Tirupati Balaji temple reopens after 80 days

After nearly 80 days, India’s famous Sri Venkateswara temple atop the Tirumala hills here reopened on Monday with new health norms in place to check the spread of coronavirus.

The famous shrine was reopened for ‘darshan’ at 6 am, though with the entry was restricted to Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) employees and their family members.

The TTD staff and their kin will only be allowed to pay obeisance for the first two days while local devotees in Tirumala will be permitted to have ‘darshan’ on the third day. The temple will be thrown open for ‘darshan’ for all devotees on June 11, subject to a maximum of 6,000 daily.

TTD, which manages the affairs of the world’s richest temple, said about 1,200 people had ‘darshan’ in the first two-and-half hours after it reopened.

The authorities had made elaborate arrangements to ensure adherence to Covid-19 protocol prescribed for places of worship. Only those wearing masks were allowed entry while temple officials kept a vigil to ensure social distancing.

TTD officials said the devotees were subjected to thermal screening at Alipiri, the starting point of the hill road. Only those with normal body temperature will be allowed to proceed to the temple.

“We are ensuring that the devotees maintain six-feet distance from each other. Adequate arrangements have been made for sanitisation. The devotees will be asked to use hand sanitisers before approaching ‘Hundi’ (offering box),” said TTD Additional Executive Officer Dharma Reddy.

Do’s and don’ts for the devotees were continuously relayed on the public address system to ensure compliance with the safety norms.

“During the trial run for three days, we will identify if there are any problems in facilitating ‘darshan’ in a smooth manner and will fine-tune the arrangements wherever necessary,” he said.

‘Darshan’ will commence at 6.30 am and end at 7.30 pm. About 500 devotees will be accommodated per hour.

Citizens above 65 years, children below 10 years, pregnant women and devotees from containment zones will not be allowed into Tirupati Balaji, as the temple is popularly called.

TTD has made arrangements for online sale of 3,000 ‘darshan’ tickets. Online tickets for the entire month of June are expected be sold on Monday.

Another 3,000 offline tickets will be issued at the counters at Alipiri.

The TTD official said each devotee would be subjected to thermal screening and some even picked for random Covid-19 tests. It is mandatory for all devotees to wear face masks and maintain six-feet distance from each other.

VIP ‘darshan’ will be allowed from June 11 for one hour between 6.30 am and 7.30 am.

Vehicles will be sanitised at Alipiri checkpoint before they are allowed to proceed to the hill while barricades to maintain queues will be sanitised once every two hours.

Closed for devotees for ‘darshan’ since March 19, the temple was losing almost Rs 200 crore in offerings every month.

With revenues hitting the rock bottom, TTD is struggling to pay salaries to its employees and make other payments towards maintenance and security of the temple.

Daily offerings made by devotees in ‘Hundi’ is the main source of income for the temple which used to attract 50,000 to one lakh pilgrims every day before the lockdown.