Experts have an insightful discussion on the scientific approaches, innovation and technology behind managing TTD and replicating its successes to other pilgrimage hotspots.
Dr N Ravichandran
In this country, when you visit a temple for religious purposes, the more hardships that you go through, the more you enjoy it. This is the general mindset. We all come back and say this is the least we should do for the divine grace that we seek for. This is how every temple in this country has operated. When Mr. PVRK Prasad was the Executive Officer of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), he used to say that the main corridor where the temple is there, used to look like a perpetual choultry. Devotees used to wait for 16 or 18 hours without any information and clarity on what was going to happen.
Moving Towards Customer Centricity
Somewhere down the line, thanks to the civilisation and administration, attempts have been made to make the process very enjoyable. That’s the time where we are in today. Organizations talk about customer centricity. For the first time, an organization like TTD, which is the custodian for this temple, started thinking in terms of not only providing dharshan, but making it a little bit more enjoyable, nice and pleasant experience. This is where the administration of the temple becomes more important. Changing the paradigm from ‘have a dharshan if you can,’ approach to ‘facilitating the process of dharshan’ is a fundamental transformation that has happened.
In management, there is a whole spectrum of organizations. Some of them are purely for profit, some purely for service, some for not profit, some societal and some social organizations. Usually, the research on social organization is relatively low. TTD is an outstanding example of a social organization, which has done exceptionally well. It is not a small organization, because Lord Balaji earns every day and that’s a lot of money. It is the custodian of the largest reservoir of gold—they hold 800 metric tons of pure gold. Therefore, we are talking about an extraordinary organization. We thought we would add something to the literature, so that people in India as well as outside can understand the enormity and complexity associated in managing this organization. Our book purely looks at the entire organization from an administration point of view.
Dr S Venkataramanaiah:
In the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam, managing the high volume, complex flow is a very big challenge. The way the organization has shaped up over the generations is evidence of their proactive approach. The late IAS officer Mr. PVRK Prasad, when he was the EO of TTD (between 1978 and 1982) initiated a number of reforms. He walked through the stretches and saw the difficulties of the pilgrims carrying their luggage. He initiated the luggage handling system which now has shaped up in a very big way.
There are continuous changes and improvements happening in the queue management. At one point in time, the entry and exit were in same place. In the next phase, entry and exit were made separate. Today, they have three channels to have the dharshan. Of course, you can’t duplicate Lord Balaji but you can make the pilgrims’ form three channels. In the queueing theory, the servers can be multiplied, whereas here, the server cannot be multiplied. Only the demand side can be channelized. This is a simple example but putting this into practice is the most difficult thing. Tirupati laddu is GI certified. There are challenges in protecting against the misuse of this certification.
TTD continuously innovates and fosters creativity. On the one side, they have to handle the pilgrims. On the other side, they have to manage an employee strength of more than 20,000. They follow the best practices in funds management, including digital practices. As the entire world is moving towards outsourcing, TTD also outsources various functions including transport, laddu making, health and hygiene, sanitation, etc. The way they managed the covid situation in an exemplary manner speaks of their management skills.
Anybody who visits the temple can voice their concerns. There is also a provision called, ‘Dial your EO.’ Through such innovations, they connect the stakeholders. Everybody who visits the temple now gets a gift of one free laddu. They handed over transport services to APSRTC way back in the 70s itself. They are considering getting away with the VIP dharshans. Modifying these practices is a big challenge.
Dr Subba Rao, IAS (Retd)
I was given a privilege by the Lord Himself for serving not only Him but also all His devotees. That’s how I look upon my years in TTD. It just happened that I landed in Tirupati from USA, having done a PhD in education. When I went to the Chief Minister for seeking what I should do next, I thought he would ask me to be the Education Secretary, but he said, “There is a temple in Tirupati. I would like you to manage it.” I had never dreamt that I would be given this kind of a privilege. It was the turn of the century—1999 and I took charge on the first of January.
Applying OR in Temple
What I found when I joined was that it was a very complex organization and it required a lot of study to make it a little more pilgrim-friendly. During my tenure, I had the privilege of discussing with Dr. Ravichandran and Prof Sadagopan from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and a number of things happened. I wondered, ‘Why should the pilgrims be confined to the halls and other spaces, with no certainty as to when the darshan would take place?’ It triggered a thought in me and we just happened to have an Operations Research Society chapter being opened in Tirupati at that time. Professor Sadagopan had come and I was also a participant in that. Over coffee break, we discussed and came up with the idea that we should make some changes to the dharshan experience.
In the year 2000, daily, there were 30,000 to 40,000 pilgrims on an average. Traditionally, as Dr. Ravichandran said, our mindset has been that we must do tapas to see God. But I felt that tapas can be in different forms. It may not be in this kind of a form, where you have to undergo hardship and have a fleeting glimpse of the Lord in a very difficult environment. Twenty-three years back, technology was not so advanced, yet we tried to use technology to transform some of the processes.
From a Spiritual to a Social Organisation
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam has a documented history and it’s a temple like no other temple. For a millennium, the daily rituals have been going on in the temple. It’s very unusual for any temple to have grown from a small temple on the hilltop, to what we’re seeing today. A lot of kings have contributed to it. I went and met the gazetteers off Chittoor. We found a lot of interesting accounts of the collectors of Chittoor writing about how they used to feel the vibration, when they were at the foothills of the Tirumala hills. Even the British administrators have documented the kind of power, vibrations and spiritual aspect of the temple, which the I think is very unusual.
It grew as a social organization subsequently. From 1930s onwards, the TTD took over and the administration became streamlined. With each successive executive officer, something new has happened. I felt very thrilled when I had to take oath before the Lord. There is no other position in the government where you actually stand and say, “I report to you, the Lord and that I owe my allegiance to you.” I got a badge made for all the employees with the words, ‘There is no other nada (Lord) except Venkateshwara himself,’ to build a committed team.
There are, of course, new directions for its further improvement. Seeing the kind of images of the temples and the pilgrimage experiences which we have traditionally been used to, I think, they have to radically change. The change is happening. We see the changes happening in Varanasi and in other temples across the country. There is a lot of emphasis on hygiene, better management, sanitation and in ensuring that the experience of the pilgrims becomes more satisfying. Temples in India have been the centres of cultural regeneration and cultural transmission of values. So, temples are social organizations. Both the kings and the devotees have patronised them. We must ensure that they are better managed and the management aspect is very crucial.
What should and should not change…
In my tenure, I made it very clear as to what should not change and what should change. What should not change is the continuity of religious rituals and the sanctity which has been built up over the years. Also, the basic temple structure and architecture should not be changed. We have no right to break down some walls because pilgrims find them inconvenient or to alter the heritage inherited over the years. What needs change is the management of pilgrims, their logistics, accommodation and how they stay.
We went into the nitty-gritties. During my inspection, I found that the area where laddus were made was very greasy. We had to just make sure that that place was hygienic and that it should be cleaned very thoroughly and periodically. Many devotees from the corporate sector volunteered for help. We involved Hindustan Unilever. They gave us new kinds of detergents and pumps, with which, we could clean the area very quickly, with very little turnaround time.
Lessons from Failures
We should also learn from our failures. A devotee from Bosch, the German manufacturing company, volunteered to try out a laddu making machine. I was fascinated by that concept by which you don’t touch the laddu with hand. The laddu was made, it passed through a cylinder and then dropped into polythene bags. There was standardization and hygiene but it failed, because the laddus came out too hard. So, we went back to the manual way of processing but we ensured that it was hygienically done. We used OR theory and introduced the wristband concept. Now we have advanced technology and probably many more things have been added, but in the year 2000, that looked too radical and for the organization to accept something which we introduced, was getting a difficult.
We also introduced the E-Hundi concept, using technology, where you don’t need to come to the temple but you can open the website on a particular day—your birthday or somebody’s wedding anniversary and if you just want to contribute, you can pay and contribute to the Srivari Hundi. It’s important that a social organization has to involve the stakeholders. We also thought that when the pilgrims come there, if they are offered to do some service, like cleaning the place or serving the pilgrims at mealtime, etc, it would involve the pilgrims in a big way and build a good community of devotees who would feel involved in this. Thus, we brought in Srivari Seva, but I understand that it had some unintended consequences. Of course, anything can be misused.
I first went to Tirupati in 1957, and as part of the family visits, I have been going there regularly once in three or four years. I remember well a visit of mine in 1977. I had come on a very short leave from Gujarat and wanted to get back soon. My wife and I landed at 10.30 am in Tirumala, went to the counter which was in those days opposite the main entrance, bought ticket for Rs 50 rupees, went in the queue, had a dharshan and came back at the end of one hour, after which I went to meet a relative 30 kms away and came back in the evening to Tirupati around at 8 o’clock. I knew there was a last dharshan at the Amma Vari temple, which is called ‘Ekantha seva.’ We went at 8.30 pm, had an excellent dharshan and sat there for 40 minutes. They served us a very special prasad. We left for Chennai at 9.30 pm and reached by 1.30 in the morning. You can’t imagine this today. A dharshan in 15 minutes is just not possible.
But those were days when the number of pilgrims was far less. Today, around 80,000 people come every day and it’s mind boggling. I remember my batchmate PVRK Prasad who, as in charge of TTD, did a lot of improvements and over a period of time, all the executive officers (EO) have added to that in their own way. Today, the Tirumala temple is remarkably different from what I saw in 57. It is very clean and well maintained. The hygiene and sanitation are excellent. This has been possible only because the successive EOs have taken a pilgrim-centric approach to the entire administration. It is one of the finest places to have a dharshan. Of course, the difficulties are still there and that is because of the increasing number of visitors to the temple.
I read that taking a cue from TTD, many temples improved their administration in India. I remember Mr. Jagmohan, when he was the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, got the acts suitably modified for Vaishnav Devi temple and made provisions to make the dharshan much better. I have gone there also and have really seen the changes. TTD has truly set an example by its initiatives.
A perspective on the scope of TTD
TTD now as a social organisation, is into many other activities. It is very heavily into education. They run a medical college, an engineering college, an arts college and 7 or 8 schools, including a school for the disabled. They also help Balaji temples come up in other places. As TTD is helmed by government officials, some chairman or the political officers of the state might have contributed to this decision of asking TTD to go into these areas. I have problems with that, for the simple reason that what is essentially a state activity has been handed over to a religious institution. It definitely leads to a reduction in the attention of the management towards issues relating to the temple. Looking at the number of wings and activities of the TTD, it is a moot question whether even a super human being as the executive officer will be able to pay attention to every one of those wings.
In Tamil Nadu, running the ‘Amma canteens’ has been handed over to the Corporation. Should the Corporation start feeding the poor or should it look after water supply and drainage? It’s been very convenient for the governments to hand it over to the Corporation, so they don’t have to reflect it in their budgets and answer anything in the assembly. Supplying a meal at 10 rupees, the Amma canteens incur a heavy loss. Their outstanding payment of bills is over 500 crores. The question is, should the Corporation be allowed to undertake that and are they adequately compensated? Similarly, I have my own reservations on whether the TTD should be burdened with so much of social work. I’m not talking about any service they render to the pilgrims.
Mr S Babaji Rajah Bhonsle:
I am touched by a quote given in the beginning book. It reads: ‘The diseased praying for health, the healthy praying for wealth; the wealthy praying for power; the powerful praying for peace; the king desiring peace and renouncing life; and the renounced yogi, desiring nothing but good to all, all can be met within the temple and all are attentive to the central, the Divine Law.’ The temple is thus a literal storehouse of the life of the community and without a knowledge of it, life itself is incomplete.
Anyone, like me, who has the opportunity to manage temples, can learn a lot from the TTD administration. I’m also a beneficiary of Mr Gopalasamy’s acts. As Secretary of Culture, he visited our temple at Dharasuram, which is a heritage monument. The renovation of the temple was discussed for more than a decade and we were not able to perform the kumbabishegam (consecration) as there was a litigation. We requested him to look into it. Upon his discussion with CBI, pending enquiries, the renovation was cleared. We went ahead with the kumbabishegam of the temple. He was the first person to fund the temple renovation from the central government. We also got funds for the Rajagopalaswamy temple in Tanjore and got it renovated.
As the Hereditary Trustee of Thanjavur Palace Devasthanam and managing many other temples, I am a bridge connecting people and the government. I have to bridge the aspirations of the people and the rules and regulations of UNESCO and the state government. I entered it when I was hardly 15 years old. I am now in this journey for 34 years. The Tanjore Brirhadeeshwara temple hardly saw visitors, when I inherited. But now the crowd management has become a huge issue.
The Tangibles and Intangibles
When we measure results, we have to measure the tangibles and the intangibles. I am also heading certain companies where we are into lean manufacturing with the objective of improving the performance and the bottom line. The tangible results are measurable. But when it comes to intangible things like spiritual activities, it is difficult to measure the results. The objective is to convert the mindset and touch the soul of the people. It’s a very complex administration. In a very challenging environment, temples are managed. For instance, TTD provides subsidy to the Goshalas that take care of 3000 animals, out of which, I understand that only 150 cows are milk yielding. How we can make it sustainable is a point of debate. But my opinion is that the other cows have given milk all these years and now they have stopped. So, they have to be taken care of, from the people’s money and temple funds. Whether it is sustainable or not, the subsidy should continue and it can even be expanded.
Our temples do not depend on any income from pilgrims but sustain with our lands. We do not charge any entry fees, because we see it as the place to preach values. Our challenges are very different from that of TTD. Our focus is on how we can convert our religious institutes to make the people more cultured and inclined towards the cultural aspects. I used to move closely move with Swamy Dayananda Saraswathi. He would say that a human being is an unpredictable animal. We can predict what a lion or a donkey will do and stay away from it but we cannot predict how a human will behave, at what time and with whom. Only through religion, culture and literature, we can create banks to our wandering mind.
Professionalism to Crack the Problems
Our main challenge is to manage the land assets. In Rajagopalaswamy temple, the main lintel beam of the Rajagopuram had developed crack. With our departmental engineers, we planned to construct concrete columns along the entrance and I was worried because the concrete columns might hide the view of the statue of Vijaya Raghava, who built the temple. Fortunately, I contacted Dr. Ambalavanan in IIT Chennai and Dr. Das, a structural engineer from Pondicherry. I brought them and showed them the cracked beam. These two professionals, examined for half an hour and said that we have nothing to do, because the load has already been transferred to the sidewalls of the gopuram and the lintel is not carrying the load. We saved 25 lakhs from their suggestion, which is a big money these days. That is the power of connection with the knowledge sources. We also manage the aesthetics of the temple. I crave to meet people who are more knowledgeable and passionate to do things on the temple front and in the management of social or religious institutions.