In a significant move, the authorities at Tirumala, India’s richest temple, have abolished the decades-old practice of “VIP break darshan” that gave privileged access to certain categories of people for a quick darshan of the deity.
“The decision was part of our plans to overhaul the system and make it transparent, keeping in view the convenience of the other devotees,” the chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), Y V Subba Reddy, told the media at Tirumala on Wednesday (July 17).
The TTD is an autonomous body managing the affairs of the popular hill shrine in Andhra Pradesh, the abode of Lord Balaji.
The TTD chairman who was appointed recently by the YSR Congress Party government, said that several irregularities had occurred in the past in the name of VIP Darshan, putting other devotees to severe hardship.
A new system would be formulated to ensure that “dignitaries with protocol requirements” would not face any kind of inconvenience. A separate provision would be worked out for them. “Our priority will be the common devotees who throng the temple from across the country and abroad,” Reddy said.
“VIP break darshan” is a decades-old practice that allows certain categories of people to breeze through for a darshan while other devotees are made to wait in queue for hours. The long queue is stopped during this period to facilitate the VIPs, who are grouped under different categories depending on ‘how important they are’, to have a hassle-free darshan.
There are three layers – L-1, L-2 and L-3. 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.
L1 includes ministers, MPs, MLAs and 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. At ₹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 the regular pilgrims who hardly get a couple of seconds to see the deity.
Normally, judges, top bureaucrats, ministers, MLAs and MPs, and those holding important positions in the government, who fall under L-1 category, are allowed to stand in the sanctum sanctorum for 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 for more than two or three hours a day.
Recently, an advocate, Umesh Chandra, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court seeking a direction to the temple management to abolish the discriminatory system. The case is pending for hearing in the court.
On an average, 60,000 to 70,000 devotees from across the country and abroad visit the temple every day. The number goes up to one lakh during festivals and special occasions.