A Glimpse of the Lord - Govinda Gooooovinda!

Tirupati: This is the richest temple in the Indian subcontinent, and truly, you know it when you are there. Getting a glimpse of Lord Venkateshwara at this temple is not easy and it calls for immense faith to get that rare glimpse.

People across the country travel miles to get here, wait endless days for accommodation and boarding till that final glimpse is achieved. It’s a long trek to paradise to see Lord Venkateshwara who silently waits testing the devotee in every step he takes.

Getting to Thirupati, the harder way is a long drawn process. The shortest entitles you to be either a politician or the like to get the "instant glimpse" but if you are common man, guess you struggle harder. People come to thirupati from all walks of life. It depends on how rich you are and how much you are willing to blow up for an easier darshan, as the lord waits there patiently for your arrival. You can zoom up crossing the seven hills by car or bus taking 45 minutes to get there, make sure you start the climb before 10 pm, they shut the entrance after that. Or you decide to walk the stretch on seven hills in four hours with occasional breaks.

Lets take the walk up with Srinivasan, an ardent devotee of the Lord. The first is a climb, where flights of steps staring at Srinivasan as he makes a slow trek up to kali gopuram (the glowing gopuram you see from a distance indicating the hill after sunset. It has nothing to do with goddess Kali). These are steep flight of steps testing him as he puffs his way up looking up every time to see the never-ending steps leading to the top, while the hillside bakes in the sunlight. Along the way as he is taken by fatigue, he can see that the devotion of the people is etched into the stone steps. Fresh coats of turmeric and vermilion adorn these steps screaming out the back pain of all the aspirants who tried to make it up the hill, bending over to add their bit, saying "Govinda Gooooovinda" along the way.

The echoes of this sacred name "Govinda Gooooovinda", brings in the inspiration to reach the top of the first hill. People yell out the Lords name as they ascend up the hill, taking occasional breaks to catch their breath. Once Srinivasan reaches the top of the first hill, there are enough refreshments to take him up the climb. Well at least he has now covered the first climb.

Now it gets a shade easier. The walk along the hillside displays deer sanctuaries; vegetation and forests with wild life add ons. Now the crossing of 7 hills is more like a cruise as the maximum height of a flight of steps is about 7 to 8 at best, still bright with the glowing fresh coat of vermilion on turmeric paste. People chat along the way, families make friends with other families, people tend to know each other, bonding and talking about themselves or the divinity and spiritualism. They make the climb slightly more entertaining with occasional outbursts of "Govinda Gooooovinda" along the way, making it even more pleasurable spiritually as every one along the stretch shouts along adding to the common community spirit, enhancing the feeling of devotion. Srinivasan adds his bit of "Govinda Gooooovinda" as he continues his climb up the hills.

This is a two-way passage, which also has people coming down the hill, most often tonsured as they have offered their hair to the Lord. Tonsured heads are easy to find along this stretch, it’s not for style, its sacrifice. As the hours crawl by and even the conversation take a toll on the mind, Srinivasan now walks in silence thinking to himself... about life, family, god, spiritualism, or what ever is lined up to do when he goes back home with occasional "Govinda Gooooovinda" echoing along the way. There is a point when the walk up meets the road to drive up.

This is a beautiful stretch along a now lonely hillside, with occasional vehicles zooming up the steep slope along the cliffside. This stretch has a few interesting things to offer. Two places along the cliff for a view of the valley below, which Srinivasan looks over to get a fair idea of the height he is at which until now was not visible. Steep cliffs, drenched in monsoon clouds at the right time of the year, displaying beautiful waterfalls in the very lap of nature. Among the wet rocky cliff sides is a shrine of Ganesha,carved into the cliff. Srinivasan stops by to pay his respects to the deity and carries on with his walk up. The walk goes on, it bridges the way from one hill to another and finally leads Srinivasan to the last climb. This is the last and final climb up, steep, intimidating and exhaustive along a steep cliff edge, all for that one glimpse of the Lord. Oh! What a beautiful sight.

Once on the top, it doesn't feel like Srinivasan climbed the hill at all. It feels like flat ground, with Lodges and hotels in all shapes and sizes advertising themselves to Srinivasan to take refuge and rest his tired feet, and the worst - people, people, people everywhere. It feels like the entire Indian population is parked here. Having tested his capacity to walk up seven hills and walk to the temple is not the end of the test, what lies ahead is even tougher. The three-hour wait, two if he is lucky, one if he really pays his way through, it’s no joke. Most people who show up here are very aware of this fact.

Srinivasan now finds himself waiting in claustrophobic passages, getting narrower by the minute, there is no chance of going to the loo if he gets into these queues, and he has to wait for hours for the queues to move. It feels like animals in cages and the long winding passages are to be seen to be believed. Yet the devotion is so strong that Srinivasan will wait for hours to see that one glimpse of God.

Along these long narrow passages are inscriptions along the stonewalls, relating to the time of Krishnadevaraya, of the Vijayanagar empire. Finally the crowd heads towards the shrine and Srinivasan moves frantically with it in anticipation of that one glimpse. For that one glimpse, he has traveled so long, for that one glimpse that he has longed for, has dreamt of in his sleep for, has been restless about and has come to Tirupati to fulfill this one desire, that glimpse! That one glimpse he longs for, which attracts a million Indians to this temple every year. He enters craning his neck to see the Lord standing in silence at the far end of the inner sanctum.

Finally the moment comes, when Srinivasan is now nearing the most wanted place to see the Lord completely, eye to eye, standing right in front of the deity, its this moment when he thinks about all that he did to see this one glimpse of The Lord, the restlessness, those claustrophobic queues and waiting for hours in dingy rooms to get this one glimpse, that long walk and those miserable energy sapping climbs to see this one glimpse, seems to have finally paid off. Finally the crowd moves in, the sound of "govinda goooovinda" fill the air which has "om namah narayanaya" humming in the background, oh the air, the smell of incense and finally the last walk into the sanctum.

Srinivasan enters, being pushed through the crowd, as if in a trance, speechless with a blank mind forgetting his entire wish lists when he comes face to face with the Lord. Its the moment of that one last glimpse, which he is so over whelmed with that he bows to the Lord in complete humility and prays for those few seconds he has been granted - with Eyes Shut!!!


JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha!
This is an interesting narration that shows the faith Mr Srinivasan has on the Creator, as a reflection of the ancient belief being continued from time immemorial… I recall that when I had climbed up the relatively lesser numbers of steps leading to the Navagraha Temple in Guwahati, over two decades ago, the priest there told me that the temple existed at the location where it was originallay constructed by Brahma Himself! He said that He had personally established Pragjyotishpur, the ‘ancient city of Astrologers’, in that region and had taught the residents the science of Astrology…

An average ‘Hindu’ by birth, bogged down by his day-to-day multifarious activities related primarily to satisfy his basic needs, consciously or unconsciously hears the mythological stories, which normally sound like fantasies, viz., Hanuman flying with mountain held up in one of his hands, Ravana shaking the Mount Kailash to make Shiva feel his presence, Krishna lifting Mount Goverdhan on His little finger to save the residents of Brindavan from the wrath of Indra, Mother Yashodha seeing the entire universe inside child Krishna’s mouth, and so on!

Obviously, one can go into the depth of these stories only if one has the ‘inclination’ or the curiosity and also spare time on hand… However, till I started personally experiencing certain phenomena, which couldn’t be explained by normal logic - due to whatever reasons - I hadn’t given much thought about ‘spirituality’, as I had believed there was one God who was in command of the entire physical forms of the universe and that He was beyond average man’s reach…

Now, when I visited Siddhi Vinayak, or Ganesha, Temple in Mumbai a few years ago, I was asked by somebody if I had had darshan or glimpse of His idol, my spontaneous reply, in light humour, was, “It’s not important that I have His darshan, I will feel blessed only if He had my darshan!” :D

Vimanonym said...

Have you ever gone to the KaliGhat in calcutta during the day of a Bali! it is a mixture of blood, gore, bhakti, and a lot of primeval instincts being awakened...end of day you feel refreshed after an experience...have you wondered why some temples have a feel of serenity about them while some are thrown in chaos...i think there is a reason...i may just about hit on the reason sometime soon..

kavitha said...

hey i like the name vimanonym! pretty neat. yes! i have got kalighat on my list of places to visit to see a tantrik ritual in action to the goddess. i have heard enough about it and have seen plenty of references of it in the book "AGHORA".
i would me most interested to know your experience there. that place just calls me. another temple i would love to visit in orissa is "vithal deol" temple, supposedly made for the goddess, but they used to indulge in human sacrifice. the outer walls have scenes of copulation and the inner walls depict every thing to do with blood sacrifice. the interiors have images of bhairava and chamunda - its just awesome. should go there sometime.

Rangakrishnan Srinivasan said...

well, it made a real interesting read. personally, i feel that the greatest pleasure that can be obtained is when the devotee has taken the difficult path. hours of waiting in the queue, being a mute witness to the fights and quarrels during the queue, etc. are defly worth it.

i have often noticed that ppl often are in a hurry to come out of the inner hall; where one goes to the outer hall for prasadam. ppl are restless; they don't want to wait in another queue to get out..i hope i am expressing the scenario..

btw, i suppose u forgot to mention the tall and empowering idol of hanuman; on the way up the hills..

and not to forget the umpteen stalls and assorted variety of goodies... the best part for children on the way atop the hill.

guess, i would pay a regular visit to ur blog... on indian temples.. well, i love the temples.. some in the spiritual sense and some for just their inspiring and awesome architecture.. that often bears testimony to the wonderful capabilities of man.

do keep writing!!!

Eroteme said...

You have an interesting blog here. Very nice read.
My tryst with Tirupathi-perumaal was a little different.
I was on my trip from Madras to Pune (for my placements on campus) and I met this girl, Vaishnavi. She was studying in Anna Univ. She was a pleasant girl with whom a conversation was inevitable... Soon we were discussing about Tirupati and I told her that I am not fond of that temple, due to its rush and the way we hardly get time to even focus on the god before we are shoved out. Her father (and herself) were great devotees of the perumaal and she went ahead ot tell me stories, way into the night (2:00 hrs). She showed me Tirupati in a different light. We exchanged email addresses and then we parted.
I visited Tirupati afterwards and enjoyed the experience and everytime thereafter.
None of her email addresses worked. I have been searching for her ever since... :-|

Do keep posting more of these...

Saurabh Saxena said...

I do not understand, how you can appreciate any kind of human or animal sacrifice and at the end of the day feel refresh, this is very disturbing. Is your god happy with the blood, and remember this the blood of an innocent. And also your god is my god as well as I am also a Hindu. I do not agree with such kind of rituals and am ready to go to hell if I have to keep this belief intact. I never understood the scarificial worrship and condemn it from inner of my heart. I feel sorry for all those who enjoy such kind of rituals and even who witness these. Sorry for such strong comments, but I couldn't stop my self writing all this. Also about the temples where devotees are expected to go through long waiting periods and witness the finacial game of this worship. I believe in god for sure, but i do not believe in all those children of God who have made this as a business and prospering through it as well, propsering better than all the devotees in fact.