Row Over Tirupati Temple Staying Open as 140 Test COVID Positive

Several members associated with the temple have been demanding its closure.

3 min read
Tirumala Tirupati temple.

Honorary chief priest at the Tirumala Venkateswara temple AV Ramana Dikshitulu has raised concerns over the temple remaining open for darshan, with several priests testing positive for the coronavirus. Dikshitulu, who has openly criticised the actions of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) Board several times in the past, asked Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy to take action to avert a “disaster.”

While Dikshitulu only mentioned about 15 out of 50 temple priests, so far, 140 people posted at the temple have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to TTD chairman YV Subba Reddy.

“@ysjagan 15 out of 50 archakas carona +ve quarantined. Still 25 results awaited. TTD EO and AEO refuse to stop darshans. Obediently following anti hereditary archaka and anti brahmin policy of TDP and CBN. Disaster if this continues. Please take action,” he wrote

140 Staff Tested Positive

Responding to Ramana Dikshitulu’s tweet, Subba Reddy said that the honorary priest should not have made such a comment on social media, and should have instead approached the TTD board with his advice.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Subba Reddy revealed that of the 140 staff members who contracted COVID-19, a majority were among the security forces from the Andhra Pradesh Special Police (APSP) Battalions and the potu workers or kitchen staff who make the temple laddus.

“Most of the staff who tested positive are among the police. The reason was that they came for duty from other districts, and they all stay in the same place,” he said. He also said that out of the 140 staff members, around 70 people have already recovered and are either under home quarantine or have returned to duty, while the remaining 70 people are under treatment. Only one employee is in a critical state, and the rest are all free of any health complications, he said.


‘No Pilgrim Infected So Far’: Subba Reddy

Subba Reddy said that so far, 14 of the 40 archakas (priests) of the Tirumala temple have COVID-19. “We met with them to discuss if there is any danger. We told them that we don’t mind suspending darshan, it’s important that they (archakas) are in good health and services to the deity must continue. They (archakas) said that they only want individual accommodation and dining facilities, and they are not concerned with decisions about darshan and devotees,” the TTD Chairman said.

He asserted that although 140 staff members have contracted COVID-19, so far, not a single pilgrim has either contracted COVID-19 or has infected anyone on visiting the temple. It is of course unclear how the TTD has established this. Subba Reddy said that the infections were only caused by employees and security staff who had arrived from other places.

Recently, representatives of the TTD staff and workers’ union had written to TTD authorities requesting them to temporarily close the temple for darshan, in view of rising COVID-19 cases in Tirupati and the rest of India.

Ramana Dikshitulu had been sacked from the post of chief priest at the Tirumala Venkateswara temple back in 2018, on the grounds of exceeding the retirement age. The decision was taken after he addressed a press meet alleging financial irregularities by the TTD.

After the YSRCP government came to power, he was appointed as an ‘Agama advisor’ on par with the temple priests. He was later reinstated as the ‘honorary chief priest’, and it was announced that he would serve in an advisory role without being directly involved in the affairs of the temple.

(The story has been published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)

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