Even as religious places continue to remain shut until May 31 as per lockdown guidelines from the Centre, major Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh, including the Tirumala Venkateswara temple, have been making preparations for visitors once they are allowed to open up.
A TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams) official said that they have been preparing for the eventual arrival of visitors by marking circles 6 feet apart at all the places where people usually stand in queues, including laddu counters, bus stands and queue complexes.
The Tirumala temple is one of the most popular Hindu temples in the world. The temple sees footfalls of 50,000 to 1 lakh people on a regular day, going up to 4-5 lakh during festivals.
â€śWe are also applying cooling paint in the four mada streets as it will be difficult for people to stand in the heat for a long time,â€ť the TTD official said. The four mada streets is the open space surrounding the Tirumala shrine where people gather to witness various festivals and processions that take place at the temple.
â€śWe are well prepared with thermal scanners, sanitising equipment etc. since TTD had started thermal screening and sanitisation exercises even before closing for the lockdown,â€ť he said. He added that masks and other safety equipment have also been procured for employees and contract staff working for TTD.
Preparations by #TTD with markings at #TirumalaTirupati temple to ensure #SocialDistancing whenever #Balaji temple reopens; not expected to happen anytime soon though and even then only a trickle of #pilgrims likely to be allowed initially @ndtv @ndtvindia pic.twitter.com/FHyfq4NBLzâ€” Uma Sudhir (@umasudhir) May 17, 2020
Other temples of the state which are often crowded are also gearing up to open with precaution measures. At Vijayawadaâ€™s Sri Durga Malleswara Swamy Varla Devasthanam, known as the Kanaka Durga Temple, officials said that visitors may only be allowed to purchase darshan tickets online.
â€śOnline tickets will have to be taken 24 hours beforehand, on the temple website. No tickets will be sold at any counters. We are waiting for clear instructions from the state government before announcing it to the public,â€ť said the templeâ€™s executive officer M V Suresh Babu. He also said that queue lines have been arranged with distance markings, and around 600 people divided among 3 different queues will be allowed inside per hour. The temple timings will also be shortened. While it used to remain open from 4 am to 10 pm earlier, the new timings are 6 am to 5 pm.
Similar arrangements have been made at the Srisailam Mallikarjuna and Srikalahasti temples. â€śWe have procured thermal screening devices, and are setting up hand wash and sanitising stations. Sanitising tunnels will also be arranged at all entry points,â€ť said Chandrasekhar Reddy, Executive Officer for the Sri Kalahasteeswara temple.
â€śWe are ready to allow around 1,000 people per hour, but it will depend on the situation then and what the government says. We are waiting to set up the portal for online registration for temple visits. Once it is ready, we may make it compulsory,â€ť he added.
At the Simhachalam Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple, a trial run reportedly indicated that up to 200 visitors could be allowed inside per hour. Officials are yet to decide whether tonsuring for devotees, distribution of offerings or free meals will be allowed, reports said.
Most officials said that they were expecting clearer guidelines from the state government on such matters by the end of the month.
Even at TTD, specific measures are yet to be decided upon. â€śItâ€™s still too early to decide on details like the number of visitors to be allowed in a day, and whether online booking will be made mandatory. These decisions will be made by the TTD board soon,â€ť the TTD official said.