A Holy Frenzy - Tirupati
by Sandhyaa V
The Temple Gopuram
The 'foot' path to Thirumala top
Temple premise at night
Entrance check point at Seshachalam hills
Fervent shrills calling out to the Lord, echoed loudly inside the Hindu Temple of Sri Balaji, located in Tirumala, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in India.
I was as much ecstatic as the rest of the crowd thronging the inner circumambulation of the holy complex. I did not know and did not even mind how I was pushing along with hundreds of other people in a queue system, since the past so many hours, eagerly to catch just a minute’s glimpse of the ‘divine form’ right inside the sanctum-sanctorum. **
‘One of the richest temples in the whole world’, ‘Lord of the seven hills’, ‘Where wishes are fulfilled’ and ‘Saviour of mankind from all troubles’ ... were not the only irresistible phrases which set me on a spiritual journey to discover the mystical power all by myself in the sacred town of Tirupati, which is the most popular religious landmark for ‘Hindus’ in India, and incidentally records the highest numbers of pilgrimage footfall all round the year, compared to any other place of worship. Advised by an elderly person to hold onto my faith, I visited the heavenly abode of the Almighty.
So I reached my destination with utmost sincerity and found myself gaping in awe at the pristine natural surroundings of the ‘Seshachalam hills’ – the name given to the seven hills in Tirupati after crossing which, one reaches Tirumala on top of the seventh hill, that houses the ‘Vaikuntam’ or the Lord’s ‘paradise’. It is believed that Lord Balaji self manifested himself here thousands of years ago, and He has surely cherry-picked an extremely beautiful spot on earth, I thought!
On a positive note, I decided to go on the ‘foot-path’ to reach the sacred temple. It was supposed to be a tedious climb of 3500 steps, spanning a total of nine kilometres across all the seven hills; and I must say it was by far one of my best experiences which surprisingly exceeded my initial expectations. It felt like as if I was walking up on a stairway to heaven!
The stairs were very comfortably wide and well laid amidst the lush greenery of the hills. The entire staircase was covered with a concrete roof to protect from both the sun and the rains. From the beginning till the end of the trek, I continuously drank in the breathtaking views of the spectacular landscape filled with a variety of tree species, birds and little animals. I was most impressed with the cleanliness maintained all along the pathway, as it is indeed a tough task in such a place where innumerable people are constantly climbing up or down throughout the day.
Upon reaching Tirumala after a few hours of devout trekking, I felt a sense of accomplishment – at least for having crossed the halfway mark as I was beginning to believe that visiting this Lord was nothing short of a diligent goal. If trekking up the seven hills is one part of the task; standing, waiting and passing through long queues to seek ‘Darshan’ (or vision) of the God comprises rest of the task.
I had saved the second half of my task for the next day. I spent the rest of my evening casually walking around the revered hill-top and there was no end to my admiration towards the splendid creation; I could not have imagined a mini sanctified town upon a hill any better myself until I saw it with my own eyes!
Polished concrete roads, delicately pruned gardens with colourful flowers and water fountains, adequate number of guest houses for thousands of pilgrims who visit in a day, hygienic food courts, a line of souvenir shops and a highly secured compound wall which houses the Holy Temple; are not the only words to describe this elaborate, massively planned and yet ‘humble and pious’ establishment.
Again, the most notable feature is the laborious exercise to keep the locale spic and span in spite of the unstoppable swarms of people, all who come for the Lord’s mercy. In my opinion, Tirumala had dedicatedly put our Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modiji’s ‘Swachh Bharath’ or ‘Clean India’ mission into action in full form.
Early next morning, I woke up to the ‘suprabatam hymns’ or the daily recitals to awaken the deity at dawn, which is considered to be auspicious. I took a piping hot water bath in my room at my guest house, got ready with much enthusiasm and walked down the street for a delicious South Indian breakfast. Soon after, I proceeded to attain the second milestone of my trip – ‘darshan’ of the divine being.
I walked inside the magnificent gates of the grand Temple with my ‘darshan ticket’ and followed instructions given by the security personnel to reach an entrance to a building where a completely computerized biometric checking of my personal identity was verified. Thereafter I was shown directions to join a ‘queue’ where hundreds of people had already accumulated before me. In a matter of a few seconds I was sandwiched between another herd of people who joined behind me.
I was moving ahead with the enthralled troupe, though at a snail’s pace. By now I had no clue regarding how near or how far I was standing in my line for there were at least six rows of devotees, all of whom seemed to be transfixed and only had prayers in their lips and minds.
I guessed that three to four hours must have passed in the same fashion; the temple authorities had designed a super tricky, winding and meandering route, passing through a couple of edifices constructed adjacent to the main Temple structure, making the process long and time consuming. Probably, this was their only solution to prevent chaos and stampede, and to allow a manageable number of individuals inside the central deity hall, at a time without mishaps.
Finally.., I saw an imposing wooden doorway called the ‘Maha Dwara’ upon which rests a five storied ‘Gopuram’ or the Temple Tower! This is the actual entrée to the ‘fortress’ where the residing God is present in the innermost chamber, shielded by enduring ‘golden gates’, which are thrown open to public during darshan timings. Temple volunteers stationed at regular intervals made sure that we advanced in the right track. Once inside, I did not even have to struggle to find my steps; I was simply floating down in the jam-packed frenzy subconsciously knowing that I would definitely be delivered in front of the God soon.
My excitement grew in leaps and bounds as I was inching closer and closer. I threw away my inhibitions and joined the hysterical motion of the crowd; I cried out the lord’s name in chorus with the rest of the people as we stepped into the key enclosure to reach the sanctum-sanctorum.
This was the moment!
The moment for which I had committed the last two days – I saw the Great Lord Balaji!! Standing tall, supreme and shining bright against dimly lit lamps in a dark room; dressed in the choicest of silk fabrics and adorned with the most expensive jewellery. I fixed my eyes on the glorious idol, joined my hands in piety... but... even before I could think or utter a few words in observance, I was shoved and thrusted out by the guarding officials to make way for the other worshippers.
That was it! That fleeting moment of grace, a fleeting moment of vision, a fleeting moment of bliss, was all that every single human being who came there was granted.
I was totally mesmerized by the intensity of devotion finely complimenting the power of the ‘stone idol god’ which magnetically attracted countless number of men, women and children, to this spiritual haven, for many centuries and still going strong with an ever increasing pouring-in of the faithful; only to gain the ‘divine sight’ that lasts for no more than just a fraction of a minute, and yet churns a whole hearted feeling of deep satisfaction.
Truly amazing! **
After reaching home, I opened my ‘prasadam’ (edible offering given to devotees) packet to savour the famous Tirupati ‘laddoo’, a ball-shaped sweet made of flour, jaggery, ghee, cashews and cardamom. As I relished the unique taste of the confection in my mouth, I recalled my ethereal expedition and realized that no matter which religion we talk about, the concept of GOD is a celestial existence; and no matter how often this concept is challenged, it is a fact that no amount of scientific or logical explanations are enough to justify the faith held by millions of people all over the world in various forms. It is a delicately preserved belief which people trust immensely not only for their own well-being but also to remind them often that all persons born on earth have an equal right to a peaceful and harmonious living with each other, irrespective of the ‘kind of faith’. ***