Dr M.V. Soundararajan is the high priest of the Balaji temple at Chilkur, 25 km away on the road to Vikarabad, west of Hyderabad. Now, unlike other temples, this one has some unusual ground rules-devotees are not allowed to give cash as thanksgiving for wishes granted. “All that you have to do is 11 pradakshinas (circumambulations) around the shrine for fulfillment of a wish…and 108 times once it is granted,” he emphasises. “The temple, in this way, seeks to inculcate a deeper devotion in believers so that they no longer think only of themselves but also of others. It will hopefully transform a devotee from a selfish to a selfless person.”
The Chilkur Balaji temple is a 14th century shrine, quite popular with the US visa-seeker crowd (indeed the deity is popularly known as Visa Venkateswara). Soundararajan, a distinguished commerce professor who quit academia as registrar of the Osmania University, Hyderabad, is on a quest to protect Telangana’s temples. And to that end, he has now petitioned the Hyderabad High Court, demanding that the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), managers of the richest Hindu shrine in the world, deposit the Rs 1,000 crore of arrears, due since 2003 to Telangana (at the rate of seven per cent of its annual income, to the Endowments Administration Fund and five per cent of its income to the Common Good Fund). This is as per Section 30 of the AP Endowments Act (1987), which rules that the TTD must help the small temples of undivided Andhra Pradesh by contributing a total of 12 per cent of its annual revenue. The Rs 1,000 crore was arrived at using a revenue-sharing formula of 52:48 between AP and Telangana as per the AP Reorganisation Act (TTD’s total payout was Rs 2,300 crore).
“The TTD needs to do more, reduce commercialisation and function under a new and autonomous dharma parishad,” says Soundararajan. He also wants it to take more interest in the welfare of low-income temples, their priests and other employees, and also allocate a part of its budget for renovation and upkeep of rundown ancient temples across India. Apart from the arrears, he has asked for court directions on a CAG audit of TTD’s funds, citing a 2014 report of the accounting agency.