Published On: Fri, Sep 30th, 2016

In a grand mix of statecraft and religion, KCR plans a mega-makeover for a little-known temple near Hyderabad – India Today

The road leading to Yadagirigutta, about 50 km northeast of Hyderabad, already bears signs of the good days to come. With a dream of giving his state its own ‘Tirumala’ to rival Andhra Pradesh’s famous temple, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao is all set to give the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple in Yadagirigutta, now renamed Yadadri, a mega-makeover.

Following bifurcation, Andhra Pradesh retained the richest, and perhaps the most-visited place of worship in the world, the Sri Venkateswara Swamy temple in Tirumala. Telangana, meanwhile, was left with little to match that grandeur. Its best bet, the temple in Yadagirigutta situated on a hillock with an estate of 190 acres in Nalgonda district, earned a mere Rs 73.31 crore in 2014-15 against Tirumala’s Rs 2,262.52 crore. Ergo the rush to scale it up.

In February, the KCR government created the Yadagirigutta Temple Development Authority (YDA) to oversee the proposed makeover of the Vaishnavite temple. Accordingly, the YDA has identified eight more hillocks near the temple to be developed into one temple town spread over 2,015 acres to compete with the Seshachalam hills-a group of seven hills-of Tirupati.

But KCR is well aware of the fact that the number of pilgrims visiting Yadadri-about 5,000 on weekdays and 20,000 on holidays before announcing his plans-is way behind Tirumala’s up to 60,000 visitors on weekdays and at least 85,000 on weekends. Yadagirigutta remained a neglected shrine in undivided Andhra Pradesh, with at least two in every five visitors to Tirumala going from Telangana. Rao hopes to divert this footfall, ensuring more for Yadagirigutta. He is therefore striving hard to literally heighten the sanctity and deepen the faith of people in Yadagirigutta.

According to the new plans, the temple’s main gopuram (tower) will be raised from the current 22 feet to 40 feet, and will be plated with gold while its walls will be rebuilt with granite to highlight the temple’s vintage-it finds mention in the Puranas and manuscripts dating back to 1130 AD.

Although the state has provided Rs 200 crore and pledged another Rs 100 crore each year for the next three years, more funds are needed to realise KCR’s grand vision. For that he is hopeful of generous grants from corporate entities. An estimated Rs 1,500 crore is needed to develop the core of the temple town. On September 6, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Sify Technologies Chairman Ananta Koti Raju Vegesna through his Raju Vegesna Foundation has pledged Rs 5 crore as the first tranche to develop infrastructure. KCR expects more such donations to come soon.

However, it’s the construction more than the cost that seems daunting. Respecting traditional practices would require the nod of Hindu religious heads. If changes are to be effected along traditional lines, spiritual leaders conversant with agama shastras (ancient practices related to temple architecture and worship) have to be consulted. That is why KCR has turned to Sri Sri Sri Tridandi Chinna Srimannarayana Ramanuja Jeeyar Swami, a highly revered pontiff and preacher of the Vaishnava cult, to take the final call. The temple has reportedly been renamed Yadadri on Jeeyar Swami’s suggestion. KCR has also assigned Anandasai, a follower of Jeeyar Swami and an art director in Telugu films who is also designing a Shirdi Sai Baba temple in New Jersey, to redesign the temple premises.

Even as the final plans are being readied, KCR has given the go-ahead to develop the areas downhill. Land acquisition has already begun in six villages of Yadagirigutta and Bhongir mandals in Nalgonda. For pilgrim management, the Tirumala practices are being closely studied to avoid mistakes in Yadadri. “For a smooth entry and exit, we will have two sets of ramps with pedestrian walkways,” says G.A. Raj Expedith, landscape architect and acoustics consultant. Within the temple, several changes relating to pilgrim practices are being made. The “break darshan” for some privileged pilgrims, raising the fee for special darshan and offering a bigger laddu for a higher price-a norm in Tirumala over the years-are already in place. The price of darshan tickets has increased much before any of the proposed projects have materialised. “We expect the revenues to cross Rs 100 crore for 2015-16 considering that the number of pilgrims has gone up from 5,000 to 10,000 on weekdays and from 20,000 to 50,000 on weekends,” says the temple’s Executive Officer, N. Geeta Reddy.

Major changes are what the CM is also hoping to bring in with his grand plans but can the tools of statecraft transform a place of worship in scale and stature? Perhaps, although matching Tirumala measure for measure is a different question altogether.

– Follow the writer on Twitter @AmarnathKMenon

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