The temple of Tirupati Balaji in south India is one
of the most revered and sacred shrines in the country. Millions of
devotees visit the temple to seek to blessings of Lord Vishnu-the
patron deity of the temple.
In times of yore,
Sheshachalam was a hill-top sanctum, in the Eastern Ghats of India.
The idyllic locale possessed an inherent calm and tranquility
unmatched by any of the other areas of seven peaks covered with dense
woods, adorned the skyline. The weather was pleasant and cool,
befitting the lovely environs. Narada, the great sage, had impressed
upon Lord Vishnu several times, the immense beauty of this place.
Once after a dispute with
Lakshmi, his wife, Lord Vishnu was so disturbed that he wanted to
spend some time in complete solitude. He remembered the
recommendation of sage Narada and headed for Seshachalam. Lord
Vishnu was rather enchanted by the pacific harmony of the
surroundings and he settled down to mediate.
Eons went by and an
ant-hill completely covered Lord Vishnu, so deep was his meditation.
It was by accident that a cowherd stumbled across this ant hill when
he followed one of his cows who mysteriously kept disappearing up the
hillside. Much was his surprise when he discovered the cow. He was
stupefied when he saw her milk flowing into the ant-hill. The
cowherd rushed to the king with this amazing news, who eventually
unearthed an image of Lord Vishnu from under the mound. Thus the
King erected a beautiful shrine at the hill-top location. The deity
came to be known as Tirupati Balaji and became the most popular and
worshipped god in south India. Indeed, the Tirupati Temple we know
it today, is one of the most highly revered and sacred shrines in the
The environs to date are
beautiful and lend an inimitable peace. The temple complex is large
and spacious, surrounded by the Tirumalai range. Architecturally,
the shrine is a fine sample of Dravidian achievements. The stone
Gopuram is intricately facaded with celestial figurines and statues.
Inside, the pillars, doorways and the Vimana of the main shrine are
plated with gold. Beside it is a massive rectangular bathing ghat,
enclosed on all four sides by stone steps leading down to the water.
A wide street runs around the entire complex.
Throughout the day,
throngs of devotees mill around this small town. A common sight is
a mixed age group of men, women and children with clean shaven heads.
The sacrifice of hair is of prime importance to devotees visiting
Tirupati. In fact this belief is so popular that near the complex is
a large hall where tonsure is carried out free of charge.
Ironically, just outside this hall, sit pavement dwellers, who sell
back the hair in the from of wigs, or false hair supplements.
The free darshan line was
really long, so we opted for the Rs. 25/- special darshan. We had
driven up from Bangalore, following the old Madras Highway, an
excellent road all the way. At the base of the Tirumalai hill was a
toll barrier, and the consequent hill-road was smooth, beautifully
banked, and had excellent road signs along the winding route. So
here we were, waiting on wooden benches along with many others.
Soon, jostling slowly
along the line, down a long and narrow corridor, barred by a
weathered smooth brass grill, we entered the majestic wooden
entrance. Busy priests scurried about, carrying out their scheduled
important tasks. We reached a bottleneck doorway, crammed with eager
believers, and entered dark hall. On both sides were ornate statues
of incarnations and divinities, heralding the main sanctum of Lord
Tirupati Balaji. It was awe inspiring, as with folded hands, I stood
for the stipulated moment in front of his statue. I was spellbound
by the power radiating from there. A tall immense figure, reassuring
and strong. He could grant wishes for those with true belief. I was
transfixed, until the next person in line elbowed me back to reality.
I stumbled on to receive blessings from the priest
darshan was over.
Now I knew the magnetism
of this pilgrimage-how the power of divine religious can draw
hundreds of thousands of devotees from distant places. It reminded
me of the Mahakumba Mela in 1989 at Allahabad, where four million
pilgrims had collected in January, for a holy dip in the sacred river
Gangas. It was much the same driving force, except that people throng
to Tirupati every day and even more so on religious festivals.
We collected our prasadam
and arrived at the famous Handi of Tirupati, a big cylindrical white
bag open at the top. This collection receptacle receives millions of
rupees each year as offerings. Tirupati is famed to be the richest
temple in the world and indeed, one of the wealthiest institutions in
the country. Much of this wealth is sanctioned towards the pursuit
of religious, social and educational activities. Also, the environs
of the Temple and town are maintained very efficiently by the
authorities to keep Tirupati beautiful and attractive for the
The massive network of
boarding and loading is geared to cater to the tens of thousands who
congregate on special days, for that very special darshan. The
whole town is kept very clean and run in a very organized manner.
Commercialism has crept in though in the form of shops selling
coconuts, laddoos, framed pictures of Lord Balaji and some priests
trying to take advantage of the sincere belief of simple people
people, to make a quick buck. Well some bad comes in with the good
and has to be accepted to an extent.
Keeping this in mind, we
went about engaging a priest for my friends thread ceremony, a
must for all Brahmins. A helpful middle-aged priest took up our
cause and brought us to his house. He made us comfortable there, gave
us hot piasam (rice pudding) to eat and set off to make
all th4e arrangements for the sacred ritual. Having had a bath,
Sanjiv shed his city clothes and donned a dhoti. He then sat
surrounded by priests who conducted the ceremony with dignity and
simplicity. The impartation of the Gayatri Mantra, whispered into
Sanjivs ears, was the final step of the ritual. Now my friend
had a long golden thread called janeou, around his shoulder to
waist, with an added responsibility of uttering the sacred Mantra
every day, for the benefit of the soul.
That evening there was a
storm with thunder and lighting. The temple lit by yellow sodium
vapour light, was glowing hazily. Then it drizzled and the weather
took a wonderful turn. I stood in the darkness, gazing at the golden
temple in the distance, enjoying the moisture laden cool breeze and
reliving the awe and power I had felt facing Lord Balaji in the
somber shrine interior. It was one of those rate spiritual
experiences I treasured. An individual and special perception