The head priest of Tirumala Tirupati temple AV Rama Dikshitulu on Tuesday along with three other hereditary archakas gave voice to the anxieties and fears of the hereditary priests of the Tirumala temple at a press conference in Chennai. The revelations of Dikshitulu, is a straightforward attack on the temple administration Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), for many misdeeds and mis-governance. Here is the abridged version of the press conference transcript, covering all the major points he raised.
Communicating to the larger world the nature of the hereditary rights of the temple, Dikshitulu began with an elaborate recall of the 2000-year old history of the consecration of the main deity at Tirumala and the continuous history of service at the temple by them as per the Vaikanasa Agama.
I think the devotees don’t know much about the archakas (priests) till now. Because, in Tirumala, the daily rituals are conducted as per the Vaikanasa Agama. This is a very complex shastra handed over by the God of Tirumala (Thiruvenkatamudayan) himself. The aradhana is conducted as per the agama and even the priests who should perform them have been appointed by the God. This is how: When the mother (mother of the priest) is pregnant, in the eighth month of the pregnancy the ritual of Vishnu bali, of initiating the to-be-born happens. The baby inside the womb receives the Narayana mantra, and the baby is born a priest. That is how the Vaikana priest born to Vaikanasa parents alone perform aradhana at Tirumala, as ordained by the God. That a baby born of the Vaikanasa clan, belonging to the particular order of rishis, following the Shukla Yajurveda shaka should only perform the rituals is the order of the God.
This has been happening for over 2000 years. From the time a Vaishnava, and also a Yadava from nearby, both were asked by Maha Vishnu in their dreams to take out the mula vigraha hidden in the anthill under a tamarind tree near the swami pushkarini in Tirumala to be installed for worship.
As per the divine command, Gopinatha, the archaka of Bharadwaja gotra, of Vaikanasa order went along with the Yadava and installed the murti. Since then his descendants have been performing the aradhana at the temple, divided into four different families, and till date, we are also assisted by the family of that Yadava bhakta. The family of the Yadava bhaktas assist us, to bring the archakas in the morning for the Suprabata sevai open the golden door, and after Ekanta sevai lock the golden door and leave the archakas at their home.
When things were going on methodically, suddenly the government brought about a law and cancelled the hereditary rights of the archakas. That is without creating any alternative provisions. This was a great shock to the archakas who from their birth think of nothing else but doing service to the God. The family of the archakas were left without support. Whatever was ordained to be given to the family of the archakas as per the shastras, the government thought that it was too much and cancelled. The duty of the archakas apart from performing aradhana is to maintain the sanctity of the temple. To adorn the jewellery of the God with sanctity, to protect it. To maintain the daily aradhana, utsavas as per the shastras, without missing the schedule and perform naivedyam (food offerings or bhog) as per the measures prescribed. Archakas were given houses around the temple by the erstwhile rajas. We put up with all these injustices, continued to do the aradhanam as per rules.
Without any bhakti, without any fear of the God, without fear of the repercussions, such officials have been appointed by the government, a big blunder has been committed.
These officials think they know everything. Arrogance born out of ignorance. Out of this arrogance they have interfered in the pujas and rituals beyond a limit. They in order to support their VIPs, film stars, rich visitors ask us to reduce the aradhana and also interfere in timings.
Suprabhatam (waking up the deity) has to be performed in brahma muhurtam, that is at 4 a.m., but is being done at 3 a.m. Not only that, on important days like English New Year, Vaikunta Ekadasi and other important days suprabhatam is performed at 12.05 a.m., considered the beginning of the day as per English calendar. Insisting that VIP’s are waiting for darshan Tomala Sevai (adorning with a garland of flowers and Tulsi), a very important event of the day, all the upacharas for the deity with agama mantras are recited. Even that they want us to conduct in 5 minutes. The sahasrama, 1000 namas, they say 500 is enough, 200 is enough, reduce that. The naivedyams are not as per the shastras, citing reasons of delay in getting them they have reduced it. Their duty is only to get their devotees for darshan, and the gains from that.
Shastras say these shortfalls in offerings, the deity doesn’t grant boons for devotees, many natural disasters can happen. We fear this could turn out to be a curse on devotees. Since these are human follies, there are enough chances to correct them. The devotees have to come forward. This is a very sacred temple. Therefore, this temple’s sanctity, the power of the deity needs to be protected.
Records of invaluable ornaments contributed by many kings, their feudatories, ministers all those endowments are there, the epigraphic records. When we used to perform duties as hereditary priests we used to preserve them and when we transferred the service from one family to the other at the end of the year, openly in front of officials, gold valuers, we used to check every jewellery, weigh them, and then hand over. If there was any shortfall if there were any gems missing we used to pay compensation as per the valuation. That is how we preserved the jewellery till 1996. From ‘96 to now who has checked them? Are they available or not? We do not know. Only new jewellery is being adorned. Who is checking?
Sometime back there was a controversy over jewellery given by Krishnadevara Raya. Those are old ornaments, no reply was given about the issue of jewellery the great king donated. Old ornaments. They are the heritage of the nation, precious treasure. These belong to all the devotees.
The mantapas, what happened to the 1000-pillared hall all devotees know. It was a beautiful, ornate mantapa built in 10thcentury. It was pulled down mercilessly one IAS officer, appointed by the current CM in his earlier tenure; for no reason demolished it. I fought much, that it is an archaeological treasure. Have to pass on to future generations, have to preserve. I suggest that it be relocated like what has been done in the case of another mantapa. We don’t even know what happened to those pillars. The ratha mantapa, a beautiful old mantapa is also gone.
Ornaments, the shortfall in naivedyams, old heritage destroyed, depriving devotees and future generation of such treasures. That is why we wanted the devotees to spread all over the world to come forward to preserve the treasure.
Replying to questions from the reporters Dikshitulu alleged that there is a deep conspiracy to bring down the sanctity of the temple, to bring trouble to the devotees. He alleged it is a long-term plan to destroy the temple.
Q: Do you want ASI to take over the temple?
ASI said we will come take a look at the temple, the alterations, damages, but it was painted as a politically motivated move. I prefer ASI examination. Let them examine, assess what are the damages done to the ancient structure. What is the future? Drilling holes on the floor, in the name of installing tube lights, air conditioners. Every time a new officer comes they change and go on drilling new holes.
Q: Is there any damage?
Not yet, fortunately. But, if you have seen Ranganayakulu mantapam, you can see some new pillars have been erected because the ancient pillars have been sinking. Also been done at the Tirumalaraya mantapam.
Q: Don’t the consult experts?
I am the Vaikanasa agama advisor with Manoj Sonthalia as the head. They don’t ask for any advice from us. They are also beyond RTE. You can’t ask for any information. So it is all like an iron curtain, nothing comes out, what is happening inside the temple.
Q: Does the chief minister not know of this?
CM, he has been told many times. Maybe he is a good administrator, skilled, politician. He is from Tirupati when it comes to the temple I don’t know for what reason he never interferes, he never comes into the picture.
Q: Has there been any audit on old ornaments?
No, we are demanding audit… Till ‘96, we had detailed records. We still have them. In processions, we see some of the old ornaments, most of the ornaments not seen, only new ornaments. We use whatever they give. They give most of the time new ornaments.
Q: What do you expect?
We have prepared a presentation, sending to the President of India, the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Supreme Court, Chief Justice of AP High Court. We want accountability, we demand accounts of Hundi collection.
Even today a ruling party MLA wanted Rs.10 crores of building a marriage hall in his constituency. There are already three halls built by TTD, sparingly used. Where is the need to build a new one with funds from TTD?
As per the TTD rule, the contributions made by the devotees have to be used only for the Sevas of the God and for creating facilities for the devotees. It is very clear, but leave that aside and marriage halls somewhere, concrete roads at some place. Some devotees have gone to Court.
Interference of authorities, deny those families that have been in service for 2000-years, bring people they want in as archakas. We are going to court against this.
Next generation, ready after studies, and equipped with Shastra studies, the hereditary archakas. But they are not being appointed. There are court orders that say they should be appointed. But that is not followed, and there is corruption in that.
Officials appointed as employees, there should be a code of conduct, there should be minimal training in adhyatmika, dharmika tradition.
There should be a CBI enquiry on corruption.
(The translation has been done by Malayankulam Chakravarthy Vaijayanthi)