After remaining closed for nearly 80 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lord Venkateswara temple at Tirumala reopened its doors for common devotees on Thursday, with strict precautionary measures like wearing of masks and maintaining social distance put in place.
With a successful trial run for the last three days, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages the affairs of the richest temple permitted darshan by common devotees from Thursday morning.
Wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, the devotees were seen lining up at the hill shrine for their turn. TTD made elaborate arrangements to regulate the flow of devotees and take all precautions to prevent overcrowding.
The temple was re-opened on June 8 but the temple authorities conducted a trial run by permitting only TTD employees and their family members on the first two days and local devotees on the third day.
After identifying the loopholes during the trial run and plugging them, the TTD opened the doors of the temple for common devotees. As per a decision already taken by the temple body, only 6,000 devotees will be allowed to have darshan every day.
TTD officials said 3,000 tickets were sold online, while the remaining 3,000 were issued at the counters at Tirumala. The day began with VIP 'darshan' for one hour between 6.30 am and 7.30 am.
Andhra Pradesh Higher Education Regulatory and Monitoring Commission chairman Justice V. Eswaraiah, Telangana MLA Harshvardhan Reddy, Tobacco Board chairman Raghunath Babu were among the VIPs to have darshan.
The devotees were allowed to proceed towards hill road after their thermal screening at Alipiri checkpoint. As per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) prescribed by the government, every devotee must wear a face mask and maintain six feet distance with the other.
Citizens above 65 years, children below 10 years, pregnant women and devotees from containment zones will not be allowed into the Tirupati Balaji, as the temple is popularly called.
TTD said 7,150 devotees were allowed to have darshan on Wednesday. The temple earned Rs 20 lakh through offerings in 'Hundi'. TTD had on Wednesday commenced issue of offline tokens. The offline quota of time slot tokens in free Sarva Darshanam up to June 17 was released at the rate of 3750 tokens per day, it said.
Tokens up to June 14 were issued at 18 counters in Tirupati. The rest of the tokens will be issued on Thursday. 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.