Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The rains are here!!!!!

Ah! At last! I can hear the pitter-patter of the drops as they fall on my window pane….. When I open the window, the smell of wet earth fills my nostrils… how I have waited for this! Since the first week of June, we have been preparing ourselves for the monsoon, and every day that passed without rain was a depressing one. Then, we were hit by the water-cut, which only made things worse. All over, people are praying for rain. While some look at scientific methods, others perform havans. Some, like my mother-in-law and her friends, read slokas which are guaranteed to bring rains. Whatever the method, the aim is just one – a normal monsoon – not just for Bombay, but all of India. As the days passed, and July approaches, the hopes dipped, and all over, there was talk of a missed-monsoon and drought! But at last, there is hope!

Since the last two days, it has been raining here (at least in our locality). The Met Department says these are just pre-monsoon thundershowers, but whatever they are, they have raised the hopes of the monsoon coming, if not on time, at least, as they say “Better late than never!”

I remember the days when I used to walk to the bus stop wading through knee deep water, but never late to catch the bus! While some complained about the water and the incessant rain, for most of us it was a pleasure that we got just for 3 months in the year, and made the most of it. Today, neither do I wade through water, nor does Samhith, for is school bus picks him up and drops him right on our doorstep!

Yesterday, it poured so heavily that I waited downstairs for him with an umbrella for him, and thought of carrying my camera along to while away the time… Here are some glimpses from my neighbourhood in the rain……………

Here is the sky just before it began pouring.... I was fascinated by the beautiful shade of blue.....

And here is the same scene a little while later....

Drops of water....

On the road...

When I came down, there was this crow getting drenched just inside our building....

here's a closer look..

By the time Samhith came, it was totally drenched, and wasn't moving at all...... i wondered if it was alive...

10 minutes later, it flew away!!!!!

Let's just hope the rains come on in full force. If they do, I shall keep my camera ready for more photographs!!

The Legend of Sri Venkateswara Part 6 - The Temple today

This is the final instalment of the story of Lord Venkateswara. Please read the earlier portions before reading further...

Part 1 - The Lord descends on Earth

Part 2 - The Lord finds a mother... and also a wife...

Part 3 - The story of Padmavati

Part 4 - A marriage is fixed.. and the finance too...

 Part 5 - The marriage.. and after....

It is believed that the lord remained in the temple in person for a long time in the early part of Kali Yuga. It was only when the age progressed, and the real dark nature of the age started progressing that he decided to transform himself into the statue which is seen today. It is believed that He has shown himself to some of his dearest devotees since then.

It is also believed that Padmavati remains in her hometown at Tiruchanur, while she remains symbolically in the heart of the Lord on the hill. Hence, it is customary to visit her at Tiruchanur after visiting the lord. Also, since it is believed that Mahalakshmi remains in Kolhapur, at the same time occupying the other half of the heart of the lord, it is also believed by some that one should make a trip to Kolhapur after visiting the lord at Tirupati!

Govindaraja Perumal, whom I have mentioned in my earlier post, is considered his elder brother. In some legends, he is said to be Vakula Devi’s so. It is he who keeps records of the amount due to Kubera, and takes care of the repayment. Hence, it is considered respectful to visit him before the lord.

Vakula Devi also has a shrine right outside the shrine of Srinivasa. After seeing the lord, we first see her and then proceed to make our offerings. Right opposite the hundi in which we make our offerings is an image of Mahalakshmi on one of the pillars. It is considered auspicious to pray to her after making our offerings.

Here is a summary of the order in which we are supposed to visit these deities
1. Govindaraja Perumal – on the foothills
2. Varaha Swamy – just outside the temple of Srinivasa
3. Lord Srinivasa
4. Vakula Devi
5. Offerings – Mahalakshmi
6. Padmavati – Tiruchanur
7. Mahalakshmi – Kolhapur

There have been various other legends about Tirumala. In Hindu mythology, there are also allusions to the deity actually being an image of Shiva, and also other stories suggesting that it is really a Devi temple. While it was Sri Ramanujar who settled a dispute among the Shaivites and Vaishnavites, by giving the lord his choice of arms, there are also other stories which hint of Buddhist influence on the temple too. Here, however, we enter into uncharted waters, and I shall refrain from giving opinions. Today, the temple is most popular among all sections of Indian society, and a mention of the temple brings to mind only the HUGE crowd, unparalleled at any other temple! At times, it can be a terrible experience, but I have been lucky enough to have some memorable experiences, which have been good enough to make me forget the no-so-good ones….. Here’s hoping I get more good experiences to communicate with all of you!

The Legend of Sri Venkateswara Part 5 - The Marriage.. and after...

Please read the earlier parts of the story before proceeding further:

Part 1 - The Lord descends on Earth

Part 2 - The Lord finds a mother... and also a wife...

Part 3 - The story of Padmavati

Part 4 - A marriage is fixed.. and the finance too...

The financial aspect having been settled, preparations for the wedding commenced in full swing. These days, just a simple marriage in an Indian family has an attendance running into hundreds, and in a big marriage, into thousands. Imagine, then, the attendance at the lord’s marriage – all the 33 crore gods of Indian mythology, not to mention the sages and Demi Gods… the list must have been endless….. And it was the lord’s mount, Garuda, who was deputed to dispatch the invitations personally to each and every one of them!!!!!! The lord was dressed in gorgeous garments by the gods themselves, and they all proceeded towards Narayanapuram, where they were welcomed by the king and queen, who were thrilled by the sight! All their qualms about the suitability of the groom vanished as they saw the splendour of the groom and his party! Now you know where the instinct to show-off on the groom’s side in Indian families comes from!

The marriage took place at Narayanapuram, where the king had made all the arrangements for this huge entourage of the groom. Later, a temple was built at this place to commemorate the marriage. Today, this place is called ‘Narayanavanam’, and is located about 40 Kms from Tirupati. Though I have yet to visit this temple, I have heard that it is a beautiful temple, and there are different portions of the temple associated with the different rituals performed during the marriage. A must-visit in the area, certainly!

Marriage in Indian tradition has many rituals and practices, based mainly on faith or belief, and one such belief is that it is inauspicious to climb a hill or mountain for 6 months after getting married. Hence, the lord and his consort couldn’t move to their home on the seven hills immediately after the wedding. They chose to spend the 6 months in sage Agasthya’s ashram on the foothills, instead. Today, the Agasteeswarar temple is located at the site, on the banks of the Swarnamukhi River. It is an idyllic spot today, so it must have been heavenly in those days of yore….. Surely a honeymoon worth envying, wouldn’t you say???

Meanwhile, Padmavati’s father, Akasa rajan breathed his last, and the kingdom was divided between the prince and the king’s brother, after a dispute between the uncle and nephew, which was settled by lord Srinivasa. As a thanksgiving, the uncle, Thondaiman, built the temple on the seven hills for the lord. Lord Brahma himself presided over the ceremonies for sanctifying the temple, a tradition which is still carried on as the Brahmotsavam.

While the lord was thus laying down the foundations of what was to become the most visited and popular temple in India, thronged by people of all castes and creeds, Mahalakshmi was still estranged from her lord, meditating at Kolhapur. When the time came for her to be reunited with her spouse, sage Narada approached her, and informed her of all the happenings at Tirumala. She was livid when she heard that the lord had taken another wife, and, in her anger, rushed to confront the lord. He, however, calmly appeased her, and reminded her of their previous incarnations, and also the reality of Padmavati. Mahalakshmi calmed down and accepted Padmavati as her sister.

Now the lord tackled another issue – that of repayment of the loan he had incurred. He knew that without Mahalakshmi, he could never repay the huge amount, and requested her to stay by his side and bless the people who came to him for help. With Lakshmi’s blessings, people would gain wealth, but with wealth would come all the problems associated with it. This would bring people to the lord in search for salvation, and with their offerings, he would be able to repay the loan! And remember, this would only repay the interest due to Kubera! The principal would still be due till the end of Kali Yuga!

Coming up: Part 6: The temple today

The Legend of Sri Venkateswara Part 4 - A marriage is fixed.. and the finance too.....

Please read the first 3 parts before reading further..
Part 1 - The Lord descends on Earth

Part 2 - The lord finds a mother.. and also a wife...

Part 3 - The story of Padmavati

Let's continue the story after Sinivasa and Padmavati met at the lake....While Srinivasa and Padmavati pined for each other, their parents worried about what was ailing their children. At last, after much questioning, Srinivasa told Vakula Devi about the incident and told her that he wished to marry Padmavati. Forestalling her worry that the marriage would be impossible, he also told her Padmavati’s real identity, as well as his. He then asked her to go to Akasa raja and ask for Padmavati’s hand in marriage to her son. Vakula Devi was only too delighted to go to the king on such a blessed errand.

Once Vakula Devi had left, Srinivasa wondered what kind of a reception she would have at the palace. He decided to make things easier for her, and decided to take matters into his own hand. Disguising himself as a gypsy, he hurried to the palace, where everyone was worried about the princess who was moody and sullen since the day at the lake. In India, gypsies are well known for reading fortunes accurately, and Srinivasa as a gypsy was welcomed into the palace to discover what was wrong with the princess. Reading the princess’ palm, the gypsy-Srinivasa informed the queen that the princess had met a hunter at the lake, and had fallen in love with him. He also informed her that the hunter was none other than the lord, who was destined to marry Padmavati.

The queen was happy that the lord would soon arrive to marry her daughter, but she worried about the fact that in his form as Srinivasa, the lord was a poor man with few means of sustenance. How could she let her daughter marry a pauper? The king had no such qualms, knowing that the princess would follow her destiny.

When Vakula Devi arrived at the palace, she was received with due honour and taken to the king, where she laid her request before him. The king, as befitted the occasion, replied that he would reply after consulting his guru and the elders. Accordingly, after Vakula Devi had hurried with the good news to Srinivasa, he called on the Sage Suka and asked for his advice. The sage was well aware of the incarnation of the lord, and was happy to assure the king that this marriage had the blessings of the gods. Then, the king consulted the guru of the Devas, Brihaspati, to settle on an auspicious date for the marriage. The tenth day of the month of Vaikasi (the Tamil month in the period of mid-May to mid-June), which was a Friday, was chosen as the most auspicious one. Sage Suka was chosen as the messenger to go to Srinivasa with the marriage invitation. He was too happy to be the one to carry the blessed tidings, and set off towards Seshachala. Srinivasa received the sage and happily agreed to arrive at the marriage venue at Narayanapuram on the decided date.

Now that the marriage had been fixed, Srinivasa turned his thoughts towards another aspect – the funds for the marriage. He was aware of the queen’s worry regarding his present situation, and respected her concern as befitting a mother. He had to look for a solution, since Lakshmi was still estranged from him. Meanwhile, Narada had informed all the gods about the approaching marriage, and they all converged at Seshachala.

Recognizing the problem of funds, all eyes turned to Kubera, the god of wealth. It was decided that Srinivasa would obtain a loan from Kubera, under the rules of the Kali Yuga – he would borrow one crore and fourteen lakh gold coins from Kubera, and would pay interest on the amount. Since he was, at the moment, unable to repay the loan, the lord promised that as the Kali Yuga progressed, millions of devotees would arrive at Seshachala to get his blessings, and their offerings would go towards settling the debt incurred for the marriage. This arrangement was accepted by Kubera and the deal was stamped by the approval of the gods.

Coming up: Part 5: The marriage.... and after...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Legend of Sri Venkateswara Part 3 - The story of Padmavati

Please read the earlier parts before going further -
Part 1 - The Lord descnds on Earth
Part 2 - The Lord finds a mother... and his wife too...

Vedavati was a great devotee of Vishnu who wished to marry the lord himself. She performed great penances with this aim. However, once, the demon king Ravana was passing by, and was enamoured by her beauty. He tried to convince her to marry him, but she refused. When he tried to force her, she invoked Agni (Fire) by the powers of her penance, and fell into it, cursing Ravana that his downfall would be brought about by a woman, and she would be responsible for her death.

Years later, Ravana planned to abduct Sita while Rama and Lakshmana were away. Coming to know of the plan, Agni took his place in the Lakshmana rekha – the line drawn by Lakshmana to protect Sita. When Sita crossed the line to give alms to Ravana disguised as a sage, Agni subtly interchanged Vedavati for Sita, and sent Sita to his wife for her safety. It was thus Vedavati who lived in the Ashoka Vatika at Lanka, and who brought about the downfall of Ravana. When Rama killed Ravana on the battle field, he asked Sita to undergo Agni Pariksha, or trial by fire. When Sita entered the fire, Agni appeared with both Vedavati and Sita, and handed them both to Rama, saying that both deserved to be by his side. Rama was, however, committed to remain monogamous, and promised Vedavati that he would marry her at a later time, during Kali Yuga. (In some legends, it is believed that while Lakshmi was Sridevi, the goddess of prosperity, Vedavati was a form of Bhudevi – the goddess of earth, and another wife of Vishnu)

Time passed and the Kali Yuga arrived. Akasa Raja was the king of Narayanapuram, a kingdom on the foothills of Seshachala. He and his wife were pious and erudite, but they had no offspring. They performed many yagnas to beget children, but to no avail. Finally, they were advised to perform the puthra kameshti Yagna (the same one performed by Dasaratha). A plot of land was chosen for the purpose, and men were assigned to plough it to prepare it for the yagna. While ploughing the field, a golden box was found, which was taken to the king. Inside it was a golden lotus with a small baby girl on it. The king was thrilled – at last he had a child! He had little idea that this was no ordinary child – this was Vedavati (or Bhoomi Devi), destined to marry the lord in the form of Srinivasa. He took the child home and named her “Padmavati” – the one who came from a lotus, and brought her up with love and affection. She was a beautiful and gifted child who learnt and mastered all the arts as a fish takes to water.

As Padmavati grew older, she also grew more beautiful and talented, and the king and queen worried about her marriage. They were unable to find a single prince or king even half-way equivalent to her. And how could they? She was destined to marry the lord himself, who was then roaming about the jungles adjoining her kingdom as a common hunter! Meanwhile, the sage Narada arrived and assured the king that he need not worry about Padmavati’s marriage. He informed the king about the reality, and assured him that the lord would arrive to claim his wife soon.

Coming up : Part 4 - A marriage is fixed.... and the  finance too.....

The Legend of Sri Venkateswara Part 2- The Lord finds a mother.. and a wife too......

Please read the first part of the story before going further - Part 1 - The Lord descends on Earth

A lady named Vakula Devi attended to Varaha Swamy at his shrine. The arrival of the lord incited her maternal instincts, and she cared for him and nursed him back to good health. It was she who gave him the name – Srinivasa – the name by which He is now well known in this age.

Deviating from the main story, let’s go back in time to learn about Vakula Devi, and how she earned the honour to act as the mother of the lord. During the Dwapara Yuga, when the lord incarnated as Krishna, he was born to Devaki, and was fostered by Yashoda. While Yashoda enjoyed every bit of Krishna’s childhood, her only regret was that she was unable to see her beloved son getting married. The lord promised her that he would fulfill her desire in the Kali Yuga, when he would take the form of Srinivasa. Yashoda had thus taken birth as Vakula Devi and was awaiting the marriage of her son.

Coming back to our story, Srinivasa lived with Vakula Devi and once he was cured, roamed the forests like a hunter. On one such occasion, he followed an elephant to a lake, where his eyes fell on a princess who had come there to frolic in the water with her friends. It was love at first sight for both of them. While Srinivasa looked on, enchanted, the princess was also entranced by the hunter, and even as her friends tried to shoo away the stranger, she asked them not to drive him away, but enquire about him. Her friends approached the lord, and asked him about his antecedents. He truthfully replied that he was living with his mother in the Seshachala Mountains, and then boldly asked for the princess’ hand. The friends were absolutely shocked by the hunter’s impertinence, and shooed him away.

Srinivasa returned home, and started brooding about this incident. He found himself unable to think of anyone or anything but the princess. So, who was this princess? Goddess Lakshmi was performing penance at Kolhapur – so who was this, who had entranced the lord? To know the answer, we have to go back in time again and learn the story of Padmavati.

Coming up : Part 3 - The story of Padmavati

The Legend of Sri Venkateswara Part 1 - The Lord descends on Earth

One of the most interesting things about temples is their connection to mythology (of course, if you are interested in mythology!). Much as we may be skeptical towards stories from Indian mythology, there is a certain attraction about them, which is hard to resist (at least for me :-) ). Samhith too is following in my footsteps, asking a hundred (sometimes more :-( ) questions about the stories related to every temple we have been to. He was especially fascinated by the story of Tirupati, and made me relate it again and again till he had every detail fixed in his mind. He was so enthusiastic about it, I wondered if other kids would have similar interests too, and whether their parents would be able to satisfy their curiosity….. this story is for all of you out there….. Moms, dads, grandparents, kids (those of you who can read this…)……

The story begins at a conclave of sages, who had come together to perform a special yagna. They were interrupted by sage Narada, who is famous for his mischievous doings. Narada asked them whom they were dedicating the yagna to. This led to an argument, with no clear result, and they turned to their questioner for the answer. Narada in turn, asked them to find out for themselves, who among the trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) was the best – the calmest, the most understanding, and the most righteous one. After much discussion, it was the great sage, Brighu, who was nominated to perform this difficult task. Accordingly, Brighu set out to test the trinity.

First, Brighu Maharshi went to Brahma Lok, where Brahma sat, engrossed in listening to the divine sounds of the Veena played by the goddess of music, Saraswati herself. He was so engrossed that he did not hear the greeting of the sage, who decided that one who was so immersed in pleasure was not eligible for the fruits of the yagna. He next went to Mount Kailas, where Lord Shiva was dancing with Parvati. They were so lost in their dance, that when the sage interrupted them, Shiva grew angry and spoke harshly to the sage, and bade him leave before He cursed him. The sage decided that one who could not control his anger was certainly not the best, and went on to Vaikuntam. Here, lord Vishnu reclined on Adishesha, attended to by Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Attempting to test the lord, the sage directly went up to the lord, and kicked Him on the chest! Imagine his surprise when the Lord himself arose and, taking the sage’s feet in His hands, started massaging them! At the same time, the lord quietly removed an eye which the sage had on his foot, something he was proud of… thus punishing the sage for his act of disrespect…… The sage knew that he had found the one he had come looking for, and departed, oblivious of the chain of events he had set in motion, which would lead to the Lord coming down to earth at the place we know today as Tirumala.

While the gods were aware that the whole episode was an attempt to benefit mankind during the dark age of Kali Yuga, the goddess Lakshmi was angry that the sage had chosen to kick the Lord on His chest, where the goddess resided. Refusing to be placated, she left for earth, taking her abode at present day Kolhapur, where she entered into a deep meditative state, leaving the Lord alone, and helpless. After all, what is Vishnu without Lakshmi…..? When the goddess of wealth left him, he lost his prosperity and well-being, and he too came down to earth, wandering as an ascetic. He arrived at Seshachala, as this hill is known, and found an ant-hill to repose in.

Meanwhile, Narada was sorry to see the state his beloved lord was in, and approached Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva for assistance. They, in turn, approached Lakshmi, and apprising her of the situation, hit upon a plan to provide sustenance for the lord. Lakshmi took on the form of a female cowherd, while Brahma and Shiva took the forms of a cow and calf respectively. They headed towards the palace of the Chola king who ruled the area, who liked the cow and calf and agreed to buy them. He ordered them to be well cared for, and the milk to be sent to the palace directly.

The cow herd cared for them well, and took them to graze in the lush green mountains of Seshachala. Here, the cow sought out the ant-hill where the lord resided, and emptied its milk into it, providing the Lord with divine nourishment. When they returned to the palace, there was no milk left, which infuriated the king. Suspecting the cowherd, he took him to task. The cowherd pleaded ignorance, and promised the king to find out the truth.

The next day, the cowherd kept a close watch on the cow and calf as they grazed, and soon observed them emptying the milk into the ant-hill. Wondering what or who was in the ant-hill, the cowherd raised his axe and brought it on the ant-hill. Blood spurted out of it, and he fell unconscious, shocked by his own deed. The cow and the calf which were also spattered with the blood went back to the palace, where the king was stunned by their appearance. The cow led the king back to the ant-hill, where the lord was now revealed, with a cut on His fore-head.

In his anger, lord Vishnu cursed the king – he would turn into an asura – since it was he who was responsible for the cowherd hurting him with the axe. The king accepted responsibility for his action, but begged the lord’s forgiveness. At last, He relented, and deemed that the king would regain his form when the lord himself got married to Padmavati.

Once again homeless, and also badly hurt, the lord roamed over the mountains of Seshachala, looking for herbs which would cure him. In his wanderings, he came across Varaha Swamy – Lord Vishnu himself in the form of Varaha, a wild boar, a form which he took to kill the demon Hiranyaksha. Varaha Swamy had retired to these mountains after his duty was done, and these hills thus belonged to him.

The lord asked Varaha Swamy permission to reside on these hills, to which he was told that according to the laws of the Kali Yuga, accommodation could be rented out, but not given free, so the lord would have to pay for staying on these hills. Since goddess Lakshmi had deserted him, lord Vishnu had lost all his wealth and prosperity, and there was nothing he could offer Varaha Swamy as rent. However, he asked Varaha Swamy to give him the place under one condition – all devotees coming to visit the lord would have to visit Varaha Swamy first and make their offerings to him. This would be the rent due to him. Only after these offerings were made, would the lord accept the offerings given to him. This had led to the tradition of first visiting the temple of Varaha Swamy, which is just a few minutes away from the main temple. Only after we visit him can we proceed to the main temple.

Coming up : Part 2 - The Lord finds a mother... and also a wife!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tirupati Part 2

Tirupati is probably the most talked about temple in India, and there isn’t much I can add about either the temple or the deity. There are a number of websites that can give you all the information you require, foremost among which is that of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam. The site gives all details of the temple, its history, the deities, the places around it, and most important, the sevas you can perform, the queue details and accommodation facilities. Today, booking is possible online, but a better option is to use the call centre, or better still, call the Office. They are well conversant in English and Tamil, and are very helpful. You can find the complete list of sevas and their details here. Since the website gives all the necessary details, I shall not go into them here, but if any of you have a problem or want any clarifications, please feel free to write to me at

Meanwhile, here is a photoblog of our Tirupati trip-

Here are the seven hills as seen from the car as we were going up the mountain......
From May 2009 Vacation -2

The next pictures of the temple were taken from the steps opposite the temple. Cameras are not allowed in the temple, and most of the time we left our cameras behind in the room, even when we went for meals. On the last day, I made a special trip to the steps outside the temple to get these pics.....

The main entrance of the temple....

A Closer view of the 3 gopurams

Windmills - always a big attraction for kids.... i remember this was the first place i saw a windmill... i was then in school, and we stopped on the way so that I could stare at them a while longer... now Samhith does the same.....

The food court- the lane opposite the one leading to the temple is full of foodstalls - their pongal is awesome!!!

Roads have been widened all around the temple..

Devotees returning from darshan of the Lord

A closer look at the Gopuram - this was the nearest I could get to the Gopuram with my camera.....

The temple and the Pushkarini - the tank

The Varaha Swamy Guest House - this is where we stayed... at Rs.100 per room per night, it was just great!

Samhith has been to so many temples since he was born, and has been hearing so many stories from Indian mythology; he loves to hear the stories of the temples he visits. At Tirupati, the prakaram surrounding the main sanctum has panels depicted the story of lord Venkateswara. He refused to leave the temple till I had read out each and every one of them! Then, he made me repeat the story to him again and again till he had the story firmly fixed in his mind. I told him the story so many times that I decided to write it down. So, coming up next are a series of posts where I shall relate the story of Sri Venkateswara or Srinivasa, as he is popularly known.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tirupati Part 1 - Some Temples around Tirupati

I first visited Tirupati when I was about 10 or 11 years old. My mom had taken a vow to walk up the hills to reach the temple, something which everyone thought at the time, extremely foolhardy. My mom refused to budge, and accordingly, the trip was made, with a whole horde of relatives accompanying us. While it was, to most of them, an important pilgrimage, to me and a cousin (a year or two younger), it was an adventure, something we enjoyed thoroughly. Even today, it is this first journey up the hill which remains one of my happiest memories – my very first experience of travel. There is much to write about that journey, but maybe some other time…. Meanwhile, here’s an account of a journey we made just last month to the temple amidst the seven hills, which, to me, in spite of the huge crowd (which the temple has now become famous for…), remains a place of special importance.

My mom and aunt had been planning a trip to Tirupati to perform certain sevas (religious rituals), for almost a year. At the beginning of this year, they finalised the dates and asked me to join. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to join them, since the dates clashed with my summer plans. By the time I decided to join them, tickets weren’t available. I only managed to get a return ticket to Bombay, but didn’t have tickets to go to Tirupati. I, however, have a firm faith in the lord, and decided that if he wanted me to come, he would provide me with the means to reach his abode, and set out for my holidays. As it turned out, we weren’t able to leave on the decided dates, and had to postpone our trip by a few days. Then we found that tickets were available for Tiruppur on the dates we wanted, and I decided to spend a few days with my sister-in-law there. Eventually, we decided to go to Puttaparthi and have darshan of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and then head to Tirupati from there.

There are frequent buses from Puttaparthi to Tirupati, about eight buses a day. There are also a variety of buses, ranging from the usual ones to the so-called ‘Super Luxury’ buses. All the buses take around 8 to 9 hours to reach Tirupati, and most of them are day ones. There are only a couple which run at night, and these are the more expensive ones – the super luxury buses. Samhith was expecting a Volvo, but I told him to keep his expectations low, as they certainly wouldn’t be as comfortable as Volvos, and it was a good thing I restrained his expectations (and mine), for the bus turned out to be anything but luxury – forget ‘super luxury’!!!! The nomenclature apparently only meant that the normal seats had been replaced by push-back ones, and only reserved passengers were to be taken on board. Reality: the seats were bad, dirty, and uncomfortable…… and yes, even the unreserved managed to buy tickets in black and get on! Advice: Don’t ever get on to the bus unless you just HAVE to! Try out the day buses (except in summer, of course). They are apparently not so bad, since there are fewer pretensions…..

Anyway, we reached Tirupati at day break and headed to the hotel where my mom, my aunt and her brother’s family had already checked in. quickly freshening up, we were ready for the hectic day that lay ahead of us.

There are a number of temples in and around Tirupati, which are all very interesting and beautiful. I have visited many of them at different times, and shall, sometime, write about them all. At the moment, I am restricting myself to those temples we visited on this trip.

Sorry guys, very few photographs, as I was made to leave my camera in the car before entering the temple complex.

Tiruchanur – Padmavati Temple

Home of the lord’s consort, Padmavati, it is a custom to visit this temple after having darshan of Lord Venkateswara. However, time, and our schedule being what it is like these days, we often bend the traditions to suit ourselves, and we chose to visit the goddess before going on to meet her husband.

The temple is a huge and beautiful one, and over the years I have noticed less and less of it as the temple has become more and more crowded! This time, the crowd was surely the largest I have ever seen. After all, summer holidays are when people from remote corners of India come to pay their respects and mark their attendance for the year!

The main deity is Padmavati – the consort of Lord Venkateswara. According to mythology, she is Vedavati, a pious lady who performed austerities to win the hand of Lord Vishnu. When Ravana tried to molest her, she cursed him that his downfall would be brought about by her. According to one version of the Ramayana, it is Vedavati who takes the place of Sita when Ravana kidnaps her, while Sita remains in the care of Agni’s wife. After the war, when Ravana is killed, Agni returns both Sita and Vedavati to Rama after the Agnipariksha episode, and asks him to accept both of them as his wives. Rama, who has taken a vow of monogamy, refuses, but promises Vedavati to marry her in the kaliyuga. It is believed that Vedavati re-incarnated as Padmavati, and got to marry the lord during his decent on earth as Lord Venkateswara.

She remains in her hometown at Tiruchanur, while her Lord takes his abode on the seven hills, blessing the people who visit Him, and with their offerings, repaying the huge loan He took from Kubera, the lord of wealth, for His marriage. It is for this reason that a trip to Tirupati is incomplete without a visit to Tiruchanur, just 5 Kms away from Tirupati.

There are a couple of other smaller shrines in the temple – Balarama Swamy Krishna – no, not Balarama, but only Krishna – the lord of Balarama – and Sundara Raja Perumal. During recent visits, only the main shrine used to be packed to capacity, but this time, we met a crowd at each and every shrine, and had to wait in a long queue every time. The special darshan ticket helped us bypass the queue to some extent, but we had to join the normal queue in the end. What certainly works better is the usual incentive – holding out money to one of the numerous temple employees – it works like a charm!

Srinivasa Mangapuram

Srinivasa Mangapuram, about 12 Kms from Tirupati, has a beautiful temple of Kalyana Venkatramana Swamy. It is believed that the lord stayed here for a while after his marriage to Padmavati. When I first visited the temple, it was quite desolate, but now, it has been renovated, and again, there was quite a crowd there too……

Agasteeswarar temple

Most of the temples in and around Tirupati are, by default, related to the many legends about lord Venkateswara. This temple is also one of them, though the temple owes its origin to Sage Agasthya, who had his hermitage at this place long before the lord arrived here. The lord apparently arrived here after his marriage, and stayed at the ashram for 6 months. It is a popular belief that one does not climb a mountain just after marriage, and the lord couldn’t return to his home on the summit, so he chose to spend his time in this ashram.

The temple here, as the name suggests, is dedicated to lord Shiva as Agasteeswarar, the lord of Agasthya. The temple is a beautiful one, situated on the banks of the Swarnamukhi River. It must be really picturesque in the monsoons, but was completely dry since the summer was at its peak. The temple has the main sanctum dedicated to Shiva, with a smaller sanctum on the right for the Devi. On the outer prakaram are many smaller sanctums, dedicated to the navagrahas, Kamakshi and other forms of the Devi.

There is a small mandapam in the middle of the river which houses an interesting thing – there is a sort of footprint (if you can call it that), believed to be that of Lord Vishnu. Incidentally, this temple is the Kula deivam (family deity) of my aunt, and she says that the footprint looked quite natural when she used to come here as a child. Now, with all the attention drawn towards temples with the many magazines (and bloggers like me….) writing about temples and encouraging people to visit them, it has undergone some renovation, and has been well covered with concrete at the edges, making it look man-made. There is a small figurine of the lord inside this, which looks more authentic! There is also a statue with the front showing Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu at the back. There was a lone priest sitting there, and he tried to convince us that the statue dated back to the days when the lord roamed around these places, but we weren’t buying that!!!! Recently, a few other statues of Ayyappan and some other deities have also been installed there….. It probably helps the priest to get a few more rupees every day!!!!!

Meanwhile, here is Samhith with my cousins – all of them having a blast!!!

Govindaraja Perumal Temple

According to custom, this is the first temple to be visited during a pilgrimage to Tirupati. Govindaraja Perumal is also another form of the same lord, but he is considered the elder brother of lord Venkateswara, and it is considered respectful to visit him first. While I have visited Tirupati many times, I made the proper circuit only once. (Incidentally, for those who don’t know, the correct order of visiting the main temples is - Govindaraja Perumal, Varaha Swamy, Sri Venkateswara Swamy and finally Padmavati Amman.)

This is a huge temple, probably the biggest in the area, and has many sub-sanctums apart from the main one. I have never yet been all over the temple due to lack of time, but this time, we at least managed to see the main deities. Hopefully, someday I shall be able to visit the temple at leisure….. It is worth it!!

The main sanctum has Govindaraja Swamy in sleeping posture with Lord Brahma on the lotus coming out of the navel, Sridevi and Bhudevi at His feet. An interesting addition to this scene is the presence of Madhu and Kaitabha, the twin asuras who came out of the ear-wax of the lord and attempted to eat up Lord Brahma.

The next sanctum is that of Parthasarathy – Krishna, when he acted as the charioteer of Arjuna (Partha). Here, he is in sitting posture with his consorts Rukmini and Satyabhama on either side.

The next sanctum has Kalyana Venkatramana Swamy – in standing posture, looking almost exactly like the Venkateswara Swamy in the main temple.

Thus, this temple has an interesting array of deities – Lord Vishnu in 3 postures – sleeping, sitting and standing – all in one temple, and within the same prakaram. There are few other temples with a similar situation – to my knowledge, the temple at Tiruneer Malai at Pallavaram near Chennai has the lord in all 3 postures, but at different levels, and the temple at Thiruvallikeni(Triplicane) in Chennai has the lord in these postures in different prakarams. This however seems to be the only temple with the lord in the 3 postures within the same prakaram. If any of you have any more information about similar temples, I would love to here from you. Please send me a mail here.

The only sanctum dedicated to a goddess in the main prakaram is that of Andal, the foremost devotee of the lord.

In the outer prakaram are the other sanctums – the first being that of Pundareeka Valli Thayar – the wife of Govindaraja Perumal, followed by that of Sri Ramanujar. The other deities are Koorathalwar and Chakrathalwar, as well as other devotees of the lord.

The temple is huge, and it is quite a distance from the main entrance to the temple. Along the route from the gopuram to the temple, the pillared hall is filled with shops selling puja articles and articles made of wood. Walking along this hall, one can see beautiful wooden dolls, utensils and toys, all of them beckoning you to buy them and carry them home with you. This is a better place to buy wooden things, even better than the stalls outside the main temple on the hill. You not only get a variety of articles, even the price is lesser here. In our family, during navaratri, we keep wooden dolls in the golu, called marapachi, which are traditionally brought here. Go on, start your own collection…. And look out for a blog on mine later on…..

Meanwhile, for those of you who are unaware of the legends connected to Tirupati, and have trouble following the many stories mentioned here, look out for a post on the legends themselves. Samhith has been asking why I am not writing about the story of the temple, and I think it is a good idea to write it down.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Prashanti Nilayam - Abode of Supreme Peace

Situated in the deep interior of Andhra Pradesh, in the Anantapur district, is a small village by the name of Puttaparthi. It would have remained in oblivion for ever, had it not been for Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who was born in this little known village, and decided to make it his home for ever, notwithstanding all his popularity and his far reaching activities.

Today, Prashanti Nilayam, his ashram is truly an abode of supreme peace, embodying the ideals he propagates, and attracts millions of people from every remote corner of the world. While once, years back, swami sat on the sands and spoke to his friends and the few who followed him about life and how to make it worthwhile, today, as he sits on his wheelchair and discourses in the beautifully decorated Kulwant Hall, we have to crane our necks to get a better glimpse of him.

While I am a comparatively new entrant into the fold, my genes did show the way, for my grandfather had a deep respect for Baba. My in-laws, however, have a much stronger bond with Him, for they have been his devotees for the last 3 generations, Samhith being the fourth. My husband escapes there as and when he has the chance, and comes back much more relaxed and happier than ever. It is almost like a second home for him – he studied in the college there…… now Samhith follows in his footsteps, wanting to bunk school and go along with him!

When our trip plans changed, and we were unable to get tickets to return to Bombay from Tiruppur, we found that a few tickets were available to Puttaparthi, and jumped at the chance to have darshan of Swami. Earlier, we had to make the journey to Puttaparthi from either Bangalore (120 Kms) or from Dharmavaram (40Kms). Today, the Sai Prashanti Nilayam Railway station is the nearest to the ashram (8 Kms), and has made travel much easier. There are also plenty of buses available from Bangalore and Chennai. There are also special trains running from Bangalore and Chennai. Many trains passing via Dharmavaram from Delhi and other states have been diverted to include Prashanti in their route.

There are also plenty of options for accommodation. While the ashram accommodation is certainly the best, it is also much in demand, and during festivals and crowded times, it is difficult to get rooms. There are, however, plenty of hotels and lodges outside the ashram, catering to all budgets.

Once at the ashram, your day is packed with activities. The day is greeted with Aumkaram (Chanting of Om) at 5:20AM, followed by the chanting of the Vedas and Nagar Sankeertanam (singing of bhajans while walking around the ashram). This is followed by darshan of Baba, when he comes to the Kulwant hall and gives interviews to the chosen few, and blesses the others by his presence. Earlier, this used to be early in the morning, and Baba used to walk around, talking to people as he moved among the rows and rows of people waiting for him, but today, age has taken a toll (He is now 83), and he comes in a wheelchair, and doesn’t mingle with the crowd, going straight to the dais where he sits for a while – sometimes a few minutes, sometimes as long as a couple of hours. This is followed by bhajans at 9:00AM, brought to an end by the Aarti at 9:30AM

A similar darshan takes place in the evenings (these days between 3 and 4 PM), followed by bhajans at 5:00PM and aarti at 5:30PM.

In between this, there are lots of things to do – there are lectures and discussions on spiritual topics, there are study circles, there is a library open to all, there is a shopping centre and book stall where one can spend hours and get stuff for a steal (all goods are at subsidized rates – these are actually meant for the ashram residents, most of whom are volunteers, but all visitors are free to make use of the bargains!)

There are also lots of places to see – places connected with Baba’s birth and childhood, with incidents which took place after he proclaimed himself to be an incarnation of Shirdi Baba. Baba’s personal elephant is Samhith’s favourite – he wants to see her at least once every time!

If you still have time, you can wander around, looking at the beautiful and up-to-date colleges, hostels and hospitals that Baba has built, in what was once a one-horse town! You will find it hard to believe, but all these are run free of cost! At specific times, you are even allowed inside the hospital and the newly constructed Indoor Sports Complex. It is a fascinating tour!

There are, of course, a few restrictions – the whole ashram is run on the concept of segregation of sexes. While, of course, a family can live together inside the ashram, men and women have to go for all activities separately, including darshan and food (yes, there are canteens catering to every kind of palate, all extremely subsidized). Another issue is that of silence. Since the darshan time is not certain, we have to wait in the hall for quite a while, sometimes hours, and it is a rule to keep silent during the whole time. It is not an easy task, and there are hundreds of volunteers, whose sole task is to keep the crowd quiet and controlled. At times, I feel sorry for them! Anyone who reads my blogs would know that my son is certainly not one to keep quiet, but surprisingly, this is the only place on earth that he sits still for hours at a time. We have been taking him to Parthi since he was just 6 months old, and not once has he caused anyone to reprimand us! This will give you an idea of the kind of atmosphere the place has- one of peace and tranquility, as the name suggests. To me, that is the greatest attraction this ashram has to offer – for every time I go there, I find myself at peace, relaxed, and ready to face the world when I get back!

I shall not waste words writing more about Baba or about the ashram, for there are plenty of websites giving all the information. Here are links to a few of them –

The Sathya Sai Central Trust:
Radio Sai Global Harmony:
Sathya Sai Books and Publication Trust:

If anyone has any questions about Prashanti Nilayam, I will be too happy to answer. Leave a comment with your e-mail address, or send me a mail here.

I apologize for having no photographs of Puttaparthi to attract you with. Cameras are not allowed, nor are mobiles, for that matter. One is allowed for darshan with only a small purse with nothing but money and keys… no water or foodstuffs, or handbags. Only those with small children are allowed to carry some water/milk and biscuits for the children.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Race Against Time - a brief respite from travelogues

Our vacation in Kerala was to end with Thekkady, and we were scheduled to go our separate ways from Cochin (Ernakulam), where, at 11:30AM, Shankar had a flight booked for Bombay, and Samhith and I were to board a train for Tiruppur from Ernakulam Town, at the same time, where we were to continue our vacation with my sister-in-law. Accordingly, we started by a hired car from Thekkady at 6 AM. By 9AM, we were on the outskirts of Cochin, and when the driver informed us that we were near Kalady, we decided to take advantage of the extra time and visit the temple. We spent barely half an hour in the temple, and left reluctantly, only because we had a flight and train to catch.

We reached the airport just in time for Shankar to check in, and raced off towards Ernakulam station, which is about 45 Kms from the airport. The driver now decided to inform me that the journey would take at least an hour and a half, and that we might be late!! I blasted him, but obviously, it was to no avail, as we were, so to speak, at his mercy for the moment…..

So there we were, entering the city of Cochin at 11:30AM, with a train to catch at 11:35! We were ascending a railway over bridge, when I caught sight of a station on the right. Assuming that that was our station, I was surprised when the driver turned left. He told me that there were two stations at Ernakulam, and the town station was a little further away. To prove his point, he also stopped and asked directions from a passer by, who also pointed him towards the left. Off we went, hurtling along the roads, as time ticked along…….

With a squeal of brakes, we arrived at the station at 11:40AM. I had the cab fare ready, and handing it over, I ran for a porter while the driver got out my luggage – 2 huge bags + Samhith’s rucksack. I found one right at the entrance. “Sabari Express!” I yelled, only to be told – “Not here – Town station!!!!” OMG!! All this rush and we had to land up the wrong station, already late!

My first instinct was to shout at the driver, and I did make a start, but realized I was better off saving my energy for the rush to catch the train, if it hadn’t already left. The driver, to top it all, informed me that he did not know the short cuts to the other station, so I was better off with an auto. Seeing the logic behind this, I agreed, and got into an auto, who headed off at breakneck speed – once he heard the story, cursing my ex-driver in colorful Malayalam – the gist of which I understood to be “@#&*@ leaving a lady and kid behind like this @#*$&@;” – all the sentiments which I totally agreed with, at the moment!!

It was almost Noon when we drove up at the station, and by then I had lost all hopes of ever boarding the train. The driver seemed to have the same thought, for he stopped by a side entrance and went to look for a porter, telling me to see to the luggage. He returned almost at once, sadly informing me that the train had just left. He offered to take me to a hotel or to the bus stand, but I declined the offer, telling him that I would talk to the station master first and see what other options I had, before deciding my further course of action. So he took me to the main entrance and left me there, departing with a word to me to be careful.

By now, we were not only tired and angry, but also terribly hungry, for we hadn’t even had breakfast! Poor Samhith! And he never even complained once! My tension had communicated itself to him, and neither of us had any thoughts of food till then! The only thing on our minds was the train, and under the circumstances, our religious bringing-up rose to the fore, and came up with the name of every deity we could think of, and we had spent the last half an hour praying with all our hearts, Samhith uttering every name of the lord he could think of, too!

To get on with the story, we entered the station and kept our luggage near the ticket windows, while I started looking around for the station master’s cabin or a food stall. My attention was suddenly caught by the word ‘Trivandrum’ - an announcement was being made about a train coming from Trivandrum. I had missed the first part of the announcement, since I had been explaining things to Samhith. Anyway, just then, a train came to a halt on the same platform, and the unreserved coach followed by the guard’s cabin was right opposite me. Obeying a hunch, I went and asked a lady alighting from the train which one it was. Imagine my surprise, when she answered “Sabari Express”!!!!!!!! Even then, I did not trust my luck – I asked her if the train was indeed coming from Trivandrum and going towards Tiruppur. Only when she answered “Yes” to all my questions that I let a ray of hope enter my heart, and I quickly loaded my luggage onto the train, in the unreserved coach itself.

I then alighted again and my eyes fell on the guard conversing with a porter. I confirmed the details yet again from him, and asked him if I had time to get to my coach, which was S6. he told me that the train was due to leave any time, but spoke to the porter standing with him, and told him to help me shift my luggage to at least one of the reserved coaches, if not my own.

So there we were again, the porter, carrying the big bags, Samhith carrying his rucksack, and me carrying the rest, all running at full speed towards my coach! The porter, poor guy, was an aged man, whom I would never have hired under normal circumstances, and I really felt bad seeing him run with the luggage. To top it all, there were 3 general compartments, followed by the ladies, then 4 AC coaches, and then the sleeper coaches began from S13! We managed to reach S9 before we were totally out of breath (we had run along 13 coaches!!!) and I decided to get into the train there itself! I opened my purse to pay the porter, and found I was out of change! All I had were notes of Rs.500/-! Just then, another porter arrived on the scene, and offered me change, which I gratefully accepted. Just as I paid the porter, our train began to leave….. It was then 12:20PM!!!!!

We then dragged our luggage across 4 more coaches (the pantry car came in between too), taking one at a time. On the way, we saw the TC, and I took the further opportunity to confirm that we were on the right train – Thank God! We were!!!! We finally settled down in our seats at 12:45 PM! More than an hour later than intended, but what a relief it was!

We had missed breakfast, and the train lunch was unpalatable, so we subsisted on snacks and juices from all the stations where the train stopped, till we reached Tiruppur the same evening, right on time, as if the train had never been late!

Shankar’s flight was to have left at 11:30, and he was to have reached home for a late lunch and be off to work, but as it turned out, his flight was delayed by 5 hours, and he reached home for a late dinner, long after we had reached Tiruppur!

A memorable journey, wouldn’t you say???


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