21-hour wait for fleeting darshan of the Lord at Tirumala

published on March 26, 2012

TIRUPATI: It’s an arduous 21-hour wait in the queue for a darshan of their favourite Lord which lasts no more than a fraction of a second. Even as the scorching sun beats down on them, pilgrims patiently await their turn for a darshan of Lord Venkateswara at the hill shrine of Tirumala.

As reward for this gruelling exercise, squeezed in like sardines into rows, pilgrims get a darshan of 0.80 milliseconds to 1.5 seconds. That too, amidst a lot of shoving and pushing by temple guards and Srivari volunteers. Those in the know of temple affairs say that three seconds with the Lord inside the sanctum sanctorum can be billed as a ‘satisfactory’ darshan. With an average of 65,000 pilgrims flocking the temple every day (the rush hits a high of 80,000 on Saturdays and Sundays and over 1 lakh during festivals ), the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) is finding it increasingly difficult to arrange for a proper darshan.

Lord Venkateswara is the most revered Hindu God today and over the years, the popularity of Tirumala has risen enormously. As the rush of pilgrims kept multiplying, providing a satisfactory darshan and pruning the waiting period has become an onerous task for TTD. In a time motion study done by experts, it was found that 2,000-2,200 pilgrims are barely able to `finish’ the darshan of the Moola Virat (main deity) in one hour when they are pushed around. If temple volunteers exercise restraint, the numbers come down to 1,400-1,600 and further down to 1,000-1,200 if they only holler `move move’ inside the garbha griha.

With Arjitha sevas, naivedyam, shuddi and other rituals taking away 8 hours and VIP pilgrims allowed darshan for 3-4 hours, common pilgrims have only 10-12 hours. “Unless TTD maintains transparency and fairness, there will always be heartburn among pilgrims. What is the point in pushing pilgrims in order to cover up the time reserved for VIPs,” asks PVRK Prasad, former executive officer, TTD. In Maha Laghu darshan (100 feet away from the Lord), the line moves at lightning pace as some 5,000-6,000 pilgrims are accommodated in 60 minutes. “Even a flash of the Lord’s image is difficult as pilgrims are dragged away like players in a kabaddi match,” an insider in the temple reveals.

Utter chaos prevailed in Tirumala on the auspicious Vaikunta Ekadasi on January 5 this year with TTD mandarins issuing over 15,000 VIP passes, leaving thousands of common pilgrims stranded. Many of the pilgrims who reached the Lord’s abode through the footpath routes of Alipiri and Srinivasa Mangapuram had to return though they were issued Divya darshan tickets. The time slot given for darshan was after 60 hours. “I obtained a token on the night of January 4 and was allotted darshan for the afternoon of January 7 That was absurd,” L V Kishore, an IBM executive of Bangalore, recalls.

It was only after mid-1940s that a road was constructed up the hill. Till then, pilgrims used to trek to reach the temple. “In the last decade, the face of Tirumala has changed drastically. Officials in cahoots with agents have unleashed an unholy system. Pilgrims are now at their mercy,” S Parvatha Rao, a retired AP High Court judge, rues.

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