Thursday, 20 September 2012

Lord Vyankateshwara at Tirumala - September 2012

Within couple of months after I visited the Prati-Balaji near Pune, I got this opportunity to visit "the actual" Lord Vyankateshwara Temple near Tirupati. Thanks to my school friend Niranjan. He visits Tirupati twice a year (once atleast since last 8-10 years). Since he is aware of that place in and out, I was completely submitted to him and didn’t have to worry about anything. He did the train reservations and stay bookings. All this was done about a month in advance. We had also done the online Darshan Booking for September 7, 2012 (Friday). There are stay facilities also at Tirumala managed by the Trust (can be done through the same website. But those are normally full 2-3 months in advance. Hence, we had to settle for a hotel in Tirupati, the base city of Tirumala.

September 5, 2012 (Wednesday):
We started our journey in the night of September 5, 2012. Our reservation was for the Dadar-Chennai Express (Train No: 12163). It departs from Pune Station at 0010 hours (September 6, 2012).

September 6, 2012 (Thursday):
We skipped our morning breakfast; instead had a powerful brunch of Uttapam, Idli-Wada Chutney and Daal-Wada at Guntakal Junction at 11.00 am. It was awesome and it gave a feel that we are now in South India.

The day passed with getting to know other fellow Maharashtrian passengers in our compartment (also going for Tirupati), playing a game of Rummy (cards) with them and watching the scenery out there. The train was passing through the absolute flat piece of land, there were no hills and hillocks till eyes could reach; something very different from what we find here in Deccan (Maharashtra). There were no signs of rains; still the fields were lush green all over. With small patches of brown piece of land in between, it seemed to be a mixed box of Pista and Chocolate Barfis. There were the fields of Sun Flowers gazing directly towards the Sun.

After almost 17 hours of journey and after passing some of the stations with funny names (like Mantralayam Road, Tadpatri, Kadapa) we reached Renigunta Junction at 1700 hours. For the trains going towards Chennai, this is the last stop for Tirupati. However, for trains going towards Bangalore and Kanyakumari, there is a next station of Tirupati 10 minutes after Renigunta.

We got down at Renigunta Junction. It’s a small and quiet place with nothing special about it except two things – a Rail Junction and its proximity to Tirupati. Of course there is one more mention of history – 1st railway line of Andhra Pradesh was laid from here in the British Era.

Just outside railway station, APSRTC buses (Blue and White stripes) are available for Tirupati and Tirumala. You don’t need to find the location of these buses; just follow other passengers getting off the train. Everybody who gets down here goes to Tirupati, nowhere else. In line with the train arrival timings, 4 APSRTC buses are always available for Tirumala via Tirupati.

Tirupati is a city (with a Municipal Corporation) about 10 kms from Renigunta. Tirumala is the hill on the outskirts of Tirupati city above which is the Lord Vyankateshwara (a form of Lord Vishnu) Temple. He is also known as Balaji, Srinivasa and Govinda. Tirumala hill comprises of seven peaks with the names Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrushabhadri, Narayanadri, and Venkatadri. This temple is on Venkatadri (also known as Venkatachala or Venkata Hill).

My friend wanted to tonsure his head. Hence even though our darshan booking was in the morning next day, we decided to go to Tirumala even before we checked-in our hotel in Tirupati. Bus fare from Renigunta to Tirumala is Rs. 44 per person. Bus starts from Renigunta with its first stop at Tirupati Bus Stand. From here it moves ahead towards Tirumala.

One can drive all the way up with beautiful road with proper markings and supports on the sides. The road twists and turns within the green trees and with dense cover of forest below. There are separate roads for ascending and descending the hill. One can also walk up the hill through well laid concrete path with easy steps. The path is covered all the way to safe-guard from rain and sun. Toilet and water facilities are ample in between. It takes about 3-4 hours to reach the top. There is a facility of handing over the luggage at the bottom which is brought up in the luggage vans; so you don’t need to carry your luggage all the way.
View from the ghat - enroute Tirumala
View from the ghat - enroute Tirumala
There is a place called Alipiri at the foot of Tirumala. Here all the buses and vehicles are stopped at the check-post. Each person is frisked and every bag is screened and then the buses move ahead. The ghat is about 17 kms long and it takes about 45 minutes to reach the top.

We reached Tirumala Bus Stand at 6.30 pm. It’s a City in itself here; developed by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), a trust that is the owner of and governs this place and the temple apart from some other temples. I was impressed with wide concrete roads with dividers, well marked, foot path on sides, ample lighting, free and clean toilets on every cross-road, and lush green trees on both sides and everywhere. I didn’t find a single stray dog or pigs, cows jamming the traffic and beggars on the streets or in the temple complex.

Tonsuring of heads and offering hair to the Lord is one of the practices that is followed here since centuries. Not even men and young boys, but even women and girls tonsure there head completely. This is done at the dedicated places called “Kalyan Katta” which are placed at many locations. Some of them are free while some charge Rs. 10 per head. Obviously, the free ones have more rush, but the paid ones are also not behind. Almost all the residential facilities have a Kalyan Katta in the basement; however, it is reserved for the people staying at the facility. But still one can manage in the crowd. A separate razor-blade is provided for each person in the queue. Legally, nothing is to be paid to the barber. However, people give Rs. 30-60 to him before-hand either as a tip or so as to he does the tonsuring carefully. Normally these Kalyan Kattas are open from 6.00 am to 6.30 pm; however, few odd one’s are open after 6.30 pm also. We went to one such Kalyan Katta after lot of searching.

After Niranjan got his head tonsured, we decided to get back and have dinner in Tirupati. While returning we could see the the temple complex decorated with elegant lighting. This was due to the auspicious "Adhik Maas" (an additional 13th month in a Hindu Calender which comes approximately after every 3 years - equivalent to a Leap Year in Christian Calender). This Adhik Maas is supposed to be the the month of Lord Vishnu. We were lucky in that sense to be at Lord Vyankateshwara's place (a incarnation of Vishnu).
Temple Gopuram
Wall of Temple Complex
We reached Tirupati Bus Stand by 8.30 pm. We had a dinner of South Indian Meals at Hotel Vikram which is just opposite the Bus Stand near Ambedkar Chowk. What we call a Thali in Maharashtra, it is called Meals in South India. It is dish with 4-5 vegetables, Sambar, Rassam, Curds, Papad and Lot Of Rice served on a Banana Leaf which is placed on SS Plate.

After stomach full of dinner we moved towards our place of stay – Hotel Sunil Krishna which is at a walking distance on the other side of railway tracks. Charges for our Non-AC room was Rs. 750 on twin sharing basis. Hotel was OK, with clean rooms and ample parking space, quiet. Away from the hustle-bustle of the main road, still at walking distance from RTC Bus Stand and Railway Station.

September 7, 2012 (Friday):
Next morning we got ready by 8.15 am. We took the bus from RTC Bus Stand for Tirumala. There is this dedicated bus terminal for Tirumala called Eadukondalu Bus Station.

We reached the top by 9.30 am and had a full breakfast at India Coffee House. This is a nice place for a breakfast near the temple complex. Ensure to have a full breakfast in the morning itself, as you may never know how long it will take for the darshan. Normally it takes any way from 2 to 6 hours.

After the breakfast we moved towards the temple complex for darshan. Our booking was for 11.00 am to 12.00 noon and the reporting time was 10.00 am. On the way we kept our shoes and mobiles & camera in the free lockers available for the same. There are some people who sell small metal replicas and pictures stamped on metal sheets of the objects that devotees desire. A Chair represents Job related (Promotions, Increaments, etc), a Book represents Studies related (Exams, Marks, etc), an Aeroplane represents Foreign Trip, various Body Parts represents Medical well-being, etc. Each one costs Rs. 30 (can be bargained a bit upto 20-25). They say that buying the appropriate item and dropping it in the Hundi inside makes their wishes come true.

We had done the Darshan Booking of Rs. 50 per person (Sudershanam). We entered the corresponding line. There are many ways of having a Darshan; separate queues move all over the complex which finally are combined inside just before the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Types of Darshans available:
Sarvadarshnam (meaning Darshan for all): This is the Free Darshan. It takes the maximum time.
Sudarshanam (token System): Rs. 50 per person. Needs to be booked online or through TTD offices located in many cities across India. Bookings need to be done before hand as they get full very fast. Ideally should be booked atleast 1 month before. 1 hour slots are provided and entry is allowed strictly as per slots.
Sheeghra darshan (Special entry / Quick darshan): Rs. 300 per person. In case you do not have a prior booking, you can opt for this. Take a ticket and get in the line. There are no time slots.
Divya darshan: This is for the people who come climbing / walking up the hill.
Special Darshan for Physically disabled and Aged: There is a separate queue at the front of the temple for Physically Disabled, Senior Citizens and people with a child less than 1 years of age. One additional person can accompany.

We got into the line at 10.30 am. There are 16 chambers. Sufficient seating, water and toilets are available. TTD serves milk free of cost also to the devotees in case there is rush. These chambers are useful to move people from one to another in a orderly manner. We were able to directly go to the 4th Chamber from 16th; and we came to know that there is not much rush and that we are lucky. Even though this chamber system is there to maintain order and discipline, people just try to rush through the gates when they are open. Actually, you can wait for all the rush-mongers depart and then peacefully go in the next chamber.

From the chambers, the queue goes to the outer walls of temple. Here all the queues (except for physically disabled and aged) merge together. The black stone walls here show some writings (in a South Indian script) all over. People stuff coins (currency) inside the cracks of these wall. If you see the flooring, you can see the shining fillers (like cement) in between the cracks. It is actually the metal filled instead of cement, by melting the coins which are donated by people but actually are of no use since they are out of circulation (eg. Aluminium coins of 5, 10 and 20 paise).

Then comes the final check-post. Here you need to deposit your water bottles or any of the food items. Ladies are allowed to carry their small purses (obviously if they do not have the banned items). From here we enter the insides of temple. In front you can see the Golden Flag Post (Kodi Maram in Tamil) - a peculiar part of a South Indian temple construction. On the left is the Weigh Balance (Tula). Tula Bharam is the process wherein a person sits on one side and the goods (can be grains, sugar, jaggary, even gold, etc) of his weight are placed on another side and that much amount is donated to the Lord. From here we enter the Main Inner Temple which is covered completely with Gold sheets (foil). Frankly speaking I was not looking at this beauty and couldn't admire it here now, as I was told that once inside, don't look anywhere else, but at the Deity. Because if you miss a second, you might miss the view of a Deity.

At the end, we witnessed some rash behaviour of the people, some pushing and shouting. They were getting desperate after a long wait, maybe. Leaving this moment aside, there was not much issue to fuss about.

While entering the gold structure, always remember to be on the right hand side. This ensures maximum time in front of the Deity and a good view. The moment I was in front of the Deity and when I saw inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, the view was PRICELESS!!! Pardon me, I might fell short of words in explaining this.

The Deity is a good 10-12 feet inside the Sanctorum. There is no external light available; completely dark. There are no electric light mediums. Whatever light falls on the Idol is from oil or ghee Diyas placed in such a way that only the Idol is visible in its golden yellow light. The view is ethereal. The idol is marked by its speciality, the white and red Tilak on the forehead almost encompassing both the eyes. Idol was decorated with flowers and garlands. It was visible to me for almost 10 seconds (might be more also, thanks to my height).

Coming out, my mind experienced ultimate peace. The view inside was running like a movie in front my eyes for some time. A moment later, I came to know it was 12.00 noon. It took us just one and a half hour to finish the Darshan. Unbelievable???

After the Darshan, there are some other processes to do. We took the Prasadam, the spicy rice served in leaf-bowls. Then we took the Teertha (sacred water) while another priest was placing a silver crown on the heads of the devotees. Then we went to the Hundi, called as Sri Vari Hundi (a donation pot). It is here where, devotees donate money, gold and silver ornaments, goods, etc. They also donate few strands of their hair that were tonsured at the Kalyan-katta. And also the stamped metal sheets of replicas of their desires.

Along the side are the rooms with glass walls. Here you can see the insides of the room, where people in Dhotis are seen counting the money that are received in the Hundi. I could see stacks and stacks of currency notes from all denominations from Re. 1 to Rs. 1000. Though I didn't see, there are various sieves to filter out coins as per their denominations based on different sizes. We could identify foreign currencies also - US Dollar, Malaysian Currency, Australian Currency. I had heard that anybody can obtain permission and do the counting. This is considered as a Seva. I am not sure though.

From here we need to go outside for the last process - of getting the famous Tirumala Prasadam, the Laddoo. It is distributed outside the Main Temple. A separate building is available, from where one can get these. For the ticket of Rs. 50 and Rs. 300, 2 Laddoos are received per person. I am not sure about the process of Free Darshan, Divya Darshan and Special Darshan. Even extra Laddoos are available (2 for Rs. 50 and 4 for Rs. 100); however, separate token needs to be taken for this, and there was a long queue for that.

This completed our Darshan in a true sense. We marched outside the Temple Complex (without forgetting our shoes, mobiles and camera obviously) for a lunch at Hotel Annamaya. After the lunch and a brief shopping, we decided to do a round sight seeing trip provided by APSRTC of the nearby places - Paapavinasam (Paap Vinash), Aakash Ganga, Japala Teertham (Hanuman Temple) and Govind Swami Temple. Ticket for this sight seeing is Rs. 24 per head. Buses with Yellow and Green stripes run on this route with Paap-vinasam written on them. The bus drops you to first location and then moves ahead. After you see that place come back to the bus stop and catch another bus that comes. This will take you second place. And so on and so forth.

Paapavinasam is the place where devotees take a Holy Bath in order to wash their sins. Water falls from many showers on the top continuously. There is one dam with the name Gogarbham (गो-गर्भम) prior to this place.
Holy Water Showers

Aakash Ganga is a waterfall said to be generated from the Arrow shot on the ground by the Lord himself to enable the priest to get the water for His pooja.

We didn't find both these places that interesting. The bus also didn't came at Aakash Ganga for about 15-20 minutes. There was a traffic jam in Tirumala due to some VIP visit. Also we had to go back to Tirupati for the night and also before dark we had to visit Padmavati Temple. Hence we dropped remaining 2 places and decided to get back to Tirumala Bus Stand for a Bus back to Tirupati.

At Tirumala Bus Stand also, we didn't got the bus for Tirumala. We had to leave couple of them due to heavy rush. Finally, we were able to force into one of them. It started raining heavily by the time we were descending the Ghat. We witnessed rains for the first time since we left Pune. We reached Tirupati into our hotel room by 6.30 pm. We cancelled our plan for the Padmavati Temple and decided to take rest that evening. We had our dinner at Hotel Mayura (next to Hotel Vikram), a high-end one, bit costly than Vikram. But worth the money considering its ambience and food quality.

September 8, 2012 (Saturday): Next morning, we left our hotel by 9.00 am for a place called Srikalahasti (about 45 kms from Tirupati). We took the bus outside RTC Bus Stand. Ticket for Srikalahasti is Rs. 26 per head.

Srikalahasti (श्रीकालाहस्ती) is a placed located on the banks of River Swarnamukhi. It is famous for its magnanimous temple of Lord Shiva (Kalahastishwar) and Goddess Parvati (Gnana Prasunambika). Temple is popularly known as Dakshin Kashi (दक्षिण काशी). Apart from that, the temple is also associated with Rahu (राहू) and Ketu (केतु).

We reached the temple by 10.30 am. Just at the entrance there are many idols of Rahu and Ketu, which devotees worship. For doing some specific poojas (like Kaala-sarpa-dosh) one needs to contact the administrators inside the main temple.

For the main temple also there are modes of Free Darshan and Paid Darshan (Rs. 50). Since there was not that much rush that, we opted for the free one. One cannot guess looking from outside, how Grand this temple is. Constructed completely in Black Rock, with hundreds of pillars having beautifully carved sculptures. The metal railings are laid in such a way that by the time you reach the main Shiv-linga, you move around every part of the temple acknowledging its beauty and paying tribute to various deities everywhere.

At one point I felt that these metal railings are hampering the beauty of this temple and the carvings, however then I realise that considering the rush this temple witnesses, it is important. It is sad, but true.

Prior to the main Shiv-linga, there is one very different Shiv-linga - by the name Sahastra Shiv-linga. It seems that there are many bead-like carvings all over (these might be 1000 in number and may be representing 1000 Shiv-lingas or the Vishnu Sahastra Naam).

While you enter the Sanctum Sanctorum you can see large Natarajas carved on both sides as Dwarpaals. The Shiv-linga is about 5 feet tall. The Linga form in Kalahasti is believed to represent Vayu. Legend says that even today the flame placed in Garbhagraha inside the temple flickers indicating the presence of the wind; while there is no entry of wind to disturb the flame.

From here the line of railings move towards Goddess Gnana Prasunambika (Parvati) - the divine spouse of Kalahasteeshwara, is said to be the sister of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala. Outside the Sanctum Sanctorum here are beautiful, actually cute little carvings of Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya as Dwarpaals. Idol of Goddess is also life-size (almost 5 feet tall).

Once outside, on the backside of this main temple is a unique temple of Paataal Ganesh. One needs to go down some steps through a small window. Actually due to shortage of time, we didn't went inside. By 12 noon we were on our return journey to Tirupati.

From here we decided to go to Tiruchanoor - to visit temple of Goddess Padmavati (wife of Lord Venkateshwara). For this you don't need to go till Tirupati Bus Stand. Just tell the Conductor and he will drop you couple of kms before. From here one can take another bus for Tiruchanoor or take an auto. Tiruchanoor is about 4 kms from Tirupati.

Here again there are 3 types of Darshans - Free, Rs. 100 and Rs. 200. No prior booking is required like Tirumala. We were already tired of all these line stuff. So we took Rs. 200 ticket of Special Darshan; we were inside in about 15 minutes. The architecture is similar to the Balaji temple on the top. The goddess is also decorated with flowers in the similar manner.

This temple too is governed by the TTD. Similar laddoos are available as Prasadam.

We took a return city-bus for Tirupati and reached the bus stand by 2.30 pm. After a sleepy lunch at Mayura again, we retired on our hotel room beds by 3.30 pm; awaiting for the clock to strike 5.30 pm. We were now started to feel homesick as we were coming to an end to this awesome journey.

We had our reservations done in the Venkatadri Express (Train No: 12798) which starts from Chittoor and comes to Tirupati at 1830 hours. We had to change our train at Gooty Junction in the night. Our next train booking was for Udyaan Express (Train No: 16530) which comes to Gooty at 0245 hours.

This was going to be the crucial time for us to spend at the station (0045 to 0245 hours). This is the only drawback for us Puneites in a Tirupati trip. We do not have a suitable train for a return journey. The better way is go to Bangalore or Kolhapur and then to Pune, in case such inconvenient timings are to be avoided.

September 9, 2012 (Sunday):
We spend most of the day in the comforts of our AC compartment. Niranjan slept most of the time, while I finished last remaining part of the book - Panipat (Marathi novel).

By 1600 hours, we reached Pune.

Some interesting facts and legends:

Loan from Kuber: It is said that Lord Srinivasa Vyankateshwara had taken a loan of about a Crore Gold Coins from Lord Kuber, the richest God, for his marriage with Goddess Padmavati. It is to repay this loan that the devotees are offering so much cash, gold and goods in the Hundi. The loan amount is so large that the Lord is still repaying this debt.

Hair Donation Story: It is believed that some portion of Lord's head became bald when a Cowherd hit him accidentally while trying to kill his cow. When seen by a Princess, she immediately cut a part of her hair and gave it to Srinivasa to cover his bald patch. The Lord was highly impressed. Hair are supposed to be one of the prized possession of a lady. It is a symbol of her beauty. Still that Princess let her hair go. So he promises her that any devotee who comes to his place would offer his / her hair for the Princess.

Daily over a ton weight of hair is collected here which is then sold / auctioned to various organisations for use in hair extension and cosmetics

Goddess Mahalakshmi of Kolhapur (Amba Bai): She is said to be the 1st wife of Lord Srinivasa. Angered with the Lord due to some incidence she left and settled in Kolhapur. Therefore, it is believed today that the Tirupati Darshan is incomplete without a visit to Kolhapur. There is also one train with the name Haripriya Express that runs between Tirupati and Kolhapur

GI for Laddoo: The famous Tirupati Prasadam of Laddoo has been offered Geographical Indication. It means that this Laddoo is linked with this place and nobody can make and sell / distribute this preparation except the TTD. It is something similar to a Patent or Copyright.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post. Dedicated to Sri Kalyana Venkateswarswami, this temple is said to be the site of Sri Padmavathi Ammavaru's and Lord Sri Venkateswaraswami's marriage. Check out good hotels near Tirupati railway station also.