For the first time in over 1,700 years of its existence, the famous temple of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala has put curbs on visits by pilgrims due to COVID-19. Instead of allowing thousands of pilgrims to wait in huge compartments for ‘darshan’ at the temple, the Tirumala Tirupati Devesthanams (TTD) will give out tokens with time slots from March 17. The slotting will ensure not more than 4,000 pilgrims are present inside the temple complex at any given time and that they are standing in queues instead of waiting, bunched together, in the compartments.
TTD Executive Officer Anil Kumar Singhal said these steps were necessary in view of the coronavirus pandemic. “We had decided to take some steps, and also the state government asked us to initiate measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus here. As Tirumala has the highest congregation of pilgrims, we have taken measures to prevent any outbreak here,” he told The Indian Express.
As per the new measures put in place, devotees will not be made to sit in the compartments of “Vaikuntham Queue Complex” to avoid person-to-person contact. “Pilgrims will be allowed for darshan in the given time slots. They should carry with them an ID card, like Aadhaar, voters ID or driving licence, to get a time slot token for the darshan,’’ he added.
Special offices and compartments will be set up at downhill Tirupati as well as Tirumala, from where devotees can avail time-slot tokens. “The devotees have to co-operate with TTD… They will not be allowed if they fail to come on time,” Singhal added.
Meanwhile, for the first time in the temple’s history, the participation of devotees in the celestial wedding ceremony of Sri Sita Rama Kalyanam is cancelled this year. It is usually observed at Vontimitta as a part of the annual Brahmotsavams of Sri Kodanda Ramaswamy temple.
“As nearly one lakh devotees are expected to converge for the celestial Kalyanam on April 7 at Vontimitta and sit for nearly 6-7 hours, TTD has decided to cancel the mass fete keeping in view the health safety of devotees. However, the Kalyanam will be observed in the temple by the priests as usual on the same day,” an official said.
Singhal said the ceremony for the construction of Sri Venkateswara Swamy temple at Mumbai, which is scheduled on April 5, is also postponed due to the coronavirus threat.
The Andhra Pradesh governemnt has started thermal screening at Alipiri, at the foot of the Tirumala Hills, Srivari Mettu from where pilgrims take the steps to the temple, and at the huge hall where free meals are served to devotees. “The cottages and rest houses will be allotted to pilgrims only after thoroughly cleaning them with disinfectants. The TTD will also perform the Dhanvantari Yagam from March 19 to 21 seeking divine intervention to safeguard humanity from the dreadful virus,” an official said.
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