Over the weekend, I made a quick and sudden visit to Tirupathi and Tirumala, after many many years. Lord Venkateshwara (aka Srinivasa aka Govinda) is also my family deity, so it’s an annual ritual to make a family visit to this world-renowned town in Andhra Pradesh. Having missed on several of those annual visits in the recent years, I decided to make that visit happen this year when dad asked me.
For starters, going to this temple town is an experience in itself. It’s not like a regular trip. Dad and I chose this one-day package tour which is the most convenient. So we left in the evening at about 9 pm and reached Tirupathi in the early hours the next day, at about 2:30 am. The journey was rather ok, in the Volvo air-conditioned bus, except for the occassional dripping of water from the AC duct, right on to my face, hands, clothes, etc.
At 2:30 am, we reached the hotel for a quick stopoever to get ready and change to be back in the bus at 4:30. We were then taken to the Magapura temple in Tirupathi. The deity here is Padmavathi Devi, the wife of Lora Venkateshwara. Legend has it that the Lord stayed here with his wife, before going to Tirumala.
When we reached the temple, it was yet to be opened. We waited in line among the first 50 people, to witness the Suprabhatham. Suprabhatham is the first seva of the day, wherein the deity is woken up with the chanting of hymns. It’s considered very auspicious to witness this. Two priests chant the suprabhatham while the deity is readied for public viewing. The priests and temple staff are the first to get darshan, after which the public are allowed.
This took less than half an hour and dad was very happy with the darshan. After a quick cup of coffee, we proceeded to our next stop, where a local government bus would pick us up to take us to Tirumala, the hill-top. We were asked to leave our footwear and belongings (eletronic items) in our bus itself. The journey atop the hill is very scenic and one that I enjoyed during family trips, when we would travel by a hired car. But this time, I slept through it, tired and exhausted as the previous day was also packed with the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. We reached Tirumala by about 7.
We immediately got off and proceeded to the 300 rupees ‘queue’. My dad wanted to tonsure his head couldn’t, because we directly proceeded to the darshan queue. The guide told us its better this way, because the crowd was expected to increase through the day due to brahmotsavam which began on September 11th. Brahmotsavam is an auspicious celebration in Tirumala, over a period of nine days. It’s significance is traced back to when Lord Brahma (creator) workshipped Lord Venkateshwara, thanking him for protecting mankind.
However, we managed to reach the main temple within the next two hours, jostling through the crowds. It’s interesting to see the number of people and the kinds of people who come just for a glimpse of the Lord. Even if there are different queues, ‘free’, ‘Rs 50’ and ‘Rs 300’, it all converges at the main temple, into one. The temple was decorated extensively because of brahmotsavam, with orchids, lilies, carnations, roses and so on. There was no special darshan because of brahmotsavam and so we got to see the Lord from a distance of about 30 feet.
After we came out of the main shrine, dad showed me the gallery where priests count and sort out the money that is donated to the Tirupathi Tirumala Devasthanam. And what a sight it was! It was like busy kitchen, with sacks and sacks of vegetables. Only that they were no vegetables but wads of money. And what a show that they actually have a glass wall to tease the visitors who stop by to stare at this, just after darshan of the deity!
We then made our offerings at the hundi and proceeded outside. Going outside was another rigmarole, with volunteers controlling crowds. It was very organised though, I must add. Once outside, we received prasadam which was rice made mainly from sesame seeds. Tasted a bit odd for my palette but no complaints! The place where everyone was devouring the prasadam was of course quite a sight again, dirty if I may add. With everyone walking barefoot, on rice, mud, slush and water, all put together. I was wincing!
We finally headed out looking for our guide, who so far did nothing to live upto his name of ‘guide’. He regularly ensured that the entire batch were split and lost, delaying the entire tour many times. He then bought the famous ladoo for all of us and sitributed the same, after which we walked towards the bus station.
Two families with children wanted to tonsure their heads. So while they were doing that, the guide asked us to finish breakfast at one of the fast food joints, just outside the temple. I wasn’t too hungry, looking at the food stalls especially, but finally had two vadas with sambar. I skipped the watery chutney. Dad had idlis and vadas. We then washed it all down with a cup of hot steaming coffee. We ended up waiting a good one hour for the others who went for the tonsuring to return. Once they were back, we had to wait another 15 to 20 minutes or so, for the bus. When it finally arrived, we started our way back to Tirupathi and reached at about noon. I was glad to be back in the AC bus, back to wearing my footwear and sleep! Our guide bid his goodbyes to us while we headed back to Bangalore. At about 1 pm we stopped for lunch briefly on the Chittoor-Tirupathi highway. I forcibly had a north Indian thali, waiting to go back and sleep in the bus.
With no more stops to make, we reached Bangalore at about 6.30. Dad and I got off at Byappanahalli on Old Madras Road and took an auto home.
This was our trip, under 24 hours.