Devotees get cake, burger prasadam

Tamil Nadu temple is breaking barriers

Devotees get cake, burger prasadam

Temple has installed prasadam vending machines

 Famous Venkateswara temple at Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh is known for its laddu prasadam. Similarly, Murgan temple at Palani in Tamil Nadu is famous for its “Panchamirtham”. Most of the temples across the country serve traditional food as prasadam.

However, the traditional prasadams such as laddu, jaggery rice and dhal pongal have become passé at a temple on the outskirts of Chennai. The Jaya Durga Peetam temple at Padappai serves burgers and brownies along with mineral water to devotees. The temple, spread over one acre, is in Oragadam taluk, about 40 km from Chennai.

The “stylish western type” prasadam also includes cakes (without egg), sandwiches, vegetable cutlets, tomato salads and phulkas and they are neatly packed. The temple also offers health drinks, including badam milk.

The food is cooked or baked in the temple kitchen, which is certified by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. The temple also has a well-maintained dining hall. The prasadam, served free of charge, carries manufacturing and best before dates on every packet.

The service is also hi-tech. Devotees can collect boxes of prasadam from vending machine installed at the temple's automated kitchen. The prasadam is a big hit not only among locals but also among devotees from different places.

One man who has made all these possible is Dr K Sri Sridar, a herbal oncologist. Sridar, who established the temple, says that the worship place was like other temples in the beginning. However, he wanted to make the temple formalities little different not only for offering “hygienic” prasadam but also for attracting children to worship god.

“The kumbabishekam for the temple was performed in 1996. At that time it was like any other temple. When I noticed that priests were serving  prasadam by hands, I thought it was unhygienic. Then, I decided to change it in my temple,” Sridar said.

To start with Jaya Durga Peetam temple offered hygienic packed food, including rotis, dal and mixed rice regularly. “Later, I thought why not introduce burger and other attractive food items. I elicited the opinions of  several people and the response was positive,” Sridar said.

“But, when I started serving cakes and burgers as prasadam, I faced stiff opposition from some temples as they felt my act is against the temple practices as prescribed in the Hindu religion. However, I ignored them and went ahead with my initiative, which attracted several children. The opposition slowly died down,” he said.

“We ensure that prasadam is not repeated in the week. However, burger, cakes, sandwich and brownies are severed only on Saturdays and Sundays so that children and students can come to the temple not only to worship but also for the prasadam,” Sridar said.

After performing pooja, every devotee will be given a token to get prasadam through the vending machine. Sridar was not satisfied with the introduction of  “attractive” prasadams. He felt that the devotees should get clean drinking water also. “I have made sure that every devotee gets 500 ml clean water to quench their thirst after they enter the temple,” he said.

The temple, which runs through donations, opens at 6 am and closes at 12 noon. In the evenings, darshan will be between 4 pm and 8 pm. Another uniqueness is that the temple has no hundi (cash collection box) on the temple premises. “Even the priests will not receive any offerings from the devotees for conducting poojas,” Sridar said.

He said that by the grace of god they have not faced dearth of people coming to sponsor the day's expenses. On occasions, devotees donate for food and flowers for one week.  “We will pick the bill if no devotee comes forward to sponsor the day's pooja and prasadam. Daily, about 100 devotees offer pooja at the temple. On special occasions, the figure touches 1,000,” Sridar added. However, he declined to disclose the amount donors will have to pay for the daily service.

Explaining functioning of the temple, Sridar said, “We purchase items required for a particular day and expenses are borne by donors. The payment is directly made to the shop,” Sridar said.

Not only with prasadam, the temple is slightly hi-tech in welcoming the devotees. Keeping with changed times, the devotees will have to register their names and provide their mobile numbers. They are welcomed by the temple authorities through SMSes. The devotees also get regular alerts on the important poojas and rituals that are to be performed in the temple on  auspicious days.

The temple's doors are open for celebrating events like birthdays. They are allowed to cut the cake and blow candles. Recently 82-year-old Subbulakshmi, who had never celebrated her birthday, came to the temple with her children and cut a big cake.

As a doctor, Sridar says that elderly people, who want to perform "Angapradhashanam" (rolling on the floor around the temple) should check their blood pressure before performing it. “Besides me, lab technicians will be in the temple to check the BP of old people. If the devotees are not fit, we will not allow them to perform Angapradhashanam,” he said.

The temple has already banned use of camphor and plastic inside the premises. The management provides hair driers for devotees taking head bath before doing Angapradhashanam.

In the next phase of improvement, the temple management is planning smart card system for the devotees to enable them to open the door and enter the temple. Many ATM kiosks have adopted the same.  

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