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Gold-Plating Plan at Tirupati Temple Has Conservators Up In Arms

TIRUPATI, INDIA, May 17, 2010: The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) board, headed by D.K. Audikesavulu Naidu, wanted to gold-plate the walls of the sanctum sanctorum, measuring 10,000 square feet, but the issue went to the courts amid controversy.

Estimated to cost US$22 million and requiring over 440 lbs. of gold, the project was formally launched in 2008 by then chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. It was first debated in 2005 by the TTD, with Audikesavulu saying the gold cover would enhance the ‘glory’ of the temple and put it on par with the Golden Temple, Amritsar.

For devotees who donated two pounds of gold or above, incentives like concessions in darshan and other special benefits were offered. Despite several objections from archaeologists and heritage conservationists, the TTD chairman stayed firm. Donations for the gold-plating project began pouring in. About 175 lbs of gold and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been collected so far.

Last April 14 retired bureaucrats (who had served stints at the temple) wrote to CM K. Rosaiah and the governor to ask the TTD not to pursue the project. The primary worry here is that the gold-plating would obscure invaluable heritage in terms of the wall inscriptions, dating from the 10th to the 18th century. These are mostly in Tamil, apart from Telugu and Devanagari. “They contain epigraphs which throw light on social aspects, the rural economy, the traditions of the Cholas, Pallavas, Yadavas and the Vijayanagara kings, mainly Krishnadevaraya,” says Prof Kirankanth Chowdary of the department of ancient Indian history, culture and archaeology, SV University, Tirupati. The TTD plan was to build copper frameworks a few inches from the wall on which sheets would be attached. “The sheets will prevent light and air from falling on the granite walls, spurring a chemical reaction which will damage the walls,” says Chowdary.

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