I had Pongol for the first time. It is a gravy of rice and pulses with large amount of whole black pepper. It tasted good.
This is a place, less than two kilometers from the beach, which tourists in Pondichery normally do not visit. This is a wholesale market area. Streets are clogged by trucks full of sacks. “Three and four-wheelers not allowed,” reads a notice board. Aren’t these trucks four-wheelers? No. I found out that all of them are at least six wheelers. Some had 16 wheels.
It is almost dark at six in the morning. Stench of decaying vegetables fills the nostrils. People are busy, working furiously. Crushed carrots are being separated from the good ones and kept in huge bowls. There must be people who look for damaged carrots. The huge edible oil store is empty- the owner sits at his desk with a bored face.
The bar is already open. It is actually a bar cum liquor shop– as is the system everywhere in south India. People down their two pegs standing in front of a table and leave within minutes. They do not drink much at one go and they are always in a hurry. But they start drinking pretty early it seems – well, even before sunrise! I bought a bottle of Old Monk. (The bottle actually looks like a fat old Chinese monk. (Since when did Mohon Mekin start making these bottles? It is a pity that I will not be able to carry it back to Kolkata. In a bike you can’t carry much luggage.)
The boy in his school uniform is serving us food. His classes start at eight. Before school, he helps his young mother. What is the father doing, I wondered.
We had started early from Kanchipuram yesterday. The first stop was Mahabalipuram. The Bay of Bengal is different here. It is not like Mandarmoni or Shankarpur or even Digha. It is not even like Puri. The Bengali timidity is gone. This ocean is angry and restless. The Tsunami had nearly submerged the shore temple and had crumbled the shops around it.
Auroville is puzzling. It claims to be the city of humans not shackled by the narrowness of nationhood and freed by divine awareness or awareness of the divine. Its citizens enjoy the freedom from private possessions – so claims the charters. But it runs on private donations. How is wealth, money created? Doesn’t the privately accumulated and donated money soil the great principle of freedom from private property at Auroville? It obviously requires a huge lot of money to create and run what Auroville is now. I must read Life Divine if I go back to Kolkata. My father had a copy. But its sheer size and the language had scared me. I was 18 then. (I have a similar feeling with Being and Nothingness even now.)
Pondichery is hot and humid at this time of the year and empty of tourists. March-April is the season time, informed the “Lodge”- owner. We are staying in a lodge and not in a hotel. This building was built by a French man. The room is huge. It costs us Rs 300. No AC. We are staying back here for the second day. We are too tired and our butts, particularly, need some rest.
Bangalore to Kanchipuram: 281 kms
Our plan today was to start early from Bangalore and reach Mahabalipuram. But we are staying at Kanchipuram. It has been raining here since yesterday morning and we could not proceed further. All our clothes are wet. The boots are in an awful state.
Our original plan, however, was to go straight to Pondichery. But we were told that the road was bad. So we decided to reach Mahabalipuram (locals call the place Mamallapuram) first and proceed to Pondichery from there via the newly built East Coast Road.
It is still raining here. I hope it stops tomorrow.
When I see the temples and monuments, I invariably brush my hands over their walls. I feel like I am touching the men who built these structures long, long time ago. The Pallava king Narasimhan I built the temples at Mahabalipuram. He is long gone. No one even remembers the sculptors who created these marvelous pieces of art. Humans die. Only the rocks remain. How long will even the rocks remain - surely not for eternity? Even the earth will cease to exist one day.
May be I will live for another 20 years, which means I have another 7300 days (20 x 365) to survive. My mother died at 78. She lived for 28,470 days.
We -a specific composition of dust - will disintegrate into dust. We are falling in love with dust, getting angry with dust, rubbing dust with dust to create dust. We are dust.
It is difficult for us to accept it. We have been taught to think differently. We, the English-educated, have Greek philosophy at the core of our knowledge. There is a fundamental fallacy in Greek logic – it willy-nilly places self at the centre of creation. For the Greek, nature is there to be conquered. For them, human "civilization" is the result of victory over nature. But then every war leaves behind its casualties. The war against nature is no different. And we are in the habit of remembering only the heroes of war and not the victims.
The idea that we are falling in love with dust, making love to dust and creating dust is disturbing. So let’s forget what disturbs.
Bangalore to Hosur (NH 4) 40 kms to Krishnagiri (NH 4) 48 kms to Vellore (NH 46) 117 kms to Kanchipuram (NH 46) 76 kms.
Nothing to report today. Just one clarification. We actually heard the roar of a tiger from the Tirumala hills yesterday. But it was not a wild beast. There is a zoo at the foot of the hill just outside Tirupati town. It is amazing that the people could not tell us this simple fact. Or, may be, there was the same language problem.
Once again getting media coverage in Bangalore.
They pray to Lord Venkateswara and drink the whole night in ecstasy. Jeans clad yuppies wearing Michael Jacson T-shirts tonsure their heads and rush to the hotel to spend quality time with girl friends. All restaurants are full of bald people – men, women and children. Welcome to Tirupati.
I never like religious places. As a rule the hotelwallas, shopkeepers and auto drivers will try to cheat. It is apparent that the displayed devotion is clearly not towards the gods but towards self. People pray for material benefits for themselves by bribing the gods.
The temple at Tirumala on top of the hills 24 kms from Tirupati is a model of religious business. It reportedly earns $ 6 million a year by exporting human hair. The total earning of the temple trust is over Rs 10,000 crore, I am told. Students of business schools should stop inviting Laloo Prasad Yadav types and should rather spend some time here. This is the richest temple on earth. This is the most visited religious place on earth (the daily average turn out is between 50,000 and 1,00,000 devotees). Bundles of notes and mounds of gold are acquired daily. It is perfectly managed. In spite of the presence of so many people at a time I did not find the place stuffy. It is spotlessly clean – no chewing of paan and no spitting. Anybody would respect the way this place is managed daily.
But as a tourist destination, Tirumala is one of the best places I have ever seen. The seven massive peaks with their reddish rock faces make one feel so insignificant. The forest is dense and huge. It is difficult to describe its beauty. I suddenly felt relaxed and peaceful. (I had a similar feeling in Goecha La when I had seen the Kanchenjungha from close distance for the first time).
It was 11.30 am. We were taking photographs of the forest below. Suddenly we could hear the roar of a tiger. It was difficult to believe that there was a wild tiger roaming down there though the forest was dense. We could see tall fences below (see photographs) and there must be a zoo or something. But as usual, the locals could shed no light.
We did not enter the main temple complex. I would have loved to go inside and I am sure I missed a lot. But a six-hour wait in the queue for a darshan was too much for us. If we had money, we would have been allowed an immediate entry. One must have a very deep pocket to seek an immediate appointment with god here. I was overwhelmed by the crass display of greed by the people who visit these religious places. They want to please the gods and seek some benefits for themselves.
We silently entered the complex where men’s heads were being shaved. When I was taking photographs, officials rushed towards me. They definitely did not want a journalist here. After all, this fetches them dollars! We simply fled.
The Route: 24 kms from Tirupati town lies the Venkateswara temple at Tirumala. The road is perfect. There are different roads for ascending and descending!
For the records:
Tirumala Venkateswara Temple of Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Venkateswara is located in the hill town Tirumala. The temple is situated on Venkatadri, one of the seven hills of Tirumala, and hence is also known as the Temple of Seven Hills (Saptagiri). The presiding deity, is also known by other names - Balaji, Vishnu, Govinda and Srinivasa.
The temple is reportedly the richest and the most visited place of worship in the world. It is visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily (3 to 4 crore people annually on an average), while on special occasions and festivals, the number of pilgrims shoots up to 500,000, making it the most visited holy place in the world.
Thondaiman, ruler of the Thondaimandalam (present day Kanchipuram) is believed to have first built the temple after visualizing Lord Vishnu in a dream. "Tiru" or "Thiru" in Tamil language means "Shree" or Shri".The original name of Tirupati was "Thiruvengadam" in Tamil language . The inscriptions mentioned in the stones of the temple are of Tamil letters.
Discovery of the deity is described as an act of divine providence: There was a huge anthill at Tirupati and one day a local farmer heard a voice from the heavens asking him to feed the ants. By chance the local king heard the voice and began supplying milk for the ants himself. His compassion resulted in the liquid uncovering the magnificent idol of Venkateswara hidden within the anthill.
Thondaiman is believed to have first built the temple. Later, the Chola dynasty improved the temple and gave rich endowments.
It was under the regime of the Vijayanagara emperors that the temple attained the majority of its current wealth and size. The coronation ceremonies of the emperors were also held at Tirupati. The Maratha general Raghoji Bhonsle visited the temple and set up a permanent administration for the conduct of worship in the temple. Among the later rulers who endowed large benefactions were the rulers of Mysore and Gadwal.
In 1843 with the coming of the East India Company, the administration of the Sri Venkateswara Temple and a number of shrines was entrusted to Seva Dossji of the Hathiramji Mutt at for nearly a century until 1932 when Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) was established as a result of the TTD Act, 1932.
TTD is now operated by a Board of Trustees and has increased in size through adoption of various Acts from five (1951) to fifteen (1987). The daily operation and management of TTD is the responsibility of an Executive Officer (EO) who is appointed by the government of Andhra Pradesh.
The Tirumala Hill is 3,200 feet (980 m) above sea level, and is about 10.33 square miles (27 km2) in area. It comprises seven peaks, representing the seven hoods of Adisesha, thus earning the name, Seshachalam. The seven peaks are called Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrushabadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri. The sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara  is located on the seventh peak, Venkatadri (Venkata Hill), and lies on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini. The temple complex comprises a smaller traditional temple building along with a number of modern queue and pilgrim lodging sites.
The roof with shining golden exterior of the inner temple that houses the presiding deity is named "Vimanam" in a Hindu temple. In the Tirumala temple, it holds a very special place as the Ananda Nilayam (meaning Abode of Happiness or Bliss literally) with its imposing view, magnificence, and readily recognizable identity to any devotee familiar with the temple and its fame.
Laddu is the world famous prasadam given at Tirumala Temple. Recently the Trust has taken copy right of Laddu prasaddam, hence, no one can prepare the same Laddu. Many other delicious prasadams are also available including daddojanam (curd rice), pulihora(tamarind rice), vada and chakkera-pongali (sweet pongal). Free meals are given daily to the pilgrims, and on Thursdays, the Tirupavadai seva occurs, where food items are kept for naivedyam to Lord Srinivasa.
Tirupati Laddu Prasadam and GI controversy
The grant of Geographical Indication tag to Tirupati laddu by Indian Patent Office in 2009 raised many eye brows, as it paves the way for enhanced commercialization of faith. The patent grant became a controversy soon.A scientist and IPR expert from Kerala filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking cancellation of GI tag to Tirupati laddu, but withdrew the same as a similar public interest petition was filed before the Madras High Court by another person. Later, Madras High Court dismissed the petition on the ground that there already existed an alternate and efficacious remedy, in the form of rectification plea before the Registrar of GIs or the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB). The scientist, who had earlier filed the PIL in Supreme Court, then petitioned IPAB requesting it to initiate an action on its own will (suo motu) for the cancellation of GI status to the Tiruppathi laddu. But IPAB wrote back to him stating that it had no such power to act on its own volition. The Scientist was not in a mood to give it up. Of late, he has registered an application with the GI Registry seeking removal of the entry pertaining to ‘Tirupati Laddu' from the GI Register.
Many devotees also have their head tonsured as an offer. The daily amount of hair collected is over a ton. The hair thus gathered is sold few times a year by public auction to international buyers. bringing over $6 million to the temple's treasury. As per puranas hair given by devotees is to cover up the lost hair of lord venkateshwara swamy.
Tirumala possibly has the most elaborate arrangement in India to sequence and guide the visiting devotees through the holy shrine. Because of the ever increasing daily rush of devotees, the temple authorities have set up a virtual queue system, where the devotees are given a specific time, only after which they will be allowed into the queue complex. This has resulted in a steep drop (by a factor of five) in the time that devotees need to spend within the Queue Complex leading to the main temple.
There are two major kinds of darshan (meaning "a glimpse of the Lord") at the temple. The first one being Dharma Darshanam - free darshan, which on average takes about 10 hours from the time you enter the Queue Complex. It is worth noting that during a high season (festivals, holidays, weekends and special occasions) Dharma darshanam can take as long as a whole day, while sometimes during low seasons it might take only an hour and can be quicker than any paid darshan. The second major type Sheegra darshan - costs Rs 300 and takes only 0.45 - 1.5 hrs for darshan. There are also special queues for senior citizens (above 75 years old), Non-Resident Indians, and for parents with children (below 1 years). One other person is usually allowed to accompany the senior or the child to assist them in the darshan line. Devotees who fall in this category should be sure to inquire with temple officials about the special queue, as it can significantly reduce the time and effort needed for darshan.