Why Has the Tirumala Tirupati Temple Not Shut Down Yet? 743 Staffers Test Covid-19 Positive


Why Has the Tirumala Tirupati Temple Not Shut Down Yet? 743 Staffers Test Covid-19 Positive

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In the early days of the lockdown, when the world knew little about the new coronavirus, in India, Tablighi Jamaat was branded a superspreader. The members of the religious group were to a large extent reckless and led to the spread of the virus in New Delhi, where the congregation was held, and other parts of the country. Now, months later, Tirumala Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh appears to be emerging as a Covid-19 hotspot.

After some priests of the Lord Venkateswara shrine tested positive for the coronavirus and three succumbed to it in June, the temple remained adamant and refused to shut down. Now, almost a month later, 743 temple staffers, including more priests, have been infected, according to a PTI report.

Out of the 743 who tested positive for the coronavirus, around 402 have recovered. Three hundred and thirty eight are still being treated in various Covid-19 hospitals in Tirupati, according to Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam’s chief executive officer.

The temple opened its door for the public on June 11, after it was shut for almost two-and-a-half months because of the lockdown. On July 19, the former chief priest Srinivasa Dikshitulu passed away after he could not battle the infection. He was 73 and was admitted to Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences at Tirupati.

In July, the temple faced a lot of criticism for continuing to be open despite the deaths and the rising number of coronavirus cases.  In fact, a senior police officer had written to the temple authorities to close it down. “In the interest of public health safety, the ‘darshan’ needs to be closed as it doesn’t come under the emergency department (activities),” a senior police official wrote to TTD.

TTD Trust Board Chairman YV Subba Reddy had said back then that a decision on whether to continue with “darshan” or not would be taken soon. But the temple continued to allow entry of devotees – less than 12,000 – every day.

With 700-odd cases, the crisis at the Tirumala Tirupati temple is being compared to the Tablighi Jamaat, which received a lot of hate not only from the public but also from sections of the media, and was quickly blamed for launching “corona jihad”.

And now everyone’s asking the same question: Why has the temple not shut down yet?