To Lord Venkateshwara, I pray

Where the void meets chaos
Where diversity meets unity
Where noise meets silence
Where the self is and isn't

This is the moment of truth at the shrine of Sri Venkateshwara, Tirupati. It is one of the most popular shrines of India that has millions coming to meet the Lord, to have a glimpse of him and leave with a heavy heart, with deep emotion to have been blessed.

Getting to the foothills of Tirupati means we have been granted this divine vision, the experience of which is not easy to get. We are tuned into it from childhood to bear, to endure and to be patient till we make it to the inner shrine. This was a trip, of a different nature, of a profound kind for it was as eventful as one could have it. With a minor bus accident delaying us by 45 mins and waiting endlessly before the temple for our guide to emerge from the crowds, we were
finally guided towards the entrance of the temple.

This was a test of sheer endurance, with the harsh sunlight burning the stone and cement flooring that led to the temple, it was no easy walk to make it remotely close to the shrine. After 10 minutes of walk with blisters and heat eating into our feet that resisted the harsh treatment we made it to cooler ground. Then began the next ordeal, that of being a caged animal pushed among people and loving it as the only other echo among the chatter is the sound of the Lord's name. There were people everywhere, the pulse of India's population is truly felt here. We can insulate ourself from public transport, unreserved coaches, Mumbai locals but we cannot escape the queue of Tirupati darshan if we want to feel the real pulse of India.

Here caste doesn't matter, maybe even faith doesn't matter for one could be a foreigner subjected to the same ordeal. Here Bhakti matters for its the real test of facing the most powerful force in raw form. The gathering momentum of India's brute force, the raw power of the moving crowd that for some strange reason is racing towards the inner shrine and what's worse, we are in it. In the midst of this chaos lay a family within the caged queue, a helpless man holding his child who peacefully slept in his arms, with two other children staring at their mother who was not keeping well. She seemed to be in severe pain, sweating and gasping, seated on the floor, letting the world go by in all its insensitivity.

We were India's raw population and not a single soul among us even got down to asking what the problem was... and like a river in flood we moved on leaving the family to fend for itself. It was further down in the queue that I noticed a few Devasthanam personnel appearing like scouts with ID cards giving us water from outside the cage. I stepped close to the cage wall trying to hold on while the river of people waded by, speaking in Hindi and then reverting to broken Tamil on request. I tried in all my limited vocabulary to pass the message that there was a distressed family further down in the queue that needed medical attention and they had no way out except be part of this flood. Having gathered some attention and trying to explain the problem to them, I had quite lost my place in the flowing river with my husband patiently waiting and trying to figure out what I was trying to do. This was all I could do, limited within my cage, and braving the river flowing at me, the only good thing I possibly did was raise the alarm of someone in pain and helpless inside.

And then the madness increased, this was not just a river in flood, it was worse for it was reaching levels of stampede as I was being advised to stay in the center of the crowd and never make it to the corners for if I did, I would probably never make it in one piece should I fall or not endure this oncoming force.

We had now entered the temple, the Mecca of the Hindus lay in front of us in all its grandeur. This brings a mixed feeling no matter how many times we get this darshan, its always different, and its never enough. But this time we were here with a purpose, of having made a promise to return to visit the Lord and it had not been very easy fulfilling it. We felt the stress in every inch we covered, He didn't make it easy for us or for anyone else. And now we were racing into the sanctum.

And then we neared the main shrine, deafened by the din surrounding us, blinded by the gold that blankets the shrine roof, numbed by the eloquence of the atmosphere, feeling the fragrance and the essence of the temple shrine and holding on to dear life as we were given a push into the main mandapa. And then we made that crucial turn we saw all heaven descend on us.

Where the void meets chaos
Where diversity meets unity
Where noise meets silence
Where the self is and isn't

Lord Venkateshwara stood there in silence as if He had descended into real life to bless all of us. There was no one inside the sanctum, not a soul and the darkness inside enveloped in the cool air had just Lord Venkateshwara standing at peace with a few lamps burning around Him. He looked simply divine and warm and yet so far away from this chaos that completely surrounded Him. The mind went blank, the feet stopped to move, the breath stopped flowing, I ceased to exist and all that there was in front of me was the VOID.

This is what void is, void is where there is supreme bliss, where there is no sound, nor movement, nor breath, nor mind, but extreme emotion. Void is where the body doesn't matter but soul is completely awake, void is where senses cease to exist but consciousness is in complete power. Void is what happens to us for a few seconds when we are transported to the other world that appears in front of us in the form of Lord Venkateshwara. Void is that feeling of deep emotion where we can neither explain or prove but can only feel and emote.

In this drama of real and pure bliss that bathed us for a few seconds the heart felt overwhelmed and the tears rolled down in complete helplessness. We were rudely woken out of this bliss by a strong hand that pulled us away from that glimpse. We stepped out, emoting and overwhelmed, blessed, exhausted and at peace, in silence, in tranquility staring at the mass of people racing in for their moment of bliss.

We walked out, after having prasadam towards the main door with a bit of irritation towards the crowd that still continued to push. And then there was a scream from inside. We were told to move and a few men came racing out with a stretcher. We moved close against the wall as an army of men with walkies yelled asking for way. We watched as they carried a lady on the stretcher, the same lady who I had seen sometime back suffering in the corner as the queue passed by. She lay lifeless in the stretcher as it raced out of the temple door. My heart stopped as we watched her being carried out towards the ambulance. We wondered, had she just fainted or was it more serious than that, did our raising the alarm in broken Tamil help her get her medical aid sooner? What were the other million insensitive Indians doing instead of calling for help!

In this drama of life, where the single thought in the mind is to fulfill that desire of Darshan, maybe we can do better as compassionate human beings. If we find anyone suffering in the queue for Tirupati darshan or anywhere else, we can call for help and raise the alarm. The Devastanam has ambulances and medical personnel will come to the aid of the suffering person. All we need to do is inform the personnel in uniform that someone is in trouble. The queue will move on, and darshan is inevitable for we cannot and will not get out of it until Darshan is over. For those who collapse on the way, let the heart speak and let compassion flow. I was close to turning a blind eye like the others, I am not sure whether she would have survived without help from the masses - from us.

Where silence meets noise
Where life meets the gloom of death
Where blind purpose meets compassion

Let the heart flow, let the consciousness awaken
This probably is true worship, and the perfect endurance test.


JC said...

In the drama of life there would be innumerable versions possible, all with different experiences related with crowd.

With the approaching Shri Krishna Janmashtami in my mind, 'I' can recall how 'I' was once almost crushed in the Laxminarayan Temple Complex (New Delhi) when 'I' was a school boy (and my school also happened to be located adjascent to the said temple, perhaps as part of a grand design, for 'I' later joined Birla's Engineering College at Pilani the year Goddess of Knowledge Saraswati Temple was inaugrated there!)...

'I' am also reminded of reading about Mother Theresa, how when she had just retired from the School in Calcutta, she was still undecided whether to stay in India or return to her home in Europe, while one evening she was out walking on Dharamtalla Road (?) she found people avoiding something on the street. When she reached near, she found it was a leper lying on the ground. At that moment she believed it was Jesus who had been responsible for him to be there and thus she decided to start serving in India beginning with that man as the first one she would personally take care of...

God's ways are mysterious!

JC said...

Ancient Hindus conveyed coming to existence of many forms from the one and only formless at a certain point in time by conversion of infinite sound energy to matter (today expressed as 'Big Bang')...

Yes, Kavitha, the meeting point of original silence as the 'absolute truth' and apparent chaos as the illusion resulting therefrom, or 'maya', defines the true state of existence of each apparent material form...

'I' had apparently experienced that stage when in Guwahati the evening at the end of a day 'I' attempted to recall what 'I' was supposed to buy from the market while on way home. But, 'I' couldn't however hard 'I' tried to recall, one item out of which 'I' could do easily but not the other! It was only when 'I' surrendered in 'Ma Kamakhya' that 'I' heard the unseen remind me in spoken words that the item was 'koni' that is egg (and Hindus called the universe 'Brahmand', literally Creator's egg)! It perhaps was a reminder to 'me' that what one eventually seeks is the big void of the universe that is filled with innumerable physical forms within each human form, or self, symbolically by essences of '9' members ('navgrah') of our apparent solar system ...

JC said...

In the 'present', average human being's attention, by design, is always attracted towards 'technical advancement', including mega structures (temples included), made/ being made by humans alone.

It is difficult for 'us' to accept the possibilty of existence of some super being in the long lost past who alone cou8ld be responsible for the eternal drama in the backdrop of the 'most beautiful creation', called Earth...For, no one so far appears to have known the reason for continuance of the drama related with the supreme being's past, as it alone knows it but dosen't want to reveal it to the egoistic humans!

Aswin Kini said...

Tirumala is considered to be a boon to Hindus. It is one of those very few places where god himself has stated that he will preside there and provide his blessings to his devotees who come there. Unfortunately, what was once a very religious place has now become a money-minting company. IN the yesteryears, the name Tirupathi was synonymous with only one name, "Shree Balaji". Today, it is remembered for all the wrong reasons, "Long and unbearable queues, corrupt temple authorities, arrogant priests, and people who come there only to flaunt their wealth."
Bad things apart, Tirupathi is still one of the most loved pilgrimage centers for Hindus. As you put it rightly, it is the MECCA for Hindus!!!!!

Just adding on to your post, the Parthasarathy temple at Triplicane (Thiruvellikkeni), Chennai is considered as a perfect alternative to Tirupathi.
It is said that those who are not able to visit Tirupathi may visit Lord Venkateshwara, who resides here in the form of Shree Parthasarathy (Partha refers to Arjuna and Sarathy means Charioteer). The temple consists of two main sannidhis (A perumal Sannidhi and a Narasimhar Sannidhi).
This temple is more than a thousand years old and is reputed for its sanctity. Try visiting it once.

JC said...

Hi Aswin Kini, When 'I' visited the Navgrah Temple at Guwahati in the early Eighties, with a local person and a colleague of mine, the priest told 'me' that Brahma Himself had constructed the temple and established the city, then called Pragjyotishpur, that is, the 'old city of astrologers'. He taught computations related with astrology to the city dwellers Himself!

The ancient country thus has many legends related with God in human form(s) in all directions N-E-W-S. It's thus a matter of belief and faith. It is thus said that if one has faith, even a stone idol is God, or merely a piece of stone!

YOSEE said...

I have been to Tirupathi just twice in my whole life and from both times what i remember is not the splendid divinity residing there but the chaos and venality we humans have shrouded Him with.
What an aunt once said has remained with me : ' after much waiting , near -stampeding, arguing and grumbling when i finally stood in front of that cherished Sannidhi, all i could do was close my eyes and utter "narayana". My 20 seconds quota over, i was pushed by the security personnel, "Jaragandi", and i was out.Since then, i've leant to have darshan of venkatesa by just closing my eyes where ever i am. Why go to the 7 hills to see Him within me ?"

@Aswin Kini : Totally agree with your observation....BTW, Many other places too have the tag of "surrogate Tirupathi" For Example : Uppiliappankoil (Tamil nadu) , Karighatta Srinivasa( Karnataka),Chilkur Balaji (Andhra) etc.

JC said...

Yes, Yosee, After all was said and done, the 'wise ancients' also appear to have concluded and advised one to seek the Holiest of Holy Rivers, 'Ganga' (associated with Moon or 'Indu'), within one...and they indicated the human mind itself as the perennial supplier of thoughts just as 'Lake Mansarovar' appears to provide 'life-giving' water in three main rivers in 'India', Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra, while numeral '3' symbolically represents 'Om' the believable three-in-one formless creator, as the source of unending cycle generated by sound energy, the property also reflected by 'water-cycle'...

JC said...

To add to the previous comment, 'wise Hindus' indicated 'water' - believably descended from Moon - as the most important element (or 'tatva'), out of the 'panch bhootas' or 'panch tatvas', for sustenance of teh variety of life forms on earth, besides 'air', of course, that is associated with Mars...Parvati's favourite son Ganesha (in Satyuga) and 'son of air' that is Hanuman the flying monkey, both, are indirectly associated with Mars whose essence is believed to be housed at the basic chakra, or 'Mooladhar chakra or bandh'...

JC said...

'Indian Yogis' realised the three-in-one God virtually condensed at a point, Nadbindu, or Vishnu, literally the 'Poisonous Atom' when in an inert state and, therefore, being related with 'zero', unborn and unending and 'nirgun' or inert - who could only be reached with a thoughtless stage, which is impossible for a being that comes in to existence due to some temporary physical form assigned to it...Yogis therefore attempted to reach zero or near zero thoughts in order to communicate with the immortal being in energy form, or rather formless or nirakar...