The Tirupati Ladoo’s Popularity & The TTD’s Mega Kitchen

The TTD or Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam is an independent trust tasked with managing the wealthiest Hindu temple in the world - the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in Andhra Pradesh, more commonly known as Tirupati Temple. It is staffed like a country or multinational corporation, with departments specializing in civil engineering, medicine and medical facilities management, information technology, public relations, education and industrial scale production. It has an annual budget that is decided by its board members every year, and outsources certain processes to some of the most advanced companies like Bosch and Tata Consultancy Services. To simply call it a place of worship would be a massive disservice. The trust’s 2022-23 fiscal budget was approved at Rs. 3096 crores. Revenue from its famous Prasadam stands at close to 10% of this figure, hovering around the 300 crore mark.

Of the near 16000 people employed by the temple, around 80 permanent staff and 600 contract staff are engaged 24/7 in the production of the famous Tirupati ladoos. These have attained a mythical status among devotees, temple staff and sweet connoisseurs around the globe, and are certainly a highlight of the temple’s vast kitchen operation. The boondi ladoos made here are patented and have attained GI Status, indicating that the quality of the ladoos is unique to the temple itself. The recipe is largely a secret, but present information outlines a process of deep-frying Bengal gram batter in pure ghee to obtain the boondi, which is then enriched with cardamom, nuts and dry fruits.

The mixture is then transported around the premises in elevated ropeways that transport boxes of a few hundred kilos each. Final shaping and packing take place by hand, employing over 200 individuals. Traditionally, the manufacture of these ladoos took place on the temple premises within the Potu or sacred temple kitchen. In order to meet growing demand, an independent manufacturing plant was set up outside of the main premises in 2006 to employ many industrial techniques. The ladoos are tested daily to rigorous standards within onsite labs, identifying sugar levels, dry fruit and nut content as well as anomalies that fall outside of the TTD’s standards.

The typical Tirupathi ladoo has a shelf life of 7-10 days. A buffer stock of 6-7 lakh pieces is maintained daily in addition to the 3 lakh individual pieces that are manufactured every day. It is an operation of staggering scale that has seen a steady rise in demand. Revenue from the sale of this prasadam has doubled since 2013. Just recently, a proposal was put forth by the TTD to automate a crucial step in the production process- the mixing of the Boondi. It stated that a plant was to be established adjacent to the existing facility with the aim of improving standardization and hygiene within the process. Firms in Australia, Switzerland, and, previously, Bosch of Germany had been sought to identify customised solutions to the Boondi-mixing problem. The final shaping however will still be done by hand, as is tradition. The proposal was not met with favour by the all-important kitchen staff who have largely followed the same process for hundreds of years, even donning traditional garb and performing many of the manufacturing steps purely by hand. According to workers who spoke to the Times of India, the process as a whole is considered sacred and mustn't be tampered with.

The “Potu'' or temple kitchen at Tirupati is steeped in history and tradition. It is said that Lord Vishnu visits the temple every day, and it is therefore the duty of the pilgrims to feed him. The kitchen itself prepares over 15 dishes that are served to approximately 1.2 lakh pilgrims daily, including dosa, vada, and jalebis in addition to the traditional Naivedya, all for free. The Tirupati kitchen finds itself in a unique class of India's “Megakitchens” within places of worship, joining the likes of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Jagannath temple in Odisha as well as the Meenakshi temple in Tamil Nadu. Each of these temple kitchens serve hundreds of thousands of pilgrims for free every single day. The taste of dishes found throughout the country’s famed temple kitchens is said to be near impossible to replicate within a traditional catering operation. This has been attempted many times by hospitality chains, but ultimately fails to capture the essence of true temple cuisine. Since cooks belonging to the vast brigades of temple kitchens are often from single bloodlines spanning centuries, it is not a stretch to believe that the cuisine and its unique taste is a closely guarded secret. It has made for a spectacular success that is sought after by the faithful by the millions, and remains a firm favorite among devotees.