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The man who donated a Rs 8-cr garland to Lord Balaji

October 09, 2017 08:29 IST

Raju's grandfather had commissioned a similar sahasra nama mala for Lord Balaji 50 years ago. Raju now wanted to offer a new garland, reports B Dasarath Reddy.

Last month, newspapers carried pictures of Mantena Ramalinga Raju, a non-resident Indian, standing alongside Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu with a jumbo-sized garland of gold.

The garland, sahasra nama mala, which means ‘thousand names’, weighed 28 kg and was worth Rs 8.36 crore.

This was Raju’s offering to Lord Balaji on the opening day of the nine-day annual Brahmotsavam festivities at Tirupati.

 

News reports carried detailed descriptions of the extravagant offering. The garland was made of 108 coins, one for each of the 108 names of Tirupati Venkateswara Swamy, as the world’s richest god is popularly called in the two Telugu-speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

This head-to-toe ornament would be used on the idol of the primary deity in the sanctum sanctorum as a daily wear, which is a rare privilege.

Few details, however, emerged of the donor who was described simply as a Vijayawada-based entrepreneur. Raju is, in fact, based in the United States where he runs a health care technology services company called IntegraConnect.

The 54-year-old, who likes to maintain a low profile, is also the founder of Bengaluru-based Omega Healthcare that employs around 20,000 people across India.

Raju's parents belong to Bhimavaram in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. He studied at Hyderabad Public School and later enrolled for a course in Bachelor of Pharmacy at Manipal University before leaving for the US about 25 years ago to pursue a Master of Science degree.

His is a family of influential politicians and businessmen. Bhimavaram falls under the Narasapuram parliamentary constituency, which is currently held by his maternal uncle, Gokaraju Ganga Raju -- one of the two Lok Sabha members that Bharatiya Janata Party has in Andhra Pradesh.

His company, Omega Healthcare, also has a centre in Bhimavaram.

Raju’s grandfather, Gokaraju Ranga Raju, had commissioned a similar sahasra nama mala for Lord Balaji 50 years ago when he was the chairman of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, the trust that manages the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple at Tirumala.

Raju now wanted to offer a new garland.

According to members of the family, it took three years for Raju’s wish to be fulfilled.

The matter wasn’t as simple as walking up to the temple and making the offering.

It had to be first discussed with the successive executive officers and the management of the temple trust before the sahasra nama mala could be accepted for Lord Balaji. (The executive officer of the temple trust is a government-appointed Indian Administrative Service official.)

Three executive officers had changed since Raju first expressed his desire to the trust to donate a garland.

Raju deposited Rs 16 crore with his family elders back in Vijayawada three years ago.

Of this, he earmarked Rs 11 crore for the ornament based on the price of gold at that time. The remaining Rs 5 crore was to be the cash donation to the temple towards nityanna danam (free meals that are offered to thousands of devotees at the Tirumala temple every day).

Since the gold garland finally cost a little over Rs 8 crore, he used the balance amount, which is almost equal to what he spent on mala, to make a cash donation to the temple towards its free-meal scheme.

Photograph: Courtesy @TDPOfficial/Facebook.

B Dasarath Reddy
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