Everyone who visits India makes at least one visit to the temples or mosque. Spirituality is so strongly observed that even an atheist is confused. It is difficult to explain about the crowd standing in long queue for six hours just to get thirty seconds glimpse of the idol inside the temple, of offering garlands and coconuts which are recycled and resold at stalls outside the temple, of eating oily and sweet Prasad even though the health does not permit. To an atheist, temples are just architectural monuments to be enjoyed for their carvings on pillars and ceiling, but to a devotee, it’s a place where their prayers can be answered, it’s the place where they can find peace and compassion.
Whatever the reason, the temple devoted to Venkateswara at Tirumala is believed to be one of the richest pilgrimage center in India. The temple is visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily, while on special occasions and festivals like the annual Brahmotsavam, the number of pilgrims shoots up to 500,000, making it the most-visited holy place in the world. The popularity of this temple is so high that they have made replica of this temple in different parts of India.
One such replica is in Narayanpur, near Pune. Not having the opportunity to visit the temple at Tirupati, I was curious to visit this place at Narayanpur.
We started from Pune early morning; it was warm and sunny day. Driving through the crowded traffic took a long time; we finally touch the express highway for a pleasant drive through vast fields spread for miles. The plants and trees on route were yellow and light green, family informed me that in rainy season the fields come alive, with lots of greenery and waterfalls on hills. It makes a pleasant drive.
After a long drive of more than 100 minutes, we finally drove through dirt part to reach the beautiful Balaji temple.
You are suddenly transferred to a different world as soon as you enter the gates. The lawns are manicured, the cleanliness is maintained, against the backdrop of the hills, the temple stand proud and prominent, mimicked in wood and painted in grey oil paint. The sculpted spire over the sanctum sanctorum is painted yellow to pay obeisance to the gold spire of Tirumala-Tirupati temple.
On special request from authorities, we were allowed to bring our car closer to the temple; we left our slippers in the car and walked on the red carpet into the temple. No photography is allowed and we were asked to deposit our gadgets with the security.
Inside the big iron carved gates, was a gold temple. Family informs me that it is exact replica of the original temple. Even the black stone and other building material have been brought from Tamil Nadu, The construction of the temple went on from 1996 to 2003. The prayers and procession also take place on festivals. The priests who perform the puja also hail from same families as those of the original temple. One of the most important offering in this temple, is the ‘Thulabharam’. In Thulabaram ritual, a devotee sits on a pan of a weighing balance and other pan is filled with materials greater than the weight of devotee. Devotees usually offer sugar, jiggery, holy basil leaves, banana, gold coins; this is mostly performed with newborn babies. We took ‘parikarma’ around the temple. There were carvings on the walls and paintings in bright colors on the ceiling. Deities were housed in small cubicles where people offered their prayers. At the end of the round, big size laddoo was distributed to every visitor.
We finished seeing the temple in 15 minutes, family tells me that they spend many hours doing parikarma at Tirupati, and they have to pay extra cash to cut short their queue or enter from the back entrance.
The unique ritual of tonsuring of ones head is also done here at temple premises and I did see many people donate their hair in exchange for the blessings of the Lord. The collected hair is publicly auctioned to international buyers from time to time for cosmetic use and hair extensions.
On our way back, the ride was picnic style, feasting on figs, guava,