by: Jennifer Kumar
India Diary 1999 part 2 of 2
The journey from Chennai, about 300 km, took about 3 hours. A journey such as this, you would never encounter in US. We traveled in a vehicle called a Tata Sumo (the Indian SUV), which was large enough to carry my friend, his family and, the driver and I (8 people). We had hired the driver, which is very common in India, and in terms of dollars is very inexpensive. Along this drive, every so often we would stop, sometimes due to traffic or bad roads, other times to give 'tolls.' The experience of giving tolls was not what I was used to. There are no toll collectors in booths, but general people standing on the street collecting these tolls, which are really more like bribes paid to cross state borders or city borders. One toll collector was especially exotic and an interesting sight. This toll collector was standing in the center of the road dressed as Hanuman, the monkey god. He was standing there on one leg, with an elaborate headdress, and a gold collection plate in one hand.
The Sri Venkataswara temple is the richest temple in India. It is said that people drop bags of diamonds at the feet of Sri Venkataswara. Typically in India, temples are at the tops of hills, as is the case with this one. We had driven to the top, but many pilgrims will climb the hill, which is no easy or short task. Upon driving to the entrance to the hill, there is a toll collector and a sign which reads "No non-vegetarian food is to enter these premises. Anyone caught with such foods will be fined!"
Being the richest temple, it is also one of the most popular temples to visit. It is nothing like visiting a church, and nothing like visiting anything in US. There are two lines to enter the temple. One is a free line, you stand without paying. The other is the paying line, pay about 50 rupees and stand in line for less time. The money collectors ease you by estimating the time you will wait to be about a half an hour!! (A very gross underestimation!) First you wait in a line, which is constructed like a line you would wait in to go on to an amusement ride, and from there, you wait in cages (not an underestimation). There is a room with three cages, you sit and wait there for quite some time (for us, about 3 hours). While in there you can buy some idli (rice pancakes), vada (spicy donuts), chai, coffee, frooti (mango drink), and other various foods and drinks. I had wanted a vada, but after seeing it being served from a steel bucket, I decided against it. You can preview the list and prices of items on a television monitor above your head and to the front of the cages. This television also played some devotional programs. And, in the crowd, you may hear every so often, people chanting a prayer. One famous prayer that comes from this temple is the Suprabhatam, the morning prayer to Lord Sri Venkataswara. They may play this prayer on the loudspeaker if you come very early in the morning.
After waiting in the cage, it is time to wait in yet another 1.5 km line. This line is constructed in such a way that it leads around buildings, over buildings, across buildings, on the side of buildings, and finally into the temple. Once inside, I felt a bit of peace for one second, I thought I would see the idol, maybe have a second to pray. Not a chance! You have no control over yourself, where you go, how fast you move, or anything. The crowd controls you. Had I seen more than the gold to the Lord's idol, I may have seen the pure diamond crown, or even his face. I had seen nothing but the shimmer of the gold he was formed from. After six hours of waiting, I was a bit disappointed, but it happens with everyone there, that day, so I was not alone.
After seeing the idol, we had prasadam (food, holy offering to God), curd rice (rice and yogurt), and then proceeded out of the temple premises. After exiting, we gave our entry tickets to the guy giving out sweets. The sweets, ladoos, are the common sweet of this temple. They are balls of ghee (butter), sugar, milk and flour. They are very good, and very rich.
After sweets, it is time to leave. Near the temple, you can find many trinkets, prayer necklaces and other religious items for sale in the large bazaar. Here, even are guest houses (hotels) and restaurants.
This trip to Tirupati was very memorable and very worthwhile!
India Dairy 1999 Part 1
My 1999 India photos at flckr.com.
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Photo slide show of 1998 India trip to Chennai, Pondicherry (Puducherry), Thirupati, Mumbai (Bombay) and Elephanta Island!
Updated December 2011