Friday, 27 April 2007


Last post I showed pictures from my pilgrimage walk to Tirumala. Well this post is from the place itself: The most visited pilgrimage site in the world.

This is the center of it all. The Venkateshwari Temple where devotees stand in line for hours and hours to experience a five second Darshan, meaning a viewing of the icon representing Venkateshwari himself. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside, but being true to the spirit of pilgrimage, I stood in line for more than an hour, to get to experience standing in front of the lord for about 15 seconds. It was a short experience, but that was fine since I was mostly there for the people watching rather than the God watching. The fervor in this place is unlike anything I have ever seen in the Hindu world with people chanting louder and louder as they get closer to Darshan and people seemingly reaching almost a state of ecstasy when it all culminates.

Close to the temple these live fires clearly have some religious significance drawing people to pray and make offerings. You can truly see the devotion in people's faces whether you believe in Hinduism or not.

A very interesting and unique feature of Tirumala is that a very large share of the pilgrims here choose to have their heads tonsured (shaved) as a sign of respect for the Gods. Here I met a big group of guys with freshly tonsured heads.

And a beautiful little girl who had also performed the deed. Although I was really trying hard to get into the spirit, this is where I set the limit. I kept my hair.

A whole freshly shaved family. After shaving, many people put sandalwood powder paste on their heads. I have no idea if this serves a religious or a hygienic purpose, but it looks unlike anything I've seen before.

This is where it all happens. The shaving is totally free of charge, but that doesn't mean the Temple body doesn't earn anything from it. They keep the hair and sell it for wigs around the world. This scheme - amongst others - makes this the richest temple in India and one of the richest in the world.

Three little bald girls stand in line waiting for their darshan. Lines can be more than kilometers long, advancing at a gruelingly slow pace. To make things worse most of the wait is spent in closed off turnstiles, so crowded, that it is hard to move. I must admit that I bought myself a 100 rupee fast forward ticket, allowing me to merge into the line near the entrance to the Temple, shortening the wait by several hours. On the other hand I did have to spend hours getting a special entry permit for non-Hindus during which process I had to sign a paper saying that although I am a Christian I have the highest reverence for some Hindu deity which I had never heard of before and whose name I couldn't spell.

The temple seen in daylight. If you look closely at the left part of the picture you can see a bridge leading into the temple. That is the only entrance into what looks more like a fortress than a temple from the outside. The inside is very impressive though, but again I cannot show it since no pictures were allowed.

Not all pilgrims shave their heads. These four girls not only kept their hair to remain fashionable, but they were also wearing heavy make-up! According to Western sentiments they might be a bit too young for that, but make-up for children is not uncommon here.

A little girl on her father's arm stops crying as she discovers me pointing a camera at her.

Four Brahmins who were very keen on having their picture taken.

I didn't meet only people in Tirumala. I also had this lucky and fantastic encounter with a Giant Squirrel. It is a huge animal, more the size of a dog than of your standard squirrel. As you can see in the picture it is also incredibly cute. It is chewing on some kind of large nut or fruit in this picture.

And finally another look at the road from Tirupati to Tirumala, which I traveled by foot. The red cliffs provide a stunning background for the trip and gives a very special atmosphere to the trip up the (first) hill. No wonder people early attached some religious significance to this place.


oreneta said...

Seems that the yellow powder may serve as some sort of sunscreen. I know that I would get blisters on my head in that sunshine with a newly bald scalp...

Probably there is more to it than that, but it might well be a spin off benifit, what do you think?

Esben said...

Yeah, it's a good theory. Susanna told me that she believes it might be an anti-sceptic to prevent any infections in case of any cuts. That sounds plausible too, since the shavings happen very quickly and the same blade is used many times. So cuts could easily happen. It might serve both purposes at the same time.

Sindhu said...

Sandalwood paste has the tendency to cool the skin. Since all these days, the bare head was not exposed to sunlight, it tends to cause blisters as Oreneta has said and also acts as an antiseptic as well.

Since original sandalwood is very costly, people buy this cheap sandal powder (which is a mixture of sandalwood paste along with some other cooling agents) to apply on their head

Nice photographs and info ...

Esben said...

Thanks for the clarifying input, Sindhu. Appreciate it.

chittoor.S.Murugeshan said...

Copy to,

Tirumala vision1900

(It is a bunch of suggestions to get back the novelty in Tirumala as in 1900 A.D and minimizing administrative expenditure of the TTD. It was sent on 19/9/1999 it self. Reminded many times. Rs.10 was sent by MO at least to return. But nothing was done)

The legend around Tirumala says that Sreevaru had borrowed a huge sum from Lord kubhera for his marriage expenditures and he has to return it at the end of kaliyuga. But the TTD is going on spending the revenue of Tirumala. It is nothing but vanishing the trust of countless devotees and degrading the legend. So the TTD must minimize the administrative expenditures and it has to buy gold coins with the surplus revenue. The gold coins must be kept at the gold investment scheme of central government.

1.The Tirumala must be filled only with spirituality . All the things other than sreevaru must be be banned. An amusement park must be planned at the out skirts of Tirupathi. The devotees who are interested to have thrill,pastime must go there. first. After fulfilling their perversion then only they may be permitted in to Tirumala.
2.In Tirupathi bus station it self unnecessary luggages of the devotees must be kept safely with free of cost. DVDs must be made with dos and don'ts with film actors and actresses must be projected even in the TTD chowltries (where the devotees have their sudarshan tokens.), Tirupathi bus station and also in the buses which carry devotees to Tirumala.
3.Traveling other than with govt transport corporation buses must be banned. Even the VIPs must be carried with RTC buses having bullet proof.
4.The image of Garuda must be painted on the buses. only Spiritual movies must be projected or spiritual songs must be broad coasted in buses.
5.The environment in Tirumala must make the devotees to feel that they have switched on the Time machine to 1900 A.D. All the things which remember 20 th century must bee removed. ie. pepsi -cok hoardings
6.The services of the intellectuals (ie. civil engineers artists, doctors, auditors ) , who are the devotees of Sreevaru in the world must be used at free of cost at least for a month in a year. Free accommodation and darshan must be given to them.(The TTD is implementing Sreevari seva -using devotees to work for serving food in nithyannadhanam etc.. It is nothing but the pirated copy of my vision sent on 18/9/1999 it self by courier service)
7.All the employees of TTD must under go a complete medical-psychological test. Who found deceased must be sent on leave. for necessary treatment. Only after submitting fitness certificate they must be given postings.
8.The employees must under go an examination conducted on the history of Tirumala and sreevaru , who fails must be sent on leave. Only after passing re examination they can be given postings. If they fail again they must be deputed to any other department of government.
9.The employees having consumption of Alcohol must be deputed to any other department of govt.
10.The economical conditions of the employees must be reviewed. TTD has to help its employees to come out from the private credits.
11.TTD has to conduct picnics to the members of the families of TTD employees and it has to motivate them to feel proud that their head of the family is blessed to serve for sreevaru. TTD has to motivate them to lead a simple life with high thinking.
12.All the employees in TTD must wear uniforms ie; pancha ,dhothi, kanduva and thala paga. They have to work with desks and beds.
13.No employee must be permitted to work in a same seat more than 6 days. A jumbling method must be followed.
14.TTD's magazine Sapthagiiri must be edited by various VIPs every month ie. by mega star chiranjeevi, super star rajinikanth etc
15.Advertisements belong to TTD mustn't be published in any news papers. The must be placed only at the website of TTD. The website may offer matrimonial services for reasonable cost.
16.Every employee of the AP state government must be given an opportunity to serve for Sreevaru at least for a week in a year. In the same way TTD employees must be deputed at least for a week to any department of the state government.
17.TTD must have a own TV channel. (It is been implemented.)
18.TTD must generate power only through solar system, biogas units. But it must be supplied to Tirupathi. The power bill of TTD must be paid only out of the power sold to Tirupathi.
19.TTD may think even to arrange yellow sarees and dhothies to devotees for rent to avoid the devotees who come with ultra modern dresses.
20.Retired film ,cricket,political, judicial personalities may be appointed as Honorable PRO s to receive the VIPs who visit Tirumala. The EO may be able to attend his administrative duties.
21.The finger prints of the criminals in India searched for several crimes must be loaded in a computer. It must be at the security cabin . There must be a scanner at the threshold of the temple. Every devotee has to keep his hands on it. The scanner have to scan the hand prints and sent it to the computer. If it finds it at the data base it has to alarm.
22.No product or service must be given to devotees at free of cost. All must be arranged at reasonable cost and in ISI standard. (No devotee is willing to have any thing for free. They are very particular about the quality)

Reporter-Daily thanthi ,
(No. 1 Daily in Tamil),
7-85,Banala st,
Cell: 9397036815

indhu M said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences in Tirumala!! We can forget all the pain that we had in queue after having darshan even it is few seconds... Nice Post!!
Book Bus Tickets through which is just a click away!