One fine evening during a call with my mom, the first thing she told that day was, “We are going to attend a wedding!”
It was strange to hear the enthusiasm in her voice. She knew I never liked attending functions. I said, “Should I accompany? I don’t think you need me amma. Teju(my sibling)and dad will be with you, right? Who’s wedding is it anyway?”
“I knew you would try to slip away. Lakshmi auntie’s son is getting married. And It’s in Tirupati, not elsewhere. Anyway, we should consider ourselves lucky to be visiting again after eight years. Dad’s busy, can’t make it. Your sister’s having her exams. So, it’s just you and me”
I’ve been to Tirupati before. But never actually with my mom alone. “Huh, this would actually be interesting though it’s only for two days. You and me on a trip. When do I pack!?”.
A middle-class Indian family’s trips usually revolve around holy places. I’ve been to Tirupati in 2012. I was 11-years old and I have a glimpse of that beautiful place. And I don’t exactly know where in this period, I sort of grown disbelief in pujas and rituals. In this modern world, it’s not strange to encounter an atheist. Young generations gradually stopped believing in god compelling in the technological world. But Tirupati never failed to amaze me. There are around 70 thousand pilgrims received by the temple on a daily bias. That means around 30 to 40 million people visiting annually on average. And this place is marked as the most-visited holy place in the world. The staggering fact of Tirupati is that the temple earns around thousands of crores every year from the Hundi collections, making it the richest temple in the world. A few years back my mother explained me about the great temple. “Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam is dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara, a form of Vishnu, who appeared here to save mankind from trials and troubles of Kali Yuga. You may visit the temple and plead the almighty, he will hear your prayers and grant your wish, for you should visit back and thank him for his kindness”. I didn’t agree with mom. I have always believed in hard work bringing our desires to life. I never believed that pujas and Vedas fulfill our dreams. However, I didn’t want to erase that passion and happiness I see in my mom when she talks about god, so I never oppose anything she says.
My mother is a devotional lady. She always wears a humble saree and has this peaceful charisma. I have never seen her worry or stress. It’s not like she lives carefree free life, she’s just always happy. I reached my home and we started together from Kakinada. On our way to the railway station, I searched my bag for my headphones. And shoot. I forgot to put them in my bag. I cursed myself and as we reached the station, and then my jaw dropped. There was the whole family of Lakshmi auntie’s at the station. My mom greeted them, they greeted back; I was overwhelmed by their hospitality. But this wasn’t the plan. I pulled my mom aside and asked, “You told it’s just you and me!”
For which my mom replied, “We are going to their family’s wedding with them, It’s fine. Don’t pull me aside like this, they will think bad about us!”. Great.
As the train started, I looked at my mom, who already opened The Bakthi magazine and started to read. It takes 12 hours to reach Tirupati. An hour into the journey, I was already bored. So, I went poking my mom “So, what’s the story behind the Tirumala temple”. She was all glad that I have asked her favorite story. As a kid, I learned many stories from my mom who used to narrate them as bedtime stories. After many years she still narrates stories carrying the same enthusiasm. Hindu mythology is tricky. One story is connected to another making it a whole different chapter. It’s fascinating and unimaginable.
We reached Tirupati town the next day at 6 A.M. It was a chilly and fresh morning. We hired a cab and went straight to the hill shrine. That journey did bring some nausea but it was alright. Our luggage was scanned and then we were let to go up the hill. There are seven hills Vrushabadhri, Anjanadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Seshadri or Seshachalam, Narayanadri, Venkatadri. Collectively known as Saptagiri — Seven hills. Tirupati is situated on the foot of Seshadri hill. By the time we reached the guest house, I was exhausted. I tried to nap but couldn’t. I took a quick shower and decided to have breakfast with my mom. We went downstairs, I had an amazing breakfast. My mom ate nothing though. “I will have something after the darshan,” she said. And then we went to greet the people there. We clicked some pictures. A half-hour later I was tired of scrolling on my phone in the banquet hall. The hall’s filled with strangers. My mom came to me out of nowhere, she was checking her purse and said, “C’mon now, let’s check some places around”. I was beyond relieved. I booked a cab and then we were all set to go for a ride. As we came out of the guest house where the cab was yet to arrive in two minutes, there was a Dhaba just outside. She asked me to tag along and ordered a coffee for herself and asked if they can get a glass of Horlicks for me. I was annoyed but also scared to tell her I stopped drinking milk two years ago, I gulped down anyway. Our first stop was the Venugopala Swamy temple.
This temple was maintained by the Hathiram Mutt. You will also find Hathiram baba Jeeva samadhi in the temple premises. It was said this practice was followed to find moksha (beatitude). The idea of a person burying himself alive seemed scary, but that’s just the way it is.
Then we visited the place called Akasaganga. The common things you see in Tirupati beside massive crowds are monkeys. There were especially many in this place. The waterfalls here were sleek and filled with crowds. It was a joy to watch running water surrounded by thick greenery.
There was this place called Papavinasanam. It is believed that the water had powers to make all your sins vanish. “Well then, I’ll take a bucket to go with”. My mother looked curiously at me like I literally meant what I just said. We sat there for a while, thanks to the clean grounds. We said nothing, we admired the scenery. I liked the sound of water splashing against the ground. I loved the aroma of camphor and the warmth from these places. I didn’t want to leave too soon but my mom was worried we will be late for the darshan.
It was around 2 o’clock we stood in the line. As we have planned to attend this wedding two weeks prior, we could not get the special darshan ticket, which costs Rs. 300 (also has to be booked two months in advance) and the darshan will be done a bit sooner than the Sarva darshan. We kept all our electronic items at the counter as they weren’t allowed. We joined the huge line of the crowd. I hoped it would end soon. But well, we were standing in the line for the past one hour. I was more worried about my mom, she had nothing all day except for a cup of coffee. The crowd moved very slowly, and the chanting of the mantra, “Srinivasa Govinda, Sri venkatesa Govinda” was on a loop.
Around 4 o’clock we were asked to be seated and prasadam was served to everyone. By this time, I guessed it will seamlessly take two more hours to get the darshan. My mom looked very weak at this time and I insisted we go back to rooms. I didn’t want to see her this vulnerable. She told it was fine but she was not. And to my surprise, 3 hours passed and we couldn’t see the crowd moving anywhere. I thought about college, my dreams, and the possibilities of achieving them and many more. Now, this is the longest time I have sat ideal without my cell phone, no wonder my mind did a lot of thinking. Around 7.30 pm, I saw the line moving. I was happier than the time I got good grades in my board exams. From that point, the line did not stop moving. We were inside the temple where the Muula Virat is placed. People were pushing each other swiftly; it was insane for a bit. I caught my mom and she followed me inside. That was the moment we got a 10 to a 15-second glimpse of the most sacred statue. It was a huge statue shining in front of me. I didn’t wish for anything; it was as if I got lost at the sight in front of me. So, I just thanked him to get us out at least after 6 hours. I saw my mom, who said, “Wasn’t that incredible?”. It was like she wasn't sick at all. Later that moment everything went fine. My mom dropped some money inside the hundi and then we left the holy sanctuary. There was no queue in the laddu prasadam counter, we got extra laddus for our people back at home. And I have to mention this, the laddus were extremely delightful. There is a long history of the Potu (Srivari Vantasala or the kitchen area). Every item here is made out of scratch with no artificial contents. You can smell the fresh ghee and jaggery as you pass the Potu.
We headed back to our rooms right at the wedding time. We rested for a while and got ready for the big wedding. However, I was there only until I had my dinner. I came back and dozed off.
The next day we covered some more places. We revisited the main temple only to visit the Varaha Swamy temple. I had some time to shop this day, I bought matching bracelets for my roommates, and some goodies to my sister and other stuff my mom liked. We went back to our rooms by noon and got ready for our departure.
Getting down the hills felt very uneasy. I almost threw up, but I passed out so I can avoid nausea. We caught the train just in time. Many people in our compartment were bald. I got used to Lakshmi auntie’s family and talked so much on our way back. For the first time, I was glad I forgot my headphones at home. We talked so much about how TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam) involves a lot of charity. Thousands of people depend their livelihood on the hill’s shrine. And how this has become a million-dollar industry. Sure, people like me don’t have complete beliefs in god. But I put all my hopes on god when I have none to depend upon. Maybe that’s why the name Aapada Mokkulavada is given to him. It was indeed a good experience visiting this place. The only big challenge for anyone would be facing the huge crowd. Besides that, Tirupati is truly a pilgrim’s paradise and my mom’s favorite place.