Tirupati, the Lord of the Seven Hills.
South India’s most famous temple is the temple of Tirupati. This temple is considered to be the abode of Lord Vishnu. Known simultaneously by various names, He is Vishnu, Balaji, Sri Venakataswami, Sreenivas, Govinda, or simply, Swami (Lord). The holy shrine of Tirupati is famous in India and abroad.Dating back to as far as 300 A.D., it’s history goes back as far as 300 A.D. Believed to be the richest Hindu temple, it draws devotees in hordes. From the humble to the rich and famous: all come here to venerate the most powerful God in the Hindu pantheon.
The town of Tirupati is situated in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, India. The temple is situated atop a hill, known as Venkatadri. This hill is the seventh hill in the sacred range known as Tirumala or the Seshalam range, also known as The Seven Sisters. In Tirupati town, there are good hotels of all price ranges available, for pilgrims. Taxi cabs and bus services too are available round the clock to take you to the temple for a holy “darshan”. The Darshan bookings are to be done online, on a first-come-first-serve basis. All details regarding the darshan timings are available on the official website of the TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams). Many cities run special counters for these darshan bookings. The TTD has provided for special accommodation for those wishing to stay nearer to the temple, and these too need to be booked in advance, in accordance with your budget. VIP Guest Houses too can be availed; these are large mansions with comfortable rooms for pilgrims, but have no provision for providing food. Room availability in these beautiful mansions need to be done through special agents or contact persons.
For the uninitiated and first-time visitor, the intricate ‘queue’ system of Tirupati is, to my knowledge, unparalleled in the rest of the world. Punctuality is vital here, for if you miss your time slot allocated, you will have to forego your darshan, and re-book again. Long-winded, maze-like corridors, sometimes going up, and sometimes going down, sometimes over foot-bridges, and sometimes over and down wooden slopes, taking right-turns and left-turns, and ultimately culminating in front of the Lord himself. The time taken in this queue is roughly one hour, if you possess the “VIP darshan tickets”. For the devout, this is the culmination of his spiritual journey. Most people return repeatedly for the holy darshan. The immense faith of the masses who come here are to be seen to be believed; from babies to the old and aged, sans even the basic comforts, they trek barefoot till the hill-top, in sunshine, rain or hail. All they chant is “Govinda, Govinda”, and often stay in-waiting in line for two to three days on end, during peak seasons.
After the darshan is over, do not forget to visit the “Laddoo Prasadam” building. Yes, there is an entire building dedicated to the distribution of the Laddoo Prasadam, and one needs to show one’s ticket to the person at the counter, as each ticket gives you free laddoos, according to the value of your darshan ticket! The place is naturally filled with the aroma of pure ghee. (One needs to watch one’s step as the floors have turned greasy here.
Tirupati Temple does not allow any cell phones inside, so do have an understanding with your driver as to where and when to meet, and keep your driver’s phone number or numbers hand written with you, should you lose your way back to the car park, which involves a bit of walking. To end, if you have the time, do try the walking path up or down the temple. It takes roughly five hours to go on foot, but the path is through the lush green slopes of the forested hills of Tirupati, and holds natural beauty and wild life.
There are many more ancient temples to be seen in this area. If you have the time, do visit them, and arrange a trip with your cab driver. They are all equally fascinating temples,and will be well worth your time.
Article by Ruma Sen
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