The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lamboo lords at Lord’s
- Tirupati makes a concession for newly-wed Bachchans

Tirupati, April 22: Balaji’s wasn’t the only name being chanted at the Tirupati temple this morning.

“Amitabh, Amitabh,” cried some of the 22,000 devotees waiting in the complex as the film star led a group of 26, made up of family and friends, to the deity to seek blessings for his just-married son and daughter-in-law.

The VIPs waved at the cheering queues, separated from them by heavy security and a rope cordon.

“Hey, why is Aishwarya sulking'” quipped a 21-year-old Kavita. She added merrily: “She looks like a dwarf next to this lamboo (Abhishek).”

It wasn’t the typical morning scene at the hallowed shrine, but this was a Sunday of exceptions, with the threat of a minor stampede thrown in. “Some people tried to climb over the ropes and shake hands with the celebrities as they were leaving,” a temple security official said. “Trouble started when one devotee stumbled and fell. Two or three people suffered minor injuries.”

Even the temple had to make a concession. “We offer the morning prasadam to the deity at 8.45 but the VIP visitors arrived at 8.35. They were in the sanctum sanctorum for 40 minutes, so the prasadam was delayed by half an hour,” a temple official said.

The routine darshan was held up for two hours.

Just the arrangements for the 40-minute trip cost Rs 8 lakh, temple insiders said. Executives from the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group had bought special tokens for the darshan at Rs 5,000 per visitor.

“We had stopped issuing these tokens since April 1 because of the summer rush. But the Maharashtra government made a special request, and we had also given a commitment to Amitabh Bachchan,” a member of the temple executive said.

One familiar figure was missing, though. Amar Singh, a perpetual presence at every Bachchan event, didn’t turn up although Anil Ambani and wife Tina did.

The reason could be the Samajwadi Party general secretary’s unspecified illness that Amitabh referred to in Mumbai today as he apologised for security personnel roughing up news photographers in front of his home yesterday.

“I deeply regret (it)… but we had to get Aishwarya home before sunset. (Also) Amar Singh had a medical condition and we had to rush him home,” Amitabh said.

“The security personnel involved were not our guards but the Black Cat commandos of Amar Singh.”

The photographers were kept at arm’s length during the temple trip, too. They were denied entry into Renigunta airport, 18 km from Tirupati, where the visitors arrived aboard two private aircraft around 7.30 am. A fleet of Mercs and Chevrolets was waiting on the tarmac.

A special armed escort provided by Chittoor district police augmented Ambani’s 10-member private security team that had been flown in from Mumbai last night.

To smoothen the trip, no other vehicle was allowed to pass through the Alipiri Gate at the foot of the Tirumala hillock for four hours.

Inside the heavily barricaded temple, the VIPs took the shortcut to the sanctum. Abhishek, in a white kurta-pyjama, and Aishwarya, wearing a red kanjeevaram, walked behind Amitabh and Jaya.

After an Arjita Puja and special rituals for the couple’s prosperity and happiness, the newly-weds as well as Amitabh-Jaya and Anil-Tina spent 15 minutes with chief priests Ramana Dikshtulu and Satyanarayana Sharma.

Each of the 26 visitors was given a red shawl and a small silver Balaji idol. The bride was presented with a gold locket and the groom a gold coin with the deity as its emblem.

The officials, too, came under a ban — from watching the donations. Last Sunday, Amitabh’s donations, at around Rs 3 crore the largest ever by an actor, were leaked.

“Each of the couples — Amitabh-Jaya, Abhishek-Aishwarya, Anil-Tina and Aishwarya’s parents — walked up to the hundi separately and made their contributions,” a temple official said.

“But Amitabh told a member of the temple executive he had not forgotten about the diamond-studded gold ornament for the deity’s right hand.”

During a visit a couple of months ago, the actor had asked temple officials how much such a gift would cost and was told it would be Rs 9 crore.

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