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Tirupati to pick & choose jewellery amidst terror threat

Tirupati to pick & choose jewellery

G.S. RADHAKRISHNA || THE TELEGRAPH KOLKATA

Tirumala, Nov. 10: Humans have set the gold standard for the lord of riches — the Tirupati temple authorities have decided that Venkateswara will henceforth be decked out only in jewellery that meets specifications laid down by them.

I.Y.R. Krishna Rao, the executive officer of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, said only genuine diamonds and rare jewellery would do. “Anyone who wants to donate ornaments to the lord will be asked to consult us before preparing the ornament of their choice. TTD officials will advise them on the size, variety and weight of their ornament,” he said.

The decision was taken yesterday. Last year, a controversy had erupted over the temple accepting a 30kg diamond-studded crown worth Rs 42 crore from Karnataka tourism minister Gali Janardhan Reddy. Vedic pandits and scholars objected to its use, saying the heavy crown could damage the 19ft black granite idol of the presiding deity, which is described as “Mula Virat”. Chief priest A.V. Ramana Dikshitulu said today only properly designed and manufactured jewellery helped to retain the charm and divine powers of the deity.

“The Agama shastras say which of the jewels have to be used on specific occasions, days and months for the deity,” he said. Govindaswamy Chettiar, a prominent jeweller of Chennai engaged in the Venkateswara temple gold plating programme, said “it is essential to test and verify the jewellery before it is put on the deity as many diamonds and jewellery are said to have an evil impact even on gods”.

Chettiar claimed that a wrong “keeratam” (crown) on a deity at a temple at Tiruttanni in Tamil Nadu had led to the shrine’s gradual unpopularity. Only after the gold ornament was removed did the temple regain its glory, he said.

Nirmala Goud, a devotee, said the temple decision was laudable but would deny devotees the satisfaction that they were also partners in adorning their deity.

Tirumala is the richest religious shrine in the world with an annual revenue of Rs 1,200 crore and gold reserves of almost 250kg that are made up of small ornaments thrown in the hundi.

On an average, the temple receives about 2kg of gold in the hundi every day. Apart from the small ornaments, Tirumala owns nearly 12 tonnes of jewellery which includes rare and antique pieces donated since the 12th century by the Vijayanagara king Krishna Deva Raya, British viceroys, Muslim rulers and local Andhra chieftains.

A team of gemology experts has certified that all diamonds and precious stones in the ornaments used on a daily basis are authentic. Tirumala authorities had set up a gemology lab in 2009 inside the temple to value and test the antique jewellery on the orders of Andhra Pradesh High Court.

The registers of tiruvabharanam (temple treasury of jewellery) and jadthi (main safe box) at Tirupati contain about 1,100 ornaments. The gemology experts have verified 346 exclusive pieces studded with diamonds and precious gems and certified them as 100 per cent pure.

“The remaining jewels will also be put through the tests in the next few months,” said Rajiv Jain, the chairman of the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India. The gemology committee includes experts from Surat, Jaipur and Mumbai and is headed by Jain. Jain said that the committee had used the Portable Raman Spectrometer for the first time in the country to verify the authenticity of the jewels.

The temple authorities are considering whether to insure the jewellery on its historical value or its metal value. “We are a philanthropic organisation and it is not worth paying huge premiums to insure it on historical value,” executive officer Krishna Rao said.

As part of the drive to secure the temple against terrorist threats, pilgrims have been barred from carrying luggage to the queue for darshan. Mobile phones and cameras are already banned. A team of 200 commandos and 1,000 policemen from five police stations guards the hill shrine.

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