Tirupati laddu all set to regain its old taste

The quantity of materials used for laddus is mind-boggling like the number of devotees thronging Tirupati to have the darshan of Lord Venkateswara.

On an average 1.5 lakh laddus are either sold or distributed to devotees daily. In the modern kitchen, some 150 cooks roll out mouth-watering laddus, given as pra­sadam to devotees.

About one tonne of besan flour, 10 tonnes of sugar, 700 kg of cashew nuts, 150 kg of cardamom, 300 to 500 litres of ghee, 500 kg of sugar candy and 540 kg of raisins are used daily. The spices are bought at the auction at the Commodities and Spices Exchange in Kochi.

Tirupati laddu is one of its kind. One can’t get similar taste in any other form of laddu may be, because it’s the prasadam of the lord of seven hills or because of the ingredients that go into making it. Laddu is so important for every devotee that even VIPs bring recommendation letters to have a few more than the  quota for each Arjitha Seva such as Kalyanam or the Archana Antara Seva.

The tradition of Tirupati laddu is nearly 300 years old. Records show that rice prasadam was offered to the Lord Venkateswara as naivedyam (offering) before laddu prasadam was introduced. It was called as Manoharam. Devotees loved the jaggery-laced rice prasadam. There was also this kondantha (as big as hill) laddu which started along with Lord Venkateswara’s Nithya Kalyanam in 1940.

It has been a custom to serve laddu either at lunch or dinner during marri­ages in Hindu households. Following the tradition, the Tirupati Tirumala Devas­thanam (TTD) management started preparing large-sized laddus and offering them to the deity.

For a long time, the prasadam was distributed to devotees only on  Saturdays. As the management felt that it was not fair to distribute the same type of laddus to both participating in Kalyana­mahotsavam and in Dharma Darsanam, big laddus were given to those taking part in Kalyanamahotsavam. 

However, it is not clear as to when the daily laddu prasadam was introduced. As there was a demand from devotees, daily sale of laddus started. From that time, Lord Venkateswara’s laddus have unpre­cedented demand. Now, the TTD has stopped free distribution of small laddus.

During the initial days, preparation and its supervision were done by Mirasidars. Those preparing laddus in the kitchen (potu) were called as Gamekar Mirasis. Out of the each lot of 51 laddus, 11 were given to Mirasi Brahmin families. The TTD management won a legal battle in the Supreme Court for abolition of Mirasi system .

In the potu, prasadam was prepared with only firewood. From 1984, the use of LPG started as there was a spurt in the number of laddus required every day. Even though the number increased to one lakh laddus per day only 150 cooks were able to handle the work with the introduction of latest cooking technology. This number of laddus was less than half of the demand from devotees. Another kitchen was added to make another 70,000 laddus.

On special occasions like Ugadi, the staff prepares special laddus and offer them to the god. Till now, the biggest laddu offered to Lord Venkateswara is 32 kg. It was prepared by special hereditary priests known as archakas in special temple kitchen.

The list of ingredients and the proportion in which they are to be used is called dittam. Changes in dittam were made six times to meet the increasing demand.
Recently, the TTD management has decided to stick to the original dittam’s specification as there are many compla­ints on the falling shelf-life of the laddus.

Now, the cost of preparation of each laddu is Rs 13. “The dittam is meant for limited number of laddus. One has to multiply it with additional numbers requ­ired to be made.

With the price of pure ghee and camphor hitting the roof, the TTD adopted a two-tier system. One for common devotees and another for VIPs, as a result low quality laddus were offe­red to the common devotee,” a local BJP leader complained. Less ghee and camphor mean less shelf-life, hurting the sentiments of the poor devotees who hope to carry the prasadam to their loved ones at home.

“You will notice the difference in the taste of the regular laddu prasadam within days,” said a senior TTD officer at potu after the allowance of important ingredients has been restored.

A devotee can buy extra two laddus. The TTD earns Rs 11 million from the sale of laddus annually. Each laddu weighs around 100 gm and is huge when compared with the normal laddu found in shops. There is a super huge Tirupati laddu known as Kalyana laddu and it weighs around half a kg.

Patent protected

The famed Tirupati laddu joined the ranks of Darjeeling tea, Madhubani paintings and Goa feni after it was granted the Geographical Indication (GI) patent rights in 2009. This bars others from naming or marketing the sweetmeat preparation under the same name.

Tirupati laddu got the patent rights under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act. The TTD had applied for GI with Chennai-based Geographical Indication Registry to avoid its black-marketing by hawkers and middlemen.

The Tirupati laddus are not produced anywhere in the world and are very unique in terms of quality, reputation and other characteristics which go into its making. While some say that the laddu prasadam came into being in the early 1920s, some priests claim that it existed even before the 17th century.

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