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Tirupati: Holy of Holies

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Between 30,000 to 50,000 people visit the hill top temple town of Tirumala on an average day. On festive days and special occasions, the pilgrim rush is even higher. No other temple in India can be said to have the universal appeal of the temple of Sri Venkateswara. People from far and near come to have ‘darshan’ of this deity.

Even though the famous temple is at Tirumala, when one is going to this temple, one refers to the town of Tirupati, nestling at the feet of the seven hills that gives Lord Venkateswara the Tamil name ‘Ezhumalai’ or Lord of the Seven Hills. These days, the town is dotted with hotels of all kinds, many with imposing exteriors and coloured pennants fluttering in their driveways.

Since getting ‘darshan’ is the primary aim of all the pilgrims who arrive at Tirupati, a visit to this place usually takes a predictable form. On the outskirts of the town, from an area called Alipiri, the winding ghat road that goes through the hills towards the temple begins its ascent. No private buses are allowed to go up this road. Even if you have gone in a private bus belonging to any other travel company, or government tourism agency, you have to shift to an APSRTC bus from this point to go up.

Alternately, of course, you can cover the distance to the temple on foot, but only if you have vowed to do so for some reason. This form of modern penance is an offering many make as an expression of gratitude for what their Lord has granted them. The climb takes one through an incredibly difficult and steep beginning stretch, until the Kali Gopuram, followed by a much easier walk through the forested hillside where chameleons sun themselves on stone pillars, a deer park is maintained by the Devasthanam authorities and intermittent chants of ‘Govinda! Govinda!’ revive the flagging spirits of those who show signs of tiredness. Undoubtedly the most refreshing drink to have on this trek is the lime-salt-soda concoction that vendors give you every few hundred yards. But a restaurant, with tea and toilet amenities can be found half way up on a plain area between the hills, where a tall statue of Hanuman stands with folded hands.

Reaching the top, there are various points to join the darshan queue at the Vaikuntha complex, and these depend on the category of ‘darshan’ you have paid for – whether this relates to a special daily or weekly pooja, or is a general darshan. For free darshan, you join the ‘dharma darshan’ queue, but this may mean that your total waiting period can be anything from three or four hours to thirteen or fourteen!

Much negative publicity has been done about the way officials push you in the final moments before the deity. In fact, their cry of ‘Jaragandi’ or ‘Keep Moving’ in Telugu has become the standard way in which many remember Tirupati. But actually, theirs is an unenviable job. Imagine dealing day and night with human traffic that runs into thousands, and on many days, into lakhs. And in fact, the power of Sri Venkateswara’s darshan is such that there is no question of standing and staring! In those few seconds that one is allowed to look at Him, usually enough communication takes place for us to feel the effects on our return home, in some form or the other. In the outer periphery of the temple, one can spend some quieter moments in contemplation. Admiring the golden ‘vimana’ of the sanctum sanctorum, putting something in the ‘hundi’ to repay Lord Venkateswara’s eternal debt, and eating the free ‘prasad’ of tamarind rice, sweet ‘pongal’ or similar items, completes the Tirupati darshan.

Of course, the small temples and shrines dotting the hill top, including the ‘Bedi’ Hanuman standing with folded hands looking towards the temple are worth a visit, as are the Papavinasham and Akashaganga waterfalls. An idea of how ancient this place of worship is can be gauged by the fact that scriptures describe Hanuman’s monkey mother Anjana performing twelve years of ‘tapasya’ here, in her wish for a child! Whichever aeon that happened in was far removed from our own Kaliyuga, and yet, Tirupati has remained the same magnet, drawing devotees from all walks of life and all over the world.

A visit to Tirupati is in some ways a test of endurance, and in other ways a test of our love and tolerance for other humans. It serves to uplift our spirits and gives us the necessary boost to face daily tasks and duties once again. Considering the daily numbers, it is a sure fact that many Indians will visit Tirupati at least once in their lifetime, and many among these people may do so much more than once.

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Responses to Tirupati: Holy of Holies

  1. 1 girish mudaliar

    the information was nice but i need more pictuer
    of lord balaji

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