Tirupati: The former chief priest of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), Srinivasa Murthy Deekshitulu, succumbed to COVID on Monday 20th July. He was admitted to Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences on Saturday, 18th July, after he experienced respiratory ailments. After being admitted at the hospital, the priest tested positive for the virus.

While sources have told Newsmeter that Mr Dikshitulu was not engaged in any duties at the temple, there is a probability that he may have contracted the virus from a visit there. The medical and health department officials, however, are suspecting that he contracted the virus from his family members, who tested positive for the virus recently.

A total of 160 staff members, including priests and kitchen staff, have tested positive for the virus since the temple reopened for darshan on June 11th.

The 76-year-old Srinivasa Murthy Deekshitulu belonged to the Archakam Peddinti Mirasi family, one of the four families associated with the famous Tirumala temple for several centuries. He was one among the four priests from the hereditary families who were forcibly retired from priesthood at the Tirumala temple by the erstwhile TTD Trust board during the Telugu Desam Party regime in Andhra Pradesh.

There has been no decision by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam board to stop darshans.

The death of Mr Srinivasa Dikshitulu comes as the first casualty. He had other comorbidities such as diabetic and kidney related problems and he died on Monday.

“None of us is immune to the virus- neither the devotee nor the priest,” said Ranga Rao, head priest at the Chilkur Balaji Temple, Hyderabad.

Mr Rao added that while TTD board had declared that older priests would not be appointed on duty, casual visits inside the temple may have made Mr Dikshitulu vulnerable towards the virus. “The union government has asked us to ensure that temples only offer darshan and no prasadam, but that fails the idea of religion,” he adds, stressing that religious avenues should have been opened only after the situation grew normal.

“If this is the condition then we have to re-think about opening up temples,” he said.

As per tradition, when a retired or a serving priest from the four hereditary priests families associated with the Tirumala temple passes away, the TTD sends sandalwood, garlands and others sacred articles on an elephant to the residence of the deceased. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there reside doubts over the same.

The TTD members and priests have expressed deep condolence over the demise of Srinivasa Murthy Deekshitulu.

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