At Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirumala, better known as Tirupati, the laddu is superceded only by the lord. The taste and aroma of these besan (gram flour) confections—saturated with ghee, raisin, nuts, cardamom, and edible camphor—draws millions of devotees to this temple town in Andhra Pradesh, eager for a bite of the holy spirit. In 2009, it received country-wide fame when it was given the Geographical Indication patent.
As with all enterprises associated with large temples, the laddu’s vital stats are spectacular. More than 2.78 lakh sweet balls are rolled out every day by an all-male, all-Brahmin potu (kitchen) staff of 350. The kitchen uses around 10,000 kilos of ghee, 12,000 kilos of besan, 2,000 kilos of cashewnuts, 1,000 kilos of raisins, 300 kilos of cardamom, 600 kilos of sugar crystals, and 25,000 kilos of sugar daily.
Over the years, the production of the sacred sweet has undergone many changes in size, protocol for distribution, and cooking technology. The recipe however, has remained the same for many years (some say 300). The laddu even overshadows the other prasadams distributed by the temple management trust, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, including pulihora (tamarind rice) and chakkara pongal (sweet rice), which are served in small leaf bowls.
Given that this is the world’s most visited Hindu shrine, the sale of laddus is rationed: Only two are given per darshan token, except in the case of certain paid rituals. Even VIP devotees have to request for extra laddus above their quota—sometimes, with the help of recommendation letters.
Appeared first in the October 2014 issue as “Blessed Laddu”.