Visit to Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple
We, my friend J. and I left for Tirumala early in the morning by taxi. It was nice to get out of Thiruvannamalai and see a different scenery of small villages, rice fields, lots of greenery, palm trees, all stretched to the mountain range that was on our left as we were heading north on a nicely paved road. We drove through Vellore, a larger and kind-a ugly city. If you have been to Bangalore or Chennai, you will know. About 8 km from Vellore is the Golden Temple which we thought we may visit on our way back. Then through Chittor, not much to say about this place. Gradually the scenery changed to forest and became a bit hilly.
Getting closer to our destination I eventually saw a temple tower but it was in the foothills and lead us to a checkpoint where we had to get out of the car and undergo body-search and baggage check like at the airport. Back into the car our driver took us up the hill with the road winding for 17 km through forest-like scenery and an occasional view down to Tirupati. The uphill drive was pleasant and I thought, the road is not overly crowded so maybe we get to have darshan without a long wait. Along the road going uphill where sign with the mantra, ‘Om Namo Venkateshaya’. I started mentally repeating the mantra.
Reaching the Hill Top
Finally we reached the hill top. I was taken aback by what I saw. Masses meaning thousands of pilgrims, many guesthouses and even more religious souvenirs. It looked like mass tourism had hit this place quite contrary to the lovely drive uphill. Our taxi driver dropped us off and we started walking making our way through the souvenir vendors to the temple. Luckily we found some uniformed personnel that told us the fastest way to have darshan would be going to the physically challenged and elderly queue. My friend J. is blind on both eyes so we qualified to do this. The amazing thing about J. is that he can’t see but travels like crazy and enjoys it, wonderful it is indeed.
We wanted to have darshan first and then walk around. We found the right queue. It was now about 11:30am. After about half an hour wait in the queue, temple authorities took a finger print of the right thumb, shot a photo, and off we went with our visitor pass. Next we found the last seat for our long wait. Blessed we were, devotees who came after us sat on the dusty ground. This queue was to have darshan at 3:00pm only. Our waiting time was sweetened though by a temple staff who offered plenty of buttermilk to drink. I continued with the mantra for Venkateshwara that had an extremely warming effect on my heart chakra; J. who sat a few seats away also did some kind of meditation practice. Time passed. Finally the gate opened and the crowd, perhaps a thousand now, got to move slowly and with a longer stop inbetween towards the temple entrance. Some devotees started chanting, ‘Govinda’ and something else I could not make out.
We finally went through the huge entrance door into a prakaram or court yard where we were further directed to go this or that way. Suddenly someone approached us and asked us to follow him. The man, a temple employee, said we could not enter the temple because I was not wearing a sari or salwar kameez. Bummer. I completely forgot about this tradition at some of the temples. Here at our Arunachaleshwara Temple in Thiruvannamalai I have never experienced any problems with my slightly westernized style of a salwar kameez. So what to do? The employee explained that non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple. Hey, wait a sec. I showed him my mala and other religious items I was wearing. He made a few phone calls and eventually returned with a form I had to fill out in which I declared I was a Hindu. He took my passport info down. I guess we could have lined up in the foreigners queue right away, shown our passport and would not have experienced any problems. We’ll try that queue next time.
Then another temple employee was called to take us personally to have special darshan. We knew we would not have much time for darshan, perhaps 10 or 15 seconds in front of the deity. The crowds are just too large. So the employee took us inside the actual temple with the garba mandir or sanctum sanctorum. Suddenly the man turned me a bit around and asked me to look. There he was, Lord Venkateshwara! He stood there majestically in all his glory, beautiful to behold! What a sight to be seen! My body started shaking, I got emotional. The image of the Lord stood there in a distance of about 15 meters all by himself. The alankar or dress impeccable and just like I had seen many pictures of him but seeing him ‘live’ is another story altogether. After darshan the employee took us to walk around the garba mandir from the outside. Next he took us to receive sanctified water and a ladoo, sweet. Then he showed us the huge hundi, offering box made out of a strong linen that is artfully wrapped and hung from the ceiling. Lastly he had us sit near the wall to the garba mandir for a short meditation. Then he walked us out.
Woohee! What a beautiful experience! Once outside I collected my cell phone that I had to leave outside and my slippers. By now it was already 4:00pm. We knew it would take us a long time to drive back so we did not go explore but will keep this for another time. We made our way back through the religious vendors and food stalls, and got some images of Venkateshwara for our home temples. It took no time for our driver to arrive to pick us up and drive us downhill. Here I noticed that there are also steps for really eager devotees who like to walk up the hill, a pilgrimage that for sure will take many hours.
Needless to say it was too late to visit the Golden Temple in Vellore, something for another time. Driving back as it got dark I could barely see oncoming vehicles for their bright headlights or anything or anyone else on the road. A look onto the dashboard showed me that the driver was driving with the high beam on, and so was everyone else. The driving style in India is worth another story, just so much I buckled up which I usually don’t do here. At about 10:30pm Arunachala had us back in his arms… Thanks to the Divine Beloved for this blessed day.
(C) 2015 Udaysree Nithyananda – All Rights Reserved.
Excerpt from ‘ARUNACHALA – Living in the Foothills of a Sacred Mountain in South India’