For the first time in the history of Tirupati, 30 devotees on foot from Tamil Nadu were stopped by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam(TTD) from reaching the temple on the pretext of Covid-19 restrictions. The troupe carried musical instruments as they sang bhajans throughout their journey. TTD security personnel stopped them from taking the musical instruments along with them and harassed them.
A group of 30 devotees from TN has been going to Tirupati on foot for more than 30 years covering nearly 300km. They carry musical instruments along with them as they perform Nama Sankeerthanam during the journey. There are many such troupes that travel on foot from their native place to Tirupati as a form of pilgrimage.
They were never stopped from carrying those instruments up the hill from Alipiri, the entry point of padayatra. But on April 15, they were detained by the security personnel at Alipiri from climbing the hill and carrying the instruments with them.
The devotees tried to explain their situation and make the officials see reason. But the security men asked them to seek permission from higher authorities. The devotees were left stranded until Andhra Pradesh BJP Spokesperson Bhanuprakash Reddy arrived and convinced TTD employees to allow them. The Hindu reported that one of the security personnel said that even though not officially announced, ‘restrictions were imposed after the outbreak of the pandemic.’
A higher official at the security wing of TTD accepted that there was no official order prohibiting the playing of musical instruments in the Mada Streets around the temple. The Hindu reported that he evaded a direct reply when asked whether playing wind instruments by devotees while singing devotional songs was prohibited. However, Bhanuprakash Reddy condemned TTD officials for being insensitive to devotees’ sentiments and made them allow 7 bhajan troupes.
It is seen as an attempt to interfere in traditions and customs followed at Tirupati indirectly and gradually stop them. The Jagan Mohan Reddy led government in AP has been repeatedly trying to interfere in the affairs of the temple through TTD, a government appointed board.
In 2020, TTD had used light decorations that looked like the Cross as part of the yearly Brahmotsavam celebration. In 2021, TTD announced that devotees from backward classes will be provided free transport, accommodation, and food and given preference in darshan. It drew criticism as the move was seen as an attempt to divide devotees along caste lines.
In the same year, Jagan had passed an ordinance raising TTD’s contribution to the government fund from Rs.2.5 crore to Rs.50 crore which was to be used for the construction of an expressway, a non-religious project. Countless such actions went unquestioned in TDP rule too which came out when the former head pujari blew the whistle. Most atrocious of them all was a 1000 year old hall being demolished by an IAS officer.