SUDARSANAM, the newly introduced system in the famous Tirumala temple seeks to make the waiting time of pilgrims standing in queues as pleasant as possible. It is needless to mention that long winding queues and Tirumala are synonymous.
It is to get out of this dubious distinction that the TTD management, after considerable deliberations with experts and time management consultants, has hammered out this unique scheme and put it on stream as it is aware that the problem has already assumed alarming dimensions putting in its wake a tremendous load on other TTD infrastructures.
Under the project "Sudarsanam", the TTD has opened special counters on the hills at three different places viz.; the vaikuntam Q-complex, Rambagicha complex and the Amenities complex, where the staff would tie around the wrist of all pilgrims a computerized and "bar-coded" band. The band would indicate the possible time when a pilgrim is likely to have 'darshan' of the lord and when he should report again at the queue- complex en route the main shrine. Once the pilgrim is banded, he or she is free to move anywhere in Tirumala and Tirupati instead of rotting inside the queue sheds for hours together as in the past.
This is the very essence and the theme of the scheme being implemented by the TTD at an enormous expenditure of about Rs.75000 - per day. The wrist-band being supplied to the TTD by a Bangalore based private company from time to time costs the TTD Rs.2 - a piece, besides the exigency of having to run three counters on the hill at Tirupati to operate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.
After the introduction of the scheme, pilgrims, unlike in the past, are not staying in queues but are taking off to other places of interest - sightseeing conducted tours to about half-a-dozen other temples scattered in and around Tirupati.
This is not only going a long way in breaking the monotony and boredom of tedious waiting by pilgrims in queues but also providing them with a chance to visit the TTD Museum at Tirupati and Tirumala.
Some of them are even utilizing the time either to visit their friends and relatives or to go on a shopping spree sporting the wristband, "Sudarsanam".
Another objective behind the introduction of the scheme and opening of the counters at Tirupati down the hill is to control and regulate the inflow of pilgrims on to the hills. Prior to the launching of "Su-Darsanam", the entire pilgrim rush used to throng the hills ignoring the fact that they have to wait for long at accommodation centers, tonsuring centers, bus stations and at Annadanam centers.
This more often than not resulted in the pilgrims getting clogged-up in different queue lines and overloading the TTD infrastructure, particularly the accommodation and drinking water facilities.
Now, with the opening of three counters at Tirupati itself (at the 1st and the 2nd choultry and also at the Transit Bus Station at the foot of the hill), most of the visiting pilgrims are checking into one of the counters, getting their wrists "banded" and are taking off to scores of places of visit around.
The possible time when a pilgrim can have 'darshan' of the main deity after he or she gets banded is decided by the staff manning the counters depending upon the number of pilgrims already banded and also on the surmise that about 3,000 pilgrims can have darshan of the Lord in an hour on an average after providing for the intermittent "breaks" for temple cleaning and for "VIP darshan".
It is here that the well meaning program needs some fine tuning to make it more realistic and down-to-earth. This programme, as any new scheme, has teething troubles which, if removed, would make it really a boon for pilgrims.
One general complaint often being made against this programme is that there is no relation between the time prescribed by the counter staff for a pilgrim's darshan and the actual time which the pilgrim would take to have a darshan without the band.
In other words, the pilgrims say that the counters putting on the wrist bands are not following any rational or scientific methodology while assessing the possible time as to when he or she could have his or her turn. This, they say, makes them find that either they are too early or too late when they report at the queue-complex again.
Another practical problem being encountered by pilgrims is that it being so sophisticated involving a bar-coded-cum-computerised wrist band, the visiting pilgrims, bulk of whom are poor and illiterate, are not able to figure out what it is all about and are often found asking the passers-by as to what should they do with the band.
Though this is a temporary problem bound to exit till the scheme becomes popular, the TTD, in the meantime, could step up its publicity programme to vigorously enlighten pilgrims thronging the hill by opening more information centers, providing sign-boards, distributing hand-bills, making frequent announcements through PA system and so on.
Another new facility introduced at Tirumala by the TTD management is the opening of what is called an 'amenities complex' close by the shrine. The huge complex, built at a cost of Rs.2 crores, has four spacious halls which in all could accommodate 5,000 pilgrims at a time. The complex also has built-in common bathrooms, toilets, cloakroom, locker facility and on the top of it all make-shift tonsuring centers.
An ordinary pilgrim could get his Sudarsanam band tied, and quietly walk into the complex and get all his routine chores, including tonsuring, completed under one roof. Once through with this, one can go on sightseeing around or shopping or rest in the complex itself before going to the queue complex at the appointed time. This obviates the need to take separate cottages and, thus, reduces to that extent the load on the scarce accommodation system.