In service of the Lord, yet ignored
source: Deccan Chronicle, October 6, 2004
A V Ramana Dikshitulu, the main archaka of the famed Sri Venkateswara Temple at Tirumala, gets Rs 200 per day as wages for serving the Lord. He only gets this money on the days he performs the rituals. But he is definitely better off compared to thousands of other archakas across the State who lead a hand-to-mouth existence.
Compare this with the salary and perks drawn by the officials of the Tirumala Tirupati Board, mostly on deputation from other government departments. They travel and live luxuriously and have the best of comforts. For many of the archakas, even travel by train is a great luxury. The NTR government's scrapping of hereditary rights way back in 1987 had literally pushed many archakas to the streets. They are now asking for the revival of hereditary rights, which will at least ensure them a modest living. The archakas also want the government to give them endowment lands for cultivation.
"I feel ashamed to reveal my salary," says Dikshitalu, who holds a doctorate in philosophy. "I get Rs 200 per day. Sometimes when I work for 30 days a month I can make Rs 6,000. There are archakas in Tirumala who earn less than Rs 2,000 per month. We are servants of God and we are treated shabbily." Most of the archakas in Tirumala depend on the money given by pilgrims and the meagre share from Arjita Seva tickets.
The archakas of the mutli-crore temple are drawn from members of four traditional archaka families. Government figures themselves narrate the sad tale of thousands of other arch-akas. Out of the 32,000-odd temples across the State, over 27,000 temples have income below Rs 1,000 per annum. So there is no need to talk about the life of archakas in these temples.
"Why are we forced to live like beggars?," asks Dr M V Soundararajan, head priest of Chilkur Balaji Temple. "We have been demanding the restoration of hereditary rights and the lifting of the ban on aarthi, hundi and gifts," he said.