Recently, I had attended a Literature festival in Chennai. Day#1 was filled with interesting sessions with renowned personalities from the world of politics, media, literature and movies. For the initial sessions though seated closer to the back of the auditorium, we had an excellent view of the speakers – both live on the large TV screens for additional clarity. But then the post lunch session was a tete-a-tete with a leading filmmaker. I simply had to see him at closer quarters. So, the moment the lunch break started, I fought my way against the out coming crowd to get inside the hall and secured 2 seats right in the middle of the 1st row of the unreserved section. I could now view a better enlarged celebrity. Mission accomplished!
For those familiar with Tirupati, it is a very popular temple with more than 10 million pilgrim footfalls per day and excellent arrangements to manage the crowd, especially those queuing up for a Darshan or glimpse of the God ensconced in the inner most chamber of the temple. The wait for the darshan takes anywhere between 2 – 24 hours and the queuing behaviour of the devotees makes for an interesting case study. Some wait patiently in the line, with no complains or visible irritation and minds focussed on the God; some elbow their way into the crowd continuously pushing aside someone in a bid to move ahead and see the God closer and sooner and yet others belonging to the privileged VIP (Very Important Persons) class simply breeze into the front of the line and have an unrestricted close view of the God!
I have always wondered why people fight to get as close as possible to their heroes, be it a celebrity or the God in a temple. Did I enjoy any incremental gains from viewing/listening to the celebrity sitting a few rows closer to the stage or does the VIP praying to the Tirupati Balaji at arm’s length gain more blessings than a person having a fleeting glimpse of the idol from afar? Does inching physically closer to the idolized subject satisfy an inherent psychological need to be connected to a person of repute and bask in the reflected glory or is it an aspiration to really role model their core qualities and internalize them into ourselves? Quite obviously, it is the latter reason which really benefits a person and for that physical proximity is not really required.
A classic example is that of the 3 disciples of Drona, the renowned teacher of the Mahabharata – First is Arjuna, who can be classified as the VIP student, enjoying the privilege of being Drona’s favorite and thus the receptor of special personal and close attention. Second is Karna, who tried to elbow his way into the Guru’s attention and on failing sought another Guru in Parashurama albeit resorting to an identity untruth. Finally there was Ekalavya, who simply believed in the idea of Drona as a Guru, and became a proficient archer by simply praying to and practising in front of a clay image of Drona. He proved that there was no need for physical proximity or personal attention to gain the knowledge and desired qualities of an inspirational figure!
The first person who most likely comes to our minds when we are desperately searching for lost things is – God! Irrespective of how religious we are normally or how regular we are in our prayers, whenever we misplace something important and cannot locate it, we send out a cry for help to the divine powers. Sometimes, depending on the urgency and criticality of the situation, we add some perquisites as well – ranging from materialistic offerings to the lord to personal visits. In some Indian homes, its common practise to knot a coin in a cloth and keep beside the picture of their preferred God as a kind of reminder to fulfil their promises once they get back their lost stuff.
Question is, which God is best suited for praying to recover lost things? The answer is quite obvious in case of monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Hinduism being a Polytheistic religion offers a plethora of choices. It could be the family Deity, the most famous Lord of the seven hills, the eagle mount perched on the corner of the temple wall in the village etc. However, it is to the credit of Hinduism that the multiplicity of Gods & Goddesses does not really complicate matters. Rather, each Diety is assigned ownership and responsibility of a certain aspect impacting humans. We have a Goddess Lakshmi to pray to for financial benefits, Goddess Saraswati for knowledge, God Ganesha for blessings while starting a new venture etc. This can be compared to a well structured organization with clearly defined departments and respective heads.
It was while writing another post (The Runaway Brother), that I recalled the framed picture of a Goddess hanging in my maternal home, to which we would pray when we lost something important. I could not recall her name though and called up my mother to find out the same. When my mother told her name, Araikasu Amman, I was intrigued, as the name literally translates to – the Half Coined (Arai Kasu) Goddess (Amman). The Goddess, who looks similar to the seated four handed Parvati Deity in most Siva temples, is also known as Brahadambal. The original temple of Brahadambal with her consort, Gokarneswar (Siva), in Thirukokarnam (near Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu) is a rock-cut Pallava temple dating back to the early 7 century AD. Various inscriptions found in the temple provide a glimpse into its rich past and contributions of the Pandya, Pallava and Nayak rulers. Brahadambal was the also the guardian Diety of the Thodaiman rulers of Pudukottai (early 17th Century AD).
Legend has that, a Thodaiman king once lost an important document and could not find it even after a lot of effort. He then prayed to the Goddess Brahadambal for getting the back the document. When the document was found, the overjoyed and grateful king had coins minted with the image of Goddess Brahadambal on one side, which were then distributed to his subjects on important occasions and festivals. these coins were in a semi circular shape (Arai Kasu) and the Goddess thus came to be known as the AraiKasu Amman. People continued to pray to the Goddess for recovering lost objects and missing people and have reported having their prayers answered.
While the Goddess is mostly associated with recovery of lost materialistic things, she most likely has the power to also restore lost peace, tolerance and love. Only, people don’t pray for such things!
One day, the Sun was very happily shining on the village. But suddenly, the naughty clouds came and disturbed the Sun. The Sun went back home crying. His friend, the Moon who came to meet him asked – “Why are you crying my friend?” The Sun said – “When I was happily shining on the village, the clouds came and covered my sunshine.” The Moon said – “No problem. Drink a glass of milk and you will get a lot of energy.” The Sun said – “Ok, I will drink a glass of milk.” After that, it got a lot of power. It went back to the clouds and said – “Move or else I will send you back crying to your house.” The clouds started laughing. The Sun got very angry and showed its power. The clouds got scattered and the Sun shone bright again on the village.
Moral of the story – Do not fear, be brave and you will Win!
This tale reminded me of the mythological story of the great churning of the ocean by the Devas (the good folks) and the Asuras (the bad eggs) aided by Mount Meru as the churner, the great serpent Vasuki as a rope and Lord Vishnu himself as the base in the form of a tortoise. After several years of churning which gave rise to various divine things from the ocean, finally the divine physician Dhanvanthri emerged carrying a golden pot of Amrith (nectar) which would bestow immortality on the consumer. The greedy Asuras snatched the pot and refused to give a portion to the Devas. As they started fighting amongst themselves, Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini, the enchantress and approached the Asuras. The bewitched Asuras stopped fighting and offered her the pot of nectar for distributing amongst themselves. The Devas and Asuras seated themselves separately and Mohini started distributing the snectar to the Devas first, without any intention of sharing any with the Auras. However, one Asura named SvarBhanu realized Mohini’s intentions and disguising himself as a Deva crossed over to the other side. Even as he received and drank his dose of nectar, the Sun and the Moon, the luminary gods saw through his disguise and alerted Mohini. Immediately, Vishnu took his original form and cut off SvarBhanu’s body into half with the Sudarsan Chakra. But since he had already drank the nectar, he did not die. Lord Brahma made joined SvarBhanu’s head and body with a snake. Thus, the upper half with the head and a snake’s lower half was named as RAHU and the lower body of the Asura with a snake’s head was named as Ketu. Rahu and Ketu were then granted a place with the 9 Divine planets, known as the Navagrahas in Indian astrology.
Rahu & Ketu supposedly continue to hold a grudge against the Sun and Moon for exposing them and periodically get their revenge by causing Solar and Lunar eclipses. The Sun & the Moon are the most powerful luminaries amongst the nine astrological planets representing our Soul and Mind respectively. On the other hand, Rahu and Ketu are shadowy planets without any physical existence and yet shed a cloud over person’s happiness by blocking consciousness and mental prowess. Rahu, the head separated from the senses signifies worldly illusions and makes a person obsess over materialistic matters, while Ketu, the body without a head, restlessly seeks enlightenment. Both are thus Karmic planets, offering illusory temptations or cause humiliation restlessness and depression to the natives, which is eventually indicative of losing of the Sun’s brilliance or the Moon’s mental peace.
However, what is significant is that at the end of the day, Rahu-Ketu are mere shadowy planets, and the troubles caused by them can be overcome by sheer will-power and strength of the mind, as in the case of the Child’s tale. Also, Rahu-Ketu are not always necessarily always the negative characters they are made out to be and are rather harbingers of change which a person needs to face and overcome in his karmic existence. They push a person to challenge himself, move out of his comfort zone, face uncertainties, look beyond the deceptive attractions and eventually give up materialistic possessions for final enlightenment. The person thus grows richer by experiencing hurdles and difficult situations and learns to leverage his mental prowess and will power to be successful in the true sense. Thus, the brilliant life enabling Suns, the cool and creative Moons and the refreshing rain bearing clouds (Rahu-Ketus) come together and co-exist to complete a persons life experience.
The mythological story goes thus – A relatively minor character in the Mahabharata, Shishupala was born with three eyes and four arms and an accompanying heavenly prophesy foretelling that he would lose his additional arms & eyes when placed on the lap of his future slayer. His parents invited all kings of the world to Chedi and placed the child on their laps, but nothing happened. Finally, Shishupala’s cousins, Krishna and his brother Balarama came to visit. Shishupala’s extra arms and eyes fell off as soon as he was placed on Krishna’s lap. Realizing that her son would be killed by his own cousin brother, the terrified mother secured a boon from Krishna that he would pardon a 100 offences of Shishupala even when he deserved to be killed. Shishupala’s parents, in an attempt to provide him security, then placed him under the care of Krishna’s sworn enemy, the powerful Jarasandha. As he grew up Shishupala found a way to commit a 100 offences, the last one being at Yudhistra’s Rajasuya yagna and finally Krishna killed him.
All very well! But, was constructive feedback ever given to Shishupala?
On the one hand he had his well-wishers – his parents, his mentor Jarasandha and his close friend, Rukmi, the brother of Rukmini who hated Krishna and on the other end of the spectrum were his perceived enemies – Krishna and Balarama. His parents tried to protect him by pushing him into the arms of a person with his own personal agenda against Krishna and who naturally groomed him with similar views. His friends kept telling him that he was on the right track whenever he committed an offense in the eyes of Krishna. And Krishna too, just let him off after each offence, without taking the effort to make Shishupala understand what was wrong and what he could have done better. This was very much contrary to the amount of time and effort he had invested in Arjuna in the great war to shape his thought process. So, appears like a combination of lop-sided feedback – all positive from friends and all negative from adversaries contributed to Shishupala’s death. This is very much the corporate scenario today. Well-meaning feedback mechanisms have been instituted by organizations to help employees improve their performance and eventually contribute to the organization’s holistic growth. But, it often translates into a forum skewed by bias extremities leading to either flowery comments or petty personal attacks and eventually provides little opportunity for growth and education in their roles as against the original objective of the whole process. Hence, it’s very important that feedback needs to be constructive and corrective rather than simply positive or negative. Every person in the system has a responsibility towards the other in ensuring that he has a clear picture of his performance from the inside out, to help create a culture of positive reinforcement. Finally, it’s essential that that this process should be consistent, continuous and actionable.
So, probably Shishupala would have lived longer and been an effective king, had he received timely Constructive Feedback.
First, the mythological tale of King Dilīpa, the ancestor of Rama. Dilīpa was childless for a long time due to the curse of the divine cow, Kamadhenu. Sage Vasistha advised him to worship and protect Nandini, the daughter of Kamadhenu and earn her blessings for progeny. The king and his wife served Nandini faithfully. They personally cleaned the cow shed, bathed Nandini, took her out to graze and ensured that she was safe and well fed. One day, a ferocious lion appeared and attacked Nandini. The king tried to protect the cow, but the lion argued that as a king he was duty bound to protect the interests of the lion as well, since he too was his subject. If the lion was not allowed to consume his prey and natural food he would die of hunger and would hold the king responsible for his death. As a solution, the king offered himself as food in lieu of the cow. Pleased with the king’s sacrifice and fairness, Nandini revealed that the lion was a just illusion created to test him and blessed him. In due course, the king begat a son, Raghu, the grandfather of Rama and thus began the Raghuvamsa.
The year 2017 saw the rise of another mythological king – Dileep Raja, President of MaGoMa Rakshak Enterprises. A reporter from a leading daily managed to get an interview after a long wait. In his palatial office, he is told that Rajaji would meet him on the ground where he was personally supervising operations. Forehead streaked with vermillion, designer sunglasses, traditional turban and parked on a Harley Davidson, Dileep Raja is a modern GenNext entrepreneur. He is humility personified in welcoming the reporter and making him comfortable. The interview begins –
Q. You have set up a huge and successful enterprise in such a short time, who do you credit your success to?
A. I owe all this to the grace and blessings of Gomata, I am after all a humble servant and just fulfilling my natural duty by protecting her. We are the pioneers in this domain. You can call us an NGO due to our selfless facilitation of the GoRakshak initiative. And think of it, we have solved the unemployment problem by recruiting youths in large numbers. We are proud that we are a successful example of the DesiBanao Abhigyan.
Q. Please describe your operations.
A. In just a span of 2 years, we have scaled up our operations in 22 states and penetrate right down to the Tehsil level. Though termed unorganized, we have a strong network of volunteers who ensure smooth operations. Just like an MNC, we have high level Strategy, Information Cell, finance and Operation teams which work closely together to ensure success. We manage with the voluntary contributions made by the people caught for slaughter or smuggling and that is small compensation for the physical and mental effort we have to put in to ensure that we meet our daily targets of cow protection.
Q. But there have been accusations that you have only been paying lip service to cow protection by targeting certain sections of the society and do not really care for cow welfare.
A. All rubbish and this is a campaign promoted by the anti-nationalists. They do not want our country to progress by adopting our sacred dharma. What do you mean by saying we are not concerned about cow protection? We have been promoting GoShalas everywhere. We ensure maximum utilization of space in the goshala’s keeping in mind the space crunch in the nation. And for the non-milk cow, we have thrown open the streets. They are free to roam about anywhere they want and eat anything. Haven’t you read the WhatsUp and Facebook messages, where we have explained how the miraculous cows can digest anything including plastic? In fact, we have also opened a plastic department for solving the problem of plastic disposal in the nation.
Q. But, what about the causalities? Some people have been seriously injured and even lost their lives?
A. Have you not heard the story of Mother Earth, where she appeared as a Cow to Lord Vishnu and prayed to be saved from the torture meted by the unruly Kshatriya Kings? Lord Vishnu took birth on earth as Lord Krishna and was a major player in the Mahabharata war, which ended with the death of most Kshatriyas. It is natural that lives will be lost for a just cause. But, people can avoid trouble if they use their brains. The Mahabharata war was the doom of only the Kshatriyas, but other classes were sparred. So, people can avoid trouble by converting. Anyways, we have to end the interview now, as my team members have spotted a major incident and being a hands-on person, I need to be there personally.
But, before we part do make note of our Vision statement which is inspired by the Father of Our Nation – “I would not kill a human being for protection a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious. Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education, and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put an end to it. It will not be possible to save those animals that are a burden on the land or, perhaps, even man if he is a burden.”
Continuing from Part 1, after freshening up, we started to find our way into the temple. At the point of entry of the queue, we found following signboards directing pilgrims towards their designated entry points:
Special Entry or Seeghra (Quick) Darshan – For those who have paid INR 300 for an entry ticket
Divya (Divine) Darshan for Footpath pilgrims – For those who walked up the hill
Sarva or Free Darshan –For those who neither walk up nor are willing to shell out money, but are willing to queue the longest
Senior Citizens or Differently Abled Persons – The definition is self explanatory
Into the Divya Darshan line we were led into a large room, for depositing our slippers, camera, mobiles etc. to be collected later at the exit point. On to the 1st level security check, we were stopped by the security personal who for some reason got the impression that my friend’s Fitbit is a major security threat and we had to convince them that it was harmless, so better not to carry such devices in future to avoid unnecessary inconvenience. From here, we entered the Vaikuntam complex at 1 pm.
Confined in Vaikuntham (the Mythological abode of Lord Vishnu)
Our first impression of the complex was that it felt like a prison. As rushed forward in a semi-circular corridor, on our right we saw large rooms secured by iron grills right up-to the ceiling and full of people who kind of looked accusingly at us for rushing past them, while we were also mentally counting our lucky stars to be breezing past them. But alas, our glee was not to last. It was not long before we too were herded into a similar room and the doors slammed shut.
Once inside, it took us a minute to take in the fact that it was already crowded with people and we had to find ourselves a place to sit. The room was pie shaped with raised seating and we tried to position ourselves in a place that would not be too far from the door when we are let out. At the back of the room were rest rooms and in front of us, beyond the iron bars we could glimpse some greenery.
Taking in the sights around us, we observed around 400-450 people in the room in various states of activity – sitting and chatting amongst themselves, reading some book, looking at the giant TV screen beaming religious festivities, laying down and sleeping or simply staring keenly at the door expecting it to open any moment. Many, across gender and age groups had freshly tonsured heads. This was the traditional ritual symbolizing sacrifice of attachment to physical beauty and effacing of ego. Most had their foreheads inked with the traditional three pronged Tilak, which was a yellow/red line representing Lakshmi (the consort of Vishnu) in the middle of a white U/Y representing the feet of Vishnu. All (men, women and children) were in traditional attire (Men: dhoti/pyjamas with upper cloth/kurta/angavastram, Women: sari/half-sari/salwar kameez with dupatta) as mandated by the temple authorities. We were sandwiched between 2 similar people filled rooms on either side, which made us reflect on the question – Why is the Tirupati Balaji so famous and attracts such a huge crowd?
Legend/Myth:Once, following a tiff with Vishnu, his consort Lakshmi, left her heavenly abode and came down to earth as Padmavathi. To appease her, Vishnu took the human form of “Srinivasa Balaji” and took residence on the seven hills. There he fell in love with Padmavathi, and approached her father , the Chola king Akasu Raja for her hand in marriage. The king agreed to his marriage proposal provided he paid a hefty dowry. Srinivasa obtained a loan from Kubera, the treasurer of the Gods, on the promise that he would remain on earth till the debt was fully repaid with interest. After the marriage, the husband and wife took up separate residences, with Vishnu living on the Tirumala hill top and the princess bride, locally known as Alamelu Manga, having her own temple at the bottom of the hill in Tirupati. It is also said that Lord Srinivasa turned into a stone idol at the spot where the temple now stands with Lakshmi & Padmavati on his chest to help in the emancipation of mankind from the perpetual troubles of Kali Yuga. So, devotees flock to Balaji’s temple to have a glimpse of the Lord incarnate, make huge offerings of wealth to help him repay his debt and in anticipation of receiving his grace in return.
Locational advantage and patronage of the rich South Indian rulers have also helped in building the temple hype– While the origin of the temple is traced back to 300 AD, it was majorly patronized by the Pallavas (9th century), Cholas (10th Century) and finally the Vijayanagara rulers (14th & 15th century AD), under whom the temple gained most of its current wealth and size. The tradition of donation of gold and jewels was continued by successive rulers of Mysore, Gadwal and the Marathas. As in most other cases, public also followed the example of their rulers and flocked to the temple with huge donations. Besides, Tirumala enjoyed the locational advantage of being in the middle of the dense forest covered Seshachalam hill range and was thus protected from the marauding hordes of the Sultanate rulers, primarily Malik Kafur in the 14th century who had the dubious distinction of rampaging and destroying South Indian temples. This would have further enhanced the myth of the Lord of the hills with an aura of invincibility.
After an hour in the room, we started feeling tired and bored and tried to catch a nap – first in the sitting posture and then laying down curled up in a fetal position trying to avoid hitting someone’s tonsured head with our feet. Another hour went by thus, and there still was no hope of being let out. It was then that we started really value the virtues of freedom and empathize with a prisoner’s feeling in confinement with limited resources of entertainment. But then, maybe this was God’s way of helping us realize and reflect on the Supreme Being – being in a room where there was no distinction or advantage of caste/creed/education/social or economic class and without the frivolous distractions of modern day technology. This was a time to be at ease with one’s own thoughts and God, something we seldom get to do on a daily basis.
Tip: Do carry packed snacks and books in preparation for a long haul.
Every time some guard would pass by the corner, we would rise excitedly hoping to be let out, and finally when we did get a release from the room it was 4.30 pm. We had spent 3.5 hours in the room!
Queueing up again
Once out of the room, we went along the corridor again one level down and this time we tried to stick to the side facing the facing the garden, mentally praying that we not be led into a room again. Now standing in the queue again, we had a good view of the Vaikuntham complex. It was a 3 level semi-circular building with 19 rooms at each level and opened out into a garden. As we waited in the slow moving queue, the heavenly smell of ghee smeared laddoos filled wafted into our noses and all our thoughts were in tasting it.
The corridors of the Vaikuntham complex were connected to the temple through an overhead bridge, descending from which we entered the temple through the main Gopuram. On the way, we saw several age old inscriptions engraved on the walls, some which were irrecoverably damaged by continuous human touch. Before entering the Gopuram, we encountered another level of security check, where I was asked to discard the flower garland in my hair much to my consternation. But, later by the time we were out, I was thankful for having done that.
Into the temple: Be Warned – this part of the date is not for the weak hearted and I mean it literally!
As we entered the 50 feet five storied Gopuram, the single line transformed into a lineless, monstrous crowd with five people standing in leg-space meant for 2. With people breathing, pushing and pulling us from all directions, our major focus was to somehow ensure that we do not get squeezed or stamped on! This stretch is just not safe for the elderly, pregnant women and children and it is strongly advised that they choose alternate options.
Just beyond the main Gopuram and on our left, we got a fleeting glance of the raised Ranganayakula Mandapam. This had housed the idol of Lord Ranganathan from Srirangam for the period 1320 – 1369 AD for safekeeping against muslim invasions. Crossing the Vendivakili(Silver Entrance), we came to the third Bangaruvakili(Golden Entrance) leading to the Garbagriha or the Sanctum sanctorum, where the presiding deity Lord Venkateswara resides. There were two tall copper images of the Dvarapalakas, Jaya & Vijaya on either side of this door and the thick wooden door was covered with gold gilt plates depicting the Dasavathaaram of Vishnu.
Coming face to face with our Date
Finally, into the Garbagriha we were but 20 feet away from our Date, but here too, we had to follow a serpentine 4 layered queue. When we were a few feet away from sighting HIM, we prepared to keep our eyes wide open, since we knew it would be a blink and you miss it situation.
And when we finally face to face at a distance of ~10 feet, we ceased to sense any push or pull around us. All our senses were fixated on our date – the four handed standing deity (one arm placed on the thigh, one in the yogic varada posture and the other two holding a Sankha and Sudarshan Chakra), the Goddesses Lakshmi & Padmavathi on his chest and beautifully adorned with precious ornaments. And for those precious few seconds, we felt a rush of achievement and enlightenment. Reflecting later on whether it is the glorious idol that signifies God on earth, I felt that you may have as well replaced it with a plain stone or even nothing for that matter, and we would have felt just the same. It is the collective positivity of all devotees which creates the ambience of heaven and this can be achieved in any place on the earth!
The Darshan did not signal the end of the day and exiting the temple was another fight, as the same gate was used for both entry and exit. It had all the ingredients for a potential stampede and we avoided joining the line to the big Hundi as we just did not feel up to the fight to make a donation. By the time we were out after collecting our Laddoo prasads, the sun had carved a right angular path in the sky and was well below the horizon!
We ended our day with some shopping and just strolled about the place to soak in the vibrant ambience, key attractions being the DeepaAlankara Seva held to the Utsava Moorthi in the open grounds, the cultural programs and various vendorspeddling colorful stuff. Later in the night, as we enjoyed our Prasad – the famous Tirupati Laddoos, we realized that we still owed a debt to the Lord (having skipped making any monetary contribution) and had all the reason to make another trip. Most likely we would do it on a day in the middle of the week, thus avoiding the massive weekend and other auspicious day crowds, as the Lord is likely to remain just as special & powerful on all days!