Counted among the world's richest temples, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) has incurred an annual loss of over Rs 140 crore for the last three years owing to its subsidised price and free distribution to some devotees, temple sources said.
The temple's USP, the Tirupati Laddu (a ball-shaped sweet), has been in the news since its inception. The mouth-watering sweet dish has been sold by the TTD at a subsidised price of Rs 25 per piece for the last 11 years while the actual cost was about Rs 32.50, PTI reports read.
The laddu, made at the massive kitchen in nearby Tirumala, is in great demand among devotees, who throng the shrine from different parts of the country throughout the year.
In 2016, about 10 crore pieces of laddu were made and sold, PTI was told. Besides the burden caused by subsidy, TTD incurs a further loss of about Rs 23 crore by selling the laddu at Rs 10 per piece to devotees who opt for free darshan and wait for several hours in long queues.
The introduction of one free laddu to each devotee who treks the 11-kilometre-long stairway leading to the temple from the foot of the hills also adds a loss of about Rs 22.7 crore to the annual total.
The scheme was introduced in October 2013 with an aim to encourage the traditional way of reaching the sacred hills. Since then, on an average, about 70 lakh devotees a year visit the temple on foot. The more than 70 lakh devotees who availed Rs 300 special entry darshan and Rs 500 VIP darshan tickets were also getting two laddus free.
However, the sources said the TTD was not keen on increasing the price of the laddu to offset the losses and might consider cutting down the number of free laddus given to ticket holders.
Interestingly, the laddu used as prasad was introduced in the 2,000-year-old hill temple only about 100 years ago, during the British era. Earlier, 'atherasam' or 'aresu', a sweet made of jaggery and rice, used to be the prasad (offering) at the temple for ages. During the rule of mahants designated and posted as 'Vichaarana Karthas' of the temple by the British, the laddu prasad was introduced, the sources added.