My recent visit to Tirupati left me more confused about faith, superstition and magic.
Eight years back, my best friend Priyanka was talking about Tirupati and how her American colleagues had to return from the doorstep without a darshan. I was amused and amazed, all at once. To my obvious question, she explained that only Hindus are allowed inside the temple premises, since it is a sacred Hindu temple. Being a north Indian, especially a Delhiite, it was news to me. Even though a Hindu, we celebrate christmas, Eid with equal fervour–and have often bunked classes to savour the ghee-halwa in Bangla Sahib. So, this was a first of a kind information to know that down south, we have temples especially for Hindus. Ofcourse I knew Tirupati, and the miracles that are associated with the place. The temple spells magic—it answers all your earnest prayers.Childless couple, ailing mother, failed business man, failed student–all come calling lord Venkateshwara’s name.
The ancient and sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara is located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala of the Tirupati Hill. According to the Sastras, Puranas, Sthala Mahatyams, in Kali Yug, one can only attain mukti by worshipping Sri Venkateswara. The epics further say that Sri Venkateswara is a great bestower of boons. The temple has its origin in Vaishnavism, an ancient sect which advocates the principles of equality and love.
So, this time when I went to Chennai, I was determined to pay Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple a visit. Perhaps my dwindling faith was rekindled by thousands of magical stories, originating out of this place. My friend’s faith and belief that his one visit to the temple would fix all his problems, might have been the reason too. But whatever it may be, I just wanted to go there and have my secret time with the god. We got up at 4:00 in the morning, took our bath and set out for Chennai Central. There we boarded the Sapthagiri Express, which was fully reserved on a Wednesday. We reached Tirupati railway station at 10.30 am. There we enquired about the temple, which is a 30 mins drive away from the station. Bhakts also walk the stretch. But we hired a vehicle.
Lord listens to us
So, by the time we reached the temple premises, it was already 11.00 am. We quickly, queued to deposit our mobile phones, only to know later that they can be deposited while you enter the main passageway. The huge board outside the office reiterates the temple’s significance. But, there I noticed a change. It clearly mentions that people of different faith can enter the shrine with a bit of paperwork. And I must confess, I was happy to notice the change. Without wasting time, we queued up for seeghra darshan after paying Rs 300/per head. It was a never ending line— before we got a glimpse of lord Balaji for a second. The frequent visitors assured us that this was the quickest ever darshan one can have. Huh! three hours in a queue, and this is the quickest? We are lucky? “Yes said Sayantan Das, a resident of Chennai. Usually, people stand for minimum 4 hours and maximum 12 hours. It is normal for Tirumala temple to see a huge crowd.” I was startled. So what brings people to this place? Is it indeed magical, does he answer everybody’s prayers? “When people get dejected with life and can’t see any solution to it, Sri Balaji comes to rescue. Many say, this is one god who truly listens to your vows, says Sayantan Das. In agreement, Anil, a software professional from Karnataka, talks about his first visit. “Although I found it very tough to stand for almost four hours, it was something that I wanted to do, for a change in fate. And I feel this is a small price to pay,” Almost echoing the previous sentiments Bharath, a technical consultant from Chennai says, “ I visited Tirumala last December with my family. We often visit the temple. Everytime we go there, something good happens. So, it is the faith that takes us. One of my friend prayed to lord Balaji for his ailing mother, who recovered from her long standing illness. So, when such things happen that are outside of human understanding after a visit, you want to believe in it.”. When quizzed about the long standing queue, he brushes it off saying,” to get something, you need to give something.”
Ramakrishna M, a journalist from Chennai, used to often visit Tirumala with his parents. During his childhood, he treated the place as yet another picnic spot, where he could spot deers, monkeys etc. “ I was fascinated with the place for it’s wildlife. But with age, I realised it’s religious significance. It is one of the richest Devasthanam of the country. The hundi sees varied currency notes, gold and silver which is a testament of it’s popularity.”
Repaying the loan
Ramakrishna M also shares some interesting anecdotes. “The place where the Vishnu idol stands today, according to myth, was first occupied by Varaha (the 3rd avatar of Vishnu in the form of a boar). Legend says that Varaha rented out his place to Vishnu and settled for a smaller residence beside the temple tank. For the rent, Vishnu basically sought a loan from Kubera. It turns out, that the amount was so huge that the Lord of the 7 hills has to keep paying his EMIs with interest till the Kali Yuga ends! And that’s why riches keep pouring into the temple’s donation box in all forms.” Much has been written about the temple, but what are the stories behind the Ah! so beautiful Idol? “ The main idol of Vishnu has supposedly been there since Adivasis first occupied the forest hills. I have heard from several people that it sports long matted hair at the back, which some people believe to be real and growing! Most of the jewels and gold plating on the statues, including the maintenance of the temple, owe it to the Vijayanagara ruler Krishnadevaraya. In fact there’s a statue of his and his two consorts within the temple complex,” he elucidates.
A place where millions flock can’t be just another temple. What makes Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan and so on go there at the hint of dawn, only to escape the media attention? “ It is a belief, that a visit to Tirumala will solve your predicaments. After All, faith makes the world go round,” concludes Sayantan.
(This was published in Body and Beyond magazine)