Hyderabad: The Tirupati laddu, given away as 'prasad' at the hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara at Tirupati, has entered its 300th year. Temple officials say the sacred offering was introduced on August 2, 1715.
No pilgrimage to the world's richest Hindu temple is complete without the laddu, made from flour, sugar, ghee, oil, cardamom and dry fruits. The mouth-watering sweet is the most sought after prasad after prayers to Lord Venkateswara.
Although the temple offers various types of 'prasad', the laddu is more popular among pilgrims.
According to the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages the affairs of the hill shrine, about ninety million laddus were given away to pilgrims in 2014.
The normal price of a 300 gram laddu is Rs 25. The TTD says that use of quality ingredients makes it costly but it sells laddu at a highly subsidised rate.
As a privilege to pilgrims, two laddus are issued at a further subsidised rate of Rs 10 each.
The temple authorities issue laddu token to the pilgrims after collecting the money. The sweet is also made in Delhi and some state capitals on special occasions.
The sale of prasad is a major source of income for the temple, which had a budget of Rs 2,401 crore for fiscal 2014-15.
TTD had projected an income of Rs 190 crore from prasad sale, the same as the income expected from sale of human hair of pilgrims who tonsure their heads.
The laddu is in great demand on special occasions.
The authorities sell the prasad round the clock during Brahmotsavam. Last year, about 1.8 million laddus were sold in the first seven days of Brahmotsavam, breaking all previous records.
The authorities make elaborate arrangements to ensure uninterrupted supply of laddus to the pilgrims. They have the capacity to produce 300,000 laddus a day but they keep sufficient stocks during Brahmotsavam.
Nearly 620 people, including 270 cooks, work in the laddu and other prasad making units.
The TTD took up modernisation of the temple kitchen last year with the installation of two escalator belts for laddus and boondi crates.
TTD joint executive officer KS Sreenivasa Raju said that the conveyor systems have the capacity to transfer up to 800,000 laddus every day.
The Office of the Registrar of Patents, Trademarks and Geographical Indications in 2014 awarded the Geographical Indication (GI) status to the Tirupati laddu.
TTD officials said they had to enforce GI rights as some small-time miscreants as well as large known sweet outlets have been selling laddus with names similar to 'Tirupati laddu'.
The Madras High Court in 2013 restrained a sweet stall in Chennai from using the brand name 'Tirupati laddu'.
The TTD had argued that 'Tirupati laddu' has its own sanctity as it is offered at the feet of Lord Venkateswara before being made available to devotees.
According to TTD, over 22.6 million pilgrims visited the temple during 2014. They offered Rs 831 crore in 'Srivari Hundi'.
The temple also earned Rs.655 crore from interest on money deposited in national banks in fiscal 2014-15.
The temple has deposits of over Rs 12,000 crore besides 32 tonnes of gold ornaments.