It was 1 am when I reached Tirupati Balaji temple in Andhra Pradesh. Tired of the long journey from Mahabalipuram via Kanchipuram I was planning to get off the bus and head toward the nearest hotel. God had different plans. I was surprised to see bustling crowds of devotees at that hour of night and shocked to learn that no room was available in the whole of the temple town. I spent the rest of the night along with my co-traveler leaning against a concrete staircase inside a huge hall full of hundreds of people trying to get some sleep. When the day broke we moved towards the temple hoping to get inside for darshan.
The richest temple of the world, formally known as Venkateswara temple, is hidden from the devotees until they pass some barriers. A glimpse of the roof of the temple could be seen from a small hilltop. Devotees wishing to go inside the temple have to pay Indian Rs. 300 so that they could stand in a queue that is supposed to have less people. But that priority queue appeared to be a couple of kilometres long, forget about the regular one that I guessed could have extended several kilometres more. We decided not to go for darshan.
As we were moving out of the temple complex we met a yogi, who sported long beards and was clad in a saffron outfit like most yogis. He was furious with the temple authorities for not letting him inside. “They say I have to pay money to enter temple,” he complained. “And I have problem with these South people. I don’t understand their language.”
The yogi belonged to Haridwar in north India and spoke Hindi and English. But many people in south India don’t speak Hindi. The security guards and some vendors on the street who the yogi had tried to talk to didn’t understand English as well. That had frustrated the yogi. Plus, he found the denial of entrance particularly insulting. The denial had hurt his yogic ego big time. “What are they trying to do here?” he asked. “Are these people running a temple or a business in the name of God? I have visited many temples in south India—Rameswaram, Meenaxi—but nobody stopped me at the gate. How can a yogi like me pay money to enter a temple?”
Without stopping a penniless yogi from entering, no temple can become the richest in the world, I thought.
Rameswaram: It was not the first time I was left to sleep on the street or on floor near a temple. It had happened two years ago too. Here’s the experience (the photos on this post were uploaded this week!).
[This entry is extracted from an article that first appeared in the Kathmandu Post recently.