Next time you make a visit to the Srikalahasteeshwara temple here, remember one thing, ignorance is no bliss. If you don't have sufficient information about the rituals and the rules of the temple, you can be easily fooled by the local vendors. In the garb of performing rituals, these vendors are cheating the devotees by forcing them to buy a 'puja package' at exorbitant prices. Worse, the puja materials they sell are not allowed inside the temple.
Temple authorities have also banned the ghee lights inside the temple three months ago but still the vendors are selling it right outside the temple. "This is nothing but religious blackmailing by them (the vendors)," said Damodar, a devotee from Vijayawada.
Authorities of the famous Shaivite temple known for performing the Rahu-Kethu Sarpa Dosha Nivarana Puja, have shrugged their shoulders over the issue stating that they have no control over the vendors outside the temple. “However, we are making public announcements urging the devotees not to fall prey to the vendors,” said an official at the temple. So, the devotees are left at their own wits.
“The vendors are looting us indiscriminately. I had bought all the puja material from a kiosk but was forced to leave it outside the temple," said a devotee from Kadapa.
The 'looting' of devotees does not end here. Some lodge owners in the town are colluding with a few temple officials to market a 'special package deal', which includes darshan and boarding to the devotees at a huge price.
The 'loot' continues inside the temple, too. Devotees come here to perform the Rahu-Kethu Sarpa Dosha Nivarana Puja for getting rid of their 'doshas'. The temple sells tickets worth Rs 300, Rs 750 and Rs 1,500 for the puja, including the materials. However, the lotus flower, essential for the puja, is not part of the materials provided by them. And so again, the devotees have to shell out a good amount to purchase these flowers at exorbitant rates from the private kiosks outside the temple. After that one has to put some 'offering' at the plates of the priests too.
The temple authorities have also increased the prices of the prasadam from Rs 5 to Rs 10. “But, the quality of the prasadam is still the same,” complained Dhanunjay of Madanapalle.
Further, there are no bathrooms or toilets around the temple and the devotees have to walk for about a kilometre to attend nature's call or for having a bath. The lack of free dormitories is forcing devotees to go for expensive lodges in town.
“Everyone is taking undue advantage of the faith of the large number of devotees coming to the temple," lamented Srinivas from Piler in Chittoor district.
Srikalahasthi temple in-charge P Kasthuri, however, said they are making efforts for providing 'hassle-free' darshan to devotees and promised to bar the vendors from selling puja materials after the expiry of their contracts.