Like mini-governments, they employ thousands of people to manage large crowds.

Deities and crores of devotees How Sabarimala and Tirumala manage rising pilgrim countFile photo: PTI
news Religion Wednesday, October 05, 2016 - 11:01

The Kanaka Durga temple atop Indrakeeladri hill in Andhra's Vijaywada saw nearly 60,000 devotees on Monday as part of the ongoing Dasara celebrations in the state.

A long queue lined up from 3 am in the morning and continued on till 11 pm in the night. Water packets were supplied to the devotees by volunteers and even stalls that supplied butter milk were set up adjacent to the queues.

Devotees in South India have always been faithful to their deities, whether it's the Venkateswara Swami atop Tirumala or Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala, and the number of visitors only seems to be rising over the years.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) which runs the richest Hindu temple in the world has reported that it clocks around 1 lakh visitors on a daily basis, and Hundi collection of nearly Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 crore every day.

The number is much higher on weekends and festivals.

"During festivals like the Brahmotsavam that's happening now, we get almost 2 lakh devotees every day. Besides that, we get most of the rush during the summer," a PRO for the TTD said.

In May 2015, as summer holidays were coming to an end, 23,77,578 pilgrims visited the temple in a single month.

In the Kanaka Durga temple in Vijayawada, around 10 lakh people visit during Dasara every year, according to official statistics.

However, the recent Pushkarams also saw a steep increase in devotees with a record 2.5 lakh visitors on a single day during the Godavari Pushkaram.

Kerala's Sabarimala temple on the other hand is different, as unlike other temples, it has a special season that spans three months.

The period generally falls between November 15 and January 20. For the remaining part of the year, the temple remains open only for the first five days of the month.

According to temple PRO Murali, over 3 crore people visited the temple during the 120 days in 2015.

The figure is only expected to increase this year, Murali said.

“Every year, we see an increase of 20- 25 per cent. Pilgrims do visit the temple during the off season, but the number is significantly lower and we do not keep a record of it," he added.

Apart from Kerala, a major chunk of visitors at Sabarimala belong to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The data is based on  Neyabhishekam, a kind of pooja using ghee that all visitors at the temple mandatorily perform.

The last time the temple administration of the Guruvayoor temple in Thrissur district carried out a formal census was in 2005 as part of government’s township planning, which ascertained close to 8,000 people visiting the temple on a daily basis.

Authorities say that the number would easily be above 10,000 now.

The Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram under the Travancore Devaswom Board has also seen a rise in visitors after the discovery of treasures in a temple vault.

While exact figures are unknown, the temple claims that it gets around four lakh visitors a month.

Administrative challenges

Even as the visitors steadily increase, these temples continue to employ many people to ensure that the devotees have a hassle-free darshan besides also ensuring security.

While there are only fifty permanent staff members for Sabarimala during the off-season, the Travancore Devaswom Board employs an additional 1,000 members during the Mandalam season.

Around 1,700 police officers from Kerala and few from other states were deployed at the 'Sannidhanam' and other places of congregation on 'Makaravilakku day' in January this year.

These police officers are stationed at many points near the Pamba River, the ascent to the temple, with a bulk of them atop the hill.

The temple management is under constant pressure as more than 100 people lost their lives in a stampede in 2011. The temple has been witness to a handful of big and small stampedes over the years, with more than 50 people losing their lives in 1999.

The TTD on the other hand, has been dubbed as a "mini-government".

For the 2016-2017 budget, the TTD marked Rs 500 crore for the payments of salaries and other wages to the TTD staff on the payroll while another Rs 199.25 crore was marked for outsourced staff.

Besides this, special vigilance and task force teams of the Andhra police along with law and order teams are currently responsible for providing security to the pilgrims.

A report in The Telegraph adds:

TTD is managed by over 14,000 permanent employees and another 10,000 contract workers...three lakh laddus are sold every day, about 45,000 people are provided free meals and around 4,000 are allotted subsidized rooms.

This staff includes everyone from people working in the kitchen to employees of all the administrative offices.

There are about 4,000 people who work day and night just to keep the town clean, according to Sambasiva Rao, the Executive Officer of the TTD.

For this year's Brahmotsavam, around 3,500 extra police personnel have been deployed and a total of 536 CCTV cameras have been installed at all vital points. Over a thousand Srivari Seva volunteers and an equal number of Scouts and Guides were also appointed.

There are also around 1,000 barbers working round-the-clock at the 'Kalyanakatta,' where roughly 40,000 pilgrims get their heads tonsured everyday.

Besides hundreds of CCTV cameras that dot the temple town and many interior parts of the temple, the Andhra police have also set up a Command and Control centre at Tirupati and plan to replicate one atop Tirumala soon.


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