Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tirupati





Tirupati- The Vatican of Hinduism, The World's Richest Hindu Temple, A Holy Pilgrimage Center


Tirupati- A place that is holy for people of 3 states Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and which is entwined closely with their day to day lives.

Tirupati- The place where Mr. Ratnakar Sadasyula, aka Yours Truly, was born on November 6, 38 years back.

On the ocassion of my birthday, i dedicate this review to the place where I was born. A place which has a close association with my life. Though i have not spent much time there, i visit this place quite often. And this is my humble tribute to my birth place. For many of us in the Southern part of India, Tirupathi is a place which goes beyond the cliches of "richest Hindu temple" or "Vatican of Hinduism", it is a place which is totally entwined with our lives. Be it marriage, or going abroad or an all important examination or the birth of a new born, seeking the blessings of Lord Venkateshwara, the presiding deity of Tirupati is a must. For all newly married couples in the South, a trip to Tirupathi is mandatory, to seek the blessings of the lord, with the exception of Kerala, where most of them go to Guruvayoor. And the same goes for all new borns, whom their parents bring to Tirupathi, for blessings. Srinivas, a name of the Lord meaning, one in whom Sri( or Lakshmi , the Goddess of Wealth )resides, is as common a name in the Southern part of India, as i guess Smith is in England. Other names of the Lord like Venkateshwara, Balaji, Seshadri, Venkata Ramana are quite common names down South too. Like myself, the Lord is the family deity for many down South. Visit the home of any person from Andhra, Tamil Nadu or Karnataka, and you are sure to find, a calendar of the Lord, or an image in the Puja room. For most of us down South, Tirupathi is not just a temple, not just a place, it is a part of our life.

I had been to Tirupathi quite a number of times, but for me the most awe inspiring sight will always be the multitudes of pilgrims, chanting the name of the Lord in unison. "Yedukondalavada Govinda"( in Telugu) or "Yezhu Malai Govinda"(in Tamil) refers to the Lord of the 7 hills. The chant of "Govinda, Govinda" which RGV quite often used in the backdrop of the movie "Sarkaar" in fact is the holy chant of the Lord, which is heard daily. Other popular chants for the Lord are "Anandha Rakshaka Govinda"( Protector of the Orphaned and Helpless), "Apada Mokkula Vada Govinda"( One who grants the wishes of his devotees). The pilgrims themselves make a fascinating mix barefooted villagers, jeans clad yuppies, old men and women, prosperous businessman, blue collar workers, young teenage girls, middle aged mamies from Chennai, newly married couples you find persons from every caste, class and creed thronging the hills. Per day an average of 60,000 pilgrims visit the temple, and during the festival season of Brahmotsavam during Dussehra time, it shoots up to 100,000 per day on an average. As of now the annual income of the temple varies between Rs 5-6 million, making it one of the world's richest temple.

Tirupathi is often a common name used to refer to the twin towns of Tirupathi and Tirumala. Tirupathi is located near the foothills and is a sprawling town by itself. The main temple of Lord Venkateshwara is located on the 7 hills of Tirumala, a corruption of the Tamil word, Tirumalai, meaning the Hill where the Lord resides. Tirupathi is quite close to Chennai and Bangalore, and many people from these two places, drive down there on weekends. From Hyderabad it is somewhat longer, taking an overnight train journey. The drive from Bangalore to Tirupathi is excellent taking around 6 hours, and an excellent road. The journey from Chennai is shorter taking around 3 hours, but the road is not too good. There are many trains from Chennai, so it is advisable to catch one of them. There are 2 ways to reach the temple, one is by road, many buses are there from Tirupathi to Tirumala, at regular intervals. The other way for the more adventurous and more energetic is by trekking all the 7 hills. Tirumala is located on 7 hills bearing the names of Vrishabadri, Venkatadri, Narayanadri, Seshadri, Anjanadri, Garduadri and Neeladri. The trek starts at Alipiri, and the first stage is one of the toughest. The steepest point is touched here at Alipiri Mettu, this part is colloquially nicknamed as Mokallaparvatam( or the mountain of knees), due to the fact that your knees often touch the steps here. After you cross the first stage, the rest of the path, is somewhat even, and one can walk along admiring the beauty of the nature, and the hills and valleys around. There are refreshments all along the path, where one can have cool drinks, juices or snacks, to keep going along. There is also a lovely deer park, and do stop for some time to take a view of the Chandragiri valley. It is just beautiful. The last part of the trek is again quite a steep climb, and can be very exhausting. This could be metaphorically taken also as the fact that the first and last stages of life are the toughest ones.
Hindu philosophy has 4 ages- Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali, or what are called the 4 Yugas. It is believed that Lord Vishnu appeared on Earth during those Yugas in various avatars or reincarnations. During Treta Yuga it was as Lord Ram, during Dwapara Yuga it was as Lord Krishna, and during Kali Yuga, it is believed to be as Lord Venkateshwara. We have the now popular legend of Lord Vishnu, comming down to earth in search of his consort Lakshmi, after she had left Vaikuntha following a dispute. Lord Vishnu in his wanderings as an ascetic, falls in love with Padmavathi, the daughter of the local chieftain Akasaraja. He sends a marriage proposal through Vakula Devi, who happens to be a reincarnation of Yashoda, Krishna's foster mother. On hearing the news from Vakula Devi, the king gladly consents and thus the marriage of Srinivasa and Padmavathi is performed with blessings of the Gods. On the request of his devotees, the Lord consents to stay on earth during the entire period of Kaliyuga.





The temple is believed to have been established during the 5th century A.D. and it was prominently referred to by the Alwars, a religious group of Vaishnava saints, who sang the praise of Lord Vishnu. It was second only in importance to Sri Rangam as a center of Vaishnavite worship. Many dynasties like the Pallavas( who built the original temple), the Cholas and the Hoysalas contributed to the building of the temple, and gave it generous grants. The temple however reached it's peak of glory during the Vijayanagar empire period during the 14th century. Sri Krishna Deva Raya, the great Emperor, was the one who donated Gold and Jewels to the temple, and he was responsible for the golden roof of the sanctum sanctorum. In the temple one can see idols of the emperor along with his 2 wives. Chandragiri near Tirupathi, was a second capital of the Vijayanagara empire, while the emperors would hold their coronation ceremonies at Tirumala. During the reign of the Penukonda chieftains, the great poet Annamacharya composed those wonderful kirtans in praise of the Lord.The TTD( Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam) was established in 1932 by a Govt of India act, and was initially administered by the Madras Government. After the reorganization of states, Tirupathi became a part of Andhra Pradesh, and the Govt of A.P. now runs the TTD. Tirupathi is located quite close to Tamil Nadu border, and along with Telugu, Tamil and Kannada languages are also spoken widely here. Most of the signs are in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, along with English and Hindi.

One of the most outstanding features of Tirumala is it's computerized queue system, to handle the load of pilgrims. Considering the fact that the place receives around 60000 pilgrims daily. The system works the following way. Devotees wishing to avail of the Darshan of the lord, have to register themselves with the TTD centers in various cities all over India and now this is done online also. On registration, they get a bar coded wristband, with the expected time and date of entry into Vaikuntam Q complex. So that in effect means, instead of spending all day at the Temple, you enter the Q complex during the indicated time. This in effect has reduced the waiting time from 6-8 hours to around 1-2 hours, of course during the peak periods, one has to be prepared to wait for 4-5 hours, and during the Brahmotsavam times it goes up to 8 hours, so it is better to skip a visit during that period. The temple itself is an excellent specimen of Dravidian architecture, and bears many influences like Chola, Hoysala, Vijayanagara and Pallava. The main deity located in the sanctum sanctorum, is traditionally decorated with jewels, gold and ornaments. The hands of the Lord, are studded with many precious stones like rubies, diamonds, emeralds. And the crown of the Lord, is one of the most precious ones, studded with precious stones. Comming to the idol itself, the Lord is depicted as having 4 hands. One hand is giving the blessings to the devotees, while the rear hands hold the shankh( conch) and the Sudarshana Chakra( discus). The conch dispels ignorance, and leads one from darkness to light, while the discus is used to strike terror in the hearts of evil doers. The center of the Lord's face is covered with a large vermillion mark called as Namam, covering the eyes. This is done ostensibly to protect the devotees from the Powerful glare of the Lord.

For travellers going to Tirumala, there are many cottages and guest houses on top of the hill, and accomodation is quite decent. However like any other Govt organization, the TTD itself is notoriously corrupt, and in some of the ordinary guesthose complexes, the facilities suck. I guess even the fear of God, does not stop corruption in India. For those planning to stay overnight, there are some lovely parks in Tirupati, where one can stroll around. One of these parks has a huge bas relief in marble of Lord Krishna giving the Gitopadesha to Arjun. There are a large number of good quality vegeterian restaurants where one can have a good meal.


As also the Annadanam counters run by TTD, which offer free food to all pilgrims. One more unique feature of Tirupathi is the act of tonsuring one's head, and surrendering the hair to the Lord. Many do it ostensibly as an act of Thanksgiving to the lord. Many newly borns also have their hair tonsured, either in their 1st or 3rd year. Apart from Tirumala, Tirupati is itself famous for the Govindarajaswamy Temple a massive temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and the Kapilateertham, a Shiva temple, famous for it's beautiful waterfall nearby. Also many do visit the nearby Alamelu Manga shrine dedicated to Goddess Padmavathi. The other famous temple close by is the Sri Kalahasti temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, so called because a spider(Sri), a snake( Kala) and an elephant( Hasti), all worshipped the Lord in their own way. An excellent specimen of Dravidian architecture, this temple is famous for the rahu-ketu pooja, used to ward off evil influences.


Apart from the temple, Tirupati is an educational center itself, and the Sri Venkateshwara University, caters to the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh covering the 4 districts of Kurnool, Cudappah, Chitoor and Anantapur as well as the Southern Coastal districts of Nellore and Ongole. This university has an excellent engineering college and medical college affiliated to it, and some of India's leading persons hail from this region. Both the current and ex chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu and Dr. Y.S.Rajashekar Reddy are alumni of the University. India's second president Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, was born in Tirutani, close to Tirupati, and spent a good part of his life here. The Padmavathi Mahila Viswavidyalaya is one of India's leading universities, and a reputed center for women's education. The Home Science Department has been rated as one of the top most. Today whatever i am in life, it is all due to the blessings of Lord Venkateshwara, and i shall forever be grateful to the Lord for giving me a chance to be born in his holy presence.