TIRUPATI: Refuting former Tirumala Temple chief priest AV Ramana Deekshitulu’s allegation that a pink diamond had gone missing from the jewellery donated to the temple, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) Executive Officer Anil Kumar Singhal on Sunday asserted all jewels noted in the Tiruvabharanam register were “safe and sound”. “In fact, it wasn’t a diamond at all... just a ruby,” he told mediapersons at Tirupati. He added that the broken pieces of the ruby were with the TTD and cited Justice M Jagannadha Rao Committee’s report to prove his point.
“It fell down during Garuda Seva when devotees threw coins at the utsava murthy (processional deity). AV Ramana Deekshitulu noticed it had fallen down and the pieces were retrieved during a search conducted,” he explained. Singhal elaborated that the necklace in which the ruby was embedded was donated by the Maharaja of Mysore in 1945 and the price of the precious stone was `50 at the time. Former TTD EO IYR Krishna Rao submitted a report to the state government in 2010 stating that the broken stone was a ruby and not a pink diamond as claimed, he said while producing a photograph of the precious stone.
Justice Wadhwa Committee and Justice M Jagannadha Rao Committee have in the past reported that all donated ornaments, as mentioned in the Tiruvabharanam register of 1952, were safe. To prove Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams’s transparency, temple ornaments should be put on display for the public, he opined, but quickly added that if the suggestion was against Agama Shastra, then the images of their 3D models should be put up on the TTD’s website and museum.
“The TTD is ready to put the jewels on public display protected by tight security to clear the air surrounding the safety of items donated to the temple if Agama advisors permit so,” he said.
Regarding reports on repairs and alteration works in the temple’s kitchen, the EO said, “Such small changes are necessary and are taken up from time to time keeping in view the interests of pilgrims. Repairs were done in 2001 and 2007 too.”
“Before every change, Agama advisors are consulted. A detailed discussion was held with Agama advisor NAK Sundaravaradan, HH Pedda Jeeyar Swamy and AV Ramana Deekshitulu too. All three had consented to the alteration works,” he said, before taking mediapersons to the kitchen to scotch rumours of digging being done there.
Denying that the sudden easing out of four priests was a disciplinary action, Singhal said the priests had retired in accordance with the service rules of the TTD. As per GO No 1171 issued on December 16, 1987, and GO No 611 issued on October 16, 2012, the age of retirement for priests is 65 years, he said. “TTD Service Rules 1956 clearly state that every hereditary servant, assistant and gumasta shall be not less than 25 years or more than 65 years of age,” he said.
Singhal recalled that priests AS Narasimha Deekshitulu, A Ramachandra Deekshitulu and AV Bhaktavatsalam had retired in January 2013. However, all three moved court challenging the legality of setting a retirement age for priests. “The court passed an interim order allowing them to perform rituals without emoluments or sambhavana till the case was disposed of. The TTD Trust Board later decided that they would be given sambhavana and subsequently, the writ petitions were withdrawn, making the interim order irrelevant,” he explained.
The EO said 10 members of former Mirasi families had requested that they be given the opportunity to serve as priests and approached the High Court. “In 2015, the High Court issued orders asking the TTD to consider their appeal as per vacancies. However, as there were no vacancies at that time, they could not be given posts. The families then filed a contempt of court case against the TTD EO and Chairman. The hearing is pending,” he said.
Singhal explained that it was only after considering rules, petitions, court directions and pending cases that the TTD Trust Board had decided to implement the rules formulated in 2012 that allow the senior-most eligible member from each of the four hereditary archaka families to be given postings. “No rule has been violated,” he clarified.
When asked why Dollar Seshadri, who is well above the retirement age, is working as an officer on special duty (OSD) in the temple, the EO replied that if Ramana Deekshitulu was reinstated by the government through a GO or a court direction, the TTD Trust Board would take him back without a second thought.