will be very happy if the government really succeeds in ending the break darshan system and restricting VIP visits,” says D Padmavathi, a school teacher and an ardent devotee of Lord Balaji, who recalled her long ordeal due to visit by the Governor and his family.
Recently, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu advocated a cap on VIP visits to the temple to avoid inconvenience to the pilgrims. Naidu also set a precedent during his visit in June when he reached the temple complex through the “Vaikuntam queue complex” instead of the “Mahadwaram”, usually used by VIPs. He also got his family members to pay for their tickets, food and accommodation at Tirumala.
New temple board
The YSRCP government will constitute a new temple board within a fortnight. “A formal decision scrapping the VIP break darshan system will be taken at the first meeting of the TTD board,” Reddy said.
Subba Reddy took over as the chairman of the TTD trust board, after the earlier board members quit their posts following the change of guard in the state. With an annual budget of over ₹3,100 crore, the Tirumala Board is a high-profile and influential body.
As a tradition, the chairman and other members of the TTD board are political appointees of the government of the day. And as per convention, they quit when there is a change of guard.
Nestled amidst a picturesque string of seven hills in Chittoor district, Tirumala temple receives offerings from devotees in the form of cash, jewellery, gold, silver, property deeds and demat share transfers. According to the budget proposals for 2019-20, the TTD expects an overall revenue of about ₹3,116 crore during the year. The income from Hundi collections was projected at ₹1,231 crore.
The revenue from the interest on deposits in nationalised and private banks was estimated to be about ₹846 crore. The temple body expects ₹292 crore from sale of tickets for various forms of worship and another ₹270 crore from sale of ‘laddu prasadam’.
Auction of human hair offered by devotees on fulfilment of vows, is also a source of revenue and the temple expects to earn ₹10 crore from it. The expenditure on salaries to over 6,000 staff and outsourcing personnel and other commitments is expected to be ₹965 crore.