Friday, 31 March 2017

The value of Darshan - a lesson learned at Tirupati

East is east, west is west and the twain shall never meet


Ever since I found my God and Master in Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, I have never felt the need or desire to go on any kind of pilgrimage or visit any temple. It is not that I haven’t been to any temple or houses of worship. But, I have never visited them with the intention to ‘propitiate’ any God or deity. For instance, I have visited the Badrinath temple because my Swami has been there. I have been to the temple at Kedarnath because I love being in the Himalayas. I have gone multiple times to Lepakshi (45 kms from Puttaparthi) because of my love for architecture and history. Having gone to these places, I reverentially bow down to the deity knowing that my salutations are reaching Swami. However, I have never been to any temple with the aim of ‘bowing down to the deity’.

Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala (Tirupati).

Thus it was that I never visited the world famous shrine at Tirumala (Tirupati) though it is less than 225 kms away from Puttaparthi. I did not find any reason to do so (nature, history, architecture etc) and I wasn’t prepared to go there only to ‘offer obeisance’ to Lord Balaji (Lord Venkateshwara). That apart, I also had several reservations against the Tirupati shrine based on what I had heard from people.
  1. Stand in line for hours to go and see God.
  2. Pay money to buy a ‘darshan ticket’ and have a quicker darshan route.
  3. Get pushed away right in front of the sanctum by temple authorities trying to speed up the lines.
  4. Pay to buy Prasadam.
The fact that Tirupati is the richest temple in the world based on donations it receives added to my hesitation to go there. (Somehow there is a bias that lots of money breeds evil. As our great epic Mahabharata shows, money and power are not the root causes for evil; the greed for money and power are. And there is a big difference in owning money/power and being greedy for money/power.)


That apart, whenever I thought of Tirupati, I was reminded of the incident wherein Sri N Kasturi (Swami’s biographer) wanted to visit Tirupati because it was his family deity. Swami had asked him then,
“Why Kasturi? Don’t you have the faith that the prayers you have placed at my feet have also reached the feet of Lord Venkateshwara?”


So, whenever my wife Pooja broached the subject of going to Tirupati, I would hardly evince any interest. After my daughter Bhakti was born, Pooja wanted to make a visit to Tirupati and I had simply asked,
“Why? Isn’t seeking Swami’s blessings in Prasanthi Nilayam enough?”
She had her reasons and I had mine but the twain would never meet.


The passport to Tirupati


We decided to apply for a passport for Bhakti. Having filled everything online, we found out that the nearest PSK (Passport Seva Kendra) for Puttaparthi was (yeah, you guessed it right), Tirupati!


“We will have to go to Tirupati for Bhakti’s passport. We should have darshan”, Pooja said.
I agreed. I felt that it would be arrogance on my part and an insult to Lord Venkateshwara if I went to Tirupati and didn’t have darshan in the temple at Tirumala.
“But we will stay there only for a day. Let us not forget that we are going for Bhakti’s passport.”
I wanted my Swami to know that I was fiercely loyal. I was going to Tirupati only because of the passport. The darshan was just incidental.
Pooja told me that she would be booking the ‘300 Rs ticket’ because it would be very difficult to have darshan along with Bhakti in the general queue.She did not want me to argue about it and I wisely kept quiet. I told Swami in my heart,
“Swami, I am not booking any tickets. My wife is doing of her own volition. I am loyal to you alone!”


The passport appointment was made, darshan tickets booked and hotel rooms reserved. We drove to Tirupati on Sunday, 12th March 2017.


Welcome delight


Beauty and divinity radiate from Lord Venkateshwara. This picture was taken in
the Shanti Vedika, Sri Sathya Sai Hill View Stadium during the
Sahasra Poorna Chandra Darshanam (completion of  seeing thousand full moons
in one's life) of Bhagawan Baba. 
It was around 5:30 pm when we reached a place called Sreenivasa Mangapuram, 12 kms away from Tirupati. We drove into the temple compound, parked the car and went in for darshan. Just before we entered the temple, we witnessed a little procession of the Utsava Moorthis, the processional idols. Seeing the Arati, we walked into the main shrine. There were about 40-50 people standing in a queue and so, within 15 minutes, we were face to face with an exquisitely beautiful idol of Lord Balaji. I was overwhelmed with the beauty and divinity that seemed to radiate all around. I had Bhakti in my arms but I could feel Bhakti in my heart too!


It was only later that I got to know, Srinivasa Mangapuram is no ordinary temple. The deity here  is replica of Tirumala deity, larger in fact. It is one of the 5 most important temples of Tirupati. It was a stroke of great good luck that we did not face any crowds. I was grateful to Swami for the beautiful experience. It had softened me a bit.


We checked into a comfortable hotel room for the night. It was going to be a big day tomorrow with visits scheduled to the passport office and to the Tirumala shrine.



Further softening  in preparation for the darshan


The legend of Lord Venkateshwara struck a powerful chord within me because of a striking similarity with the Sathya Sai Avatar. It too contained a cow that was emptying all her milk into an anthill and a cowherd who took drastic action in anger! Lord Venkateshwara was discovered through that incident. Lord Sathya Sai was discovered when he saved the village of Puttaparthi (Putta refers to anthill) from the curse of the slain cobra and brought back prosperity to the residents.


Was Swami softening my resistance towards Tirupati by showing me similarities to prove that it is He who is pervading all the deities? My morning’s bath was witness to another startling ‘coincidence’.


In keeping with the sentiments of the land, I put on the kirtans of the great devotee, Annamacharya, on my phone as I had my bath. The songs were playing and once again, I got thoughts about why I should seek any other God when I had Swami. At exactly that moment the song that began with a climaxing high note on my phone had my hairs standing on their end!

Listen to the song as you read on!


Brahmam Okate Para Brahmam Okate
The line literally translates into - “God is one! The Supreme Spirit is one!”
This song was composed by Annamacharya to emphasize the equality of all beings and it was now reminding me of the equality of all Gods!


I almost melted. I had tears in my eyes but the water from the shower hid them. I completed my bath, woke up my mother in law, Pooja and Bhakti and then walked out of the room. My parents too were in the hotel lobby and we decided to have a morning cuppa and then check out another temple that was bang opposite our hotel.


Again, I wasn’t aware of the importance of this temple which was dedicated to Sri Govindaraja Swamy who is believed to be brother of Lord Venkateswara. The temple was consecrated in the year 1130 AD by Vaishnavite, Saint Ramanujacharya. Before Sri Govindaraja Swamy, Sri Parthasarathy Swamy (Lord Krishna) was the presiding deity of the temple. Situated at the heart of the city, it has a tall seven-storied outer Gopuram dating back to 14-15th century.


Two elephants welcomed us into the temple courtyard where hundreds of eager pilgrims were brushing their teeth and performing the morning ablutions. There was a queue of about 20 people to get into the temple. There was another entrance where a person was selling tickets for a fast-track queue. Each ticket cost 20 Rs. I had been softened and was now open to do anything for a good darshan! I handed him 60 Rs for 3 tickets. To my surprise, he took only 30 Rs!
“Only 10 Rs sir. We charge more only when it gets crowded to control the crowds...”
That further eased me. It was not as if they were ripping off people in God’s name.


We entered and moved right in front of the sanctum, where a seva, a ritual worship of the deity, was in progress. It took about half an hour and it was blissful sitting and witnessing it in the air-cooled interiors of the sanctum sanctorum. The Nadaswaram began the holy music. I had goosebumps when the tune turned out be Brahmam Okate Para Brahmam Okate! Swami was showing me that my shower song was no coincidence.
“Swami, I am so comfortable here now. I know that salutations anywhere to anyone reaches you alone because all are one.”


It was in that jubilant mood that I rose after the ritual only to see that more than 500 people had crammed into the temple and were craning to get a glimpse of the deity. I felt privileged to have such special darshan. We then moved to the neighbouring shrine of Krishna. There, the priest singled me for some special treatment, making a special offering to God in my name and giving me a large banana as prasadam. I felt Swami’s love and grace pour on me through Parthasarathy Swamy.

It is believed that an elder should preside over the Sahasra Poorna Chandra Darshanam ceremony. Who would that elder be
for Swami then? Lord Venkateshwara arrived from Tirupati along with His priests and paraphernalia!
(15th to 17th November 2008)

Brahmam Okate - oneness of Sai and Balaji


An amazing episode connecting Puttaparthi and Tirupati, Sathya Sai and Venkateshwara, happened in December 1998. On the 3rd of December, Swami decided to suddenly leave for Brindavan in Bangalore from Puttaparthi. I remember running to Prasanthi Nilayam in between our classes at the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School to bid farewell to Swami. A few days later, on the 9th of December to be precise, Swami returned to Puttaparthi. What happened in those few days was a thrilling episode.


On the 6th of December, Brindavan witnessed a unique sight. Dozens of Archakas or priests from Tirupati gathered in the Sai Ramesh hall for darshan of Bhagawan Baba. Their eyes were glued to Swami as He came gliding out of Trayee Brindavan, His residence in the Whitefield ashram. As Swami neared them, they seemed to get excited. Swami looked at them from a distance and said,
“Today how have you broken the tradition of yesteryears. Every day morning, you look first at my feet and then at my physical frame. Today you are looking at my face first without even taking padanamaskar!”


As the Archakas heard this, they simply fell at Swami’s feet. Bhagawan beckoned them to go in for an interview where He spoke to them for a long time. Before leaving for Tirupati, the overwhelmed priests disclosed a mind-blowing narrative to some teachers of the University. That narrative also made it clear why they had been overwhelmed when Swami spoke to them in the darshan lines. (Later, on the 8th or 9th of December, on His return to Prasanthi Nilayam, Swami also corroborated to Prof H.J. Bhagia, what the priests had said at Brindavan.)


The Archakas of Tirupati have the tradition of performing of looking only at the feet of Lord Venkateshwara and taking padanamaskar before Suprabhatam (waking-up ritual for God). They open their blindfolded eyes only after this procedure. As always, the senior-most Archaka went first  into the sanctum sanctorum for padanamaskar. As he reached for the feet of the idol, his hands could feel them warm! Totally surprised, the Archaka removed his hand and wanted to remove the covering around his eyes. But the fear of breaking the age-old tradition combined with his practice of 40 years prevented him from doing so.

As he reached for the feet again and again, the same thing happened. Unable to bear it any longer, he hurriedly removed the covering and opened his eyes. What he saw pleasantly shocked him. He gave out a shriek, hearing which the other archakas also removed their respective blindfolds. A sense of disbelief coursed through them as they saw that the idol was gone and Sri Satya Sai Baba was standing in its place!

This unexpected darshan for a few moments was enough to make the Archakas hand over the administration of the temple temporarily to the juniors and rush to Brindavan, where Swami was at that time. It was Swami’s divine manner of acknowledging their experience when He told them,
“Every day morning, you look first at my feet and then at my physical frame. Today you are looking at my face first without even taking padanamaskar!”


Bhagia sir adds,
“Swami told me that these priests offered to stay at Puttaparthi in His seva but He refused. He told me that they were not yet ready for the Puttaparthi tradition where everything is given free to the devotees - no charge for darshan, bhajan or prasadam. So, He told them to go back and remain loyal in the service of Venkateshwara.”


The great blessing of darshan


On the afternoon of the 13th, I had my first ever darshan of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala. Everyone around was saying that the crowd is almost non-existent. Yet, it took me nearly 90 minutes to get into the sanctum sanctorum. There also, Swami showed me that He was listening to me. When the line seemed stagnant and I was telling Him that I wish to hurry up a bit, a volunteer opened a side door and told all of us to use the shortcut! Within five minutes, we were at the entrance of the main temple itself!


The darshan was indescribable - pure bliss. Everything was dark except the beautiful idol that had been brilliantly lit by lamps all around. It seemed to radiate the message that in life, one need to blind to everything else other than God! Seeing the Lord for just a few seconds is enough to imprint that unforgettable scene in the altar of one’s heart. My softened heart was like clay and it easily got imprinted with the image of Lord Venkateshwara.


As I received the prasadam that I had paid for, I met a very familiar face.
“Sairam” we greeted each other as I asked him what he was doing at Tirupati. He showed me a badge that identified him as a position-holder in the TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam - the trust running the whole show). He then told me that he had been sent from Puttaparthi at the request of the TTD officials. He was helping in the training of volunteers on the lines of the Seva Dal that Swami has initiated.
“I will be here for a few more months and then return.”


I was thrilled. I remembered how these officials from TTD had come to Puttaparthi seeking to learn the secret behind Swami’s vibrant volunteer force. They had said that even if they pay handsomely, they would not be able to get such volunteers. I remembered what Swami had told Bhagia sir in 1998 - that they were not yet ready for the Puttaparthi tradition. Maybe the time had come now!


I was grateful to Swami for ensuring that even a skeptic like me could enjoy the bliss of darshan at Tirumala. More importantly, a thought arose from the deepest recesses of my heart. It troubled me in fact. I wondered,
“I am staying at Puttaparthi and I still do not go and have darshan daily. I have taken it for granted because Swami has made it so easily available. Prasanthi Nilayam is possibly the only large temple in the world where the sanctum sanctorum is open for all to see for hours! I know of the law of diminishing marginal utility which says that the more we have of something, the less we value it. We value things when they get rare. Just because something valuable is available easily, we should not value it less.”


But maybe it is our nature to value something only when it is rare. I have seen some people who stand for hours in other temples to have darshan but are more keen about shopping and visiting places when the come to Puttaparthi.

“We had darshan yesterday already”, is the prompt reply.
(Swami made the same point in His discourse during Ugadi 1992. This excerpt was played in the mandir during Ugadi 2017, just a few days before this piece was written. "You do not have the patience to wait until you get it. Men will wait hours in a queue to catch a bus or buy a film ticket but will not devote five minutes waiting on God, thinking of God!"
The names vary, the forms vary but the Divinity is the same. The joy of
Darshan is same. It all depends on our attitude and feelings. 

During a visit through the Bandipur forests, when the students were craning their necks to see the tail of an elephant in the thick bushes, Swami had remarked,

“In front of your hostel, there is Sai Geeta (Swami’s pet elephant). But you don’t care to glance at her also. Here, you strive to look at an elephant’s tail. It is the same in the case of the Avatar as well. When He is available to you easily, you don’t realize His value.”


Maybe, that is why He made Himself rare - so that I value Him and seek Him (and Him alone). Should I not learn? Or should I wait for Him to become rarer? I recollected what Swami had said in a very special private discourse about the pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam.

The Tirumala experience made me resolve that come what may, I will continue be a regular for darshan of Sai Sannidhi in Prasanthi Nilayam - the same way I was when Swami was present in the physical.  





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16 comments:

  1. Thank you Brother for sharing with us this wonderful incident.

    Thank you for taking us into the realms of omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Lord.

    Thank you,
    Devendirakumar

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  2. Madhusudanvithal Nori31 March 2017 at 10:49

    Sairam Aravind. What a way little Bhakti's passport application submission leading to awakening of BHAKTI through Annamaya keertana Brahmam Okate....there is also another episode of Mahila devotee giving a costly item (meant to be deposited or given to TTD as part of fullfilment of vow) to SWAMI in PN. When the couple reached Tirumala the husband approached TTD authorities to give cash in lieu of item for fulfillment of vow. Authorities checked their register and told him thst no payment is needed as the ITEM has already been received and recorded in the register. All these are needed to reinforce faith & belief in we part time bhaktas. Thanks once again.

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  3. So Bhakti became your passport to visit lord balaji!! Lol great experience n a good sound lesson for all of us.loving sairams

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  4. Beautiful.... really it is a passport to divinity...

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  5. Awesome learning through life lessons of Divine Darshan. Sairam.

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  6. Excellent message of reminder.
    Message of the link : http://aravindb1982.blogspot.in/2017/03/the-pilgrimage-to-prasanthi-nilayam-Rare-Discourse.html, has to be also digested in conjunction with this.

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  7. Sairam. Superb narration.Still ruminating the experience as if I was part of it.Thank you Aravind.Keep sharing such divine experiences

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  8. Sairam brother Aravind,
    It's so amazing that I got the opportunity to read this article just a few days after my first unplanned fortunate darshan at thirumala.
    I couldn't help but feel the same skeptic attitude in the beginning. Being a young woman in my early 20s , I was hesitant to tonsure especially since I remember swaami once telling that I don't need anyone's hair, but only love. But just before the planned tonsure, I heard swaamis voice in my dream saying that it is he who has called me to thirumala. I had no hesitation hereafter and I gave my long hair to help clear the debt of lord Balaji wit lord kubera. But after coming back to my home in Chennai it was little hard and shocking to see myself with no hair. Just when I was having my doubts about the validity of my dream and with thoughts of my dream being coincidence and nothing but my imagination, I have come across this beautiful article which has overwhelmed me. Swaami has his own reasons, indeed we cannot see him without him calling us! Thanks :) keep posting. Sairam

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  9. Sairam brother Aravind. I got goose bumps as I read your experience because yesterday (I.e. 30th March 2017 ) , I had Darshan of lord Venkateshwara and sat in the Sanctum Santorum for nearly 45 minutes(Archana seva through some reccomendation) and had some rare Privileges which are very very rare. Even earlier I have got very very good Darshans which include Thomala seva as well. All this Opportunities I have got( because of doing Namasmarana continuously. As swamy always stresses on namasmarana I try to follow that as much as possible From yesterday I have been continuously thinking of swamy and lord Venkateshwara and today I have seen your article on lord Venkateshwara and got goosebumps. Very very happy to see your article brother. Thank you so much.

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  10. What a wonderful experience! In fact that idol of Venkateshwara is no mere idol...according to the Puranas, Lord Narayana Himself took this form in the forest for the sake of devotees. It is self-manifested. It is said that if one puts one's ear on the back of the idol, one can hear the sound of the ocean and the sound of Pranava. The saptarishis have taken the form of the hills...in one of the hills Hanuman is said to have been born...in another, Garuda is said to reside. Earlier I too used to be conflicted...Though on one hand I wanted to go to Tirupati, another side of me would say that I have already seen Venkateswara in human form and so there is no need! So many experiences over the years have bridged that gap to the point now that when I see the Brahmotsavam held every Dasara, my mind is taken to the patha mandiram days when Swami too would ride on different vahanas for the nine days in different garbs...and how coincidental is it that in Tirupati, Venkateswara is also called "Swami varu!" Over the years I have seen so many similarities between Venkateswara and Swami, whenever I see that form of Venkateswara, I see our Sai Srinivasa alone. This incident really helped reinforce that faith. Thanks a lot for sharing brother!

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  11. Excellent narration.Felt very Happy to read the entire experience.

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  12. Lovely experience. Reminds us human being that we need to trust god plans

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  13. What time in the morning did you line up for tirupati darshan??





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    1. Another story about Sai Balaji

      Swamy consoles a mother

      The widow of a captain during the First World War, was finding it difficult to make both ends meet, with her three children-two daughters and a son. She engaged in teaching music to fend for the family.
      Days rolled on and her son passed his B.SC examination with a first class from the Madras University, even being in his teens. He was acknowledged for his early achievement by being offered a job by the army officers in their cantonment office in Bangalore.

      The mother whose joy knew no bounds, sent him to Tirupati to offer his oblations to Lord Venkateshwara, their family deity. As fate could have it, the boy got drowned in the temple tank. The police had the body with them for two days, unidentified. The mother however, got to know of the dreadful news, when she happened to see his photo published in the newspaper. That very night, Swami appeared in her dream and summoned her to Puttaparthi.

      In Puttaparthi, the mother and her two children were ushered in for an interview . Swami consoled the mother revealing the fact that her son was absorbed in the Lord owing to his merits and asked her not to grieve.

      However the motherly feelings would not give in that easily, that the lady was inconsolable. Swami then went on to unravel the past life of the deceased son, on his palm. The mother viewed the happenings of the fateful day on Swami's palm. She saw her son, slip into the tank, followed by a few who jumped in to save him. However all efforts, including providing first aid, seemed to be futile as death had already embraced the boy. This is what the world witnessed when the boy was drowned, however the mother got to see more due to baba's grace.

      The mother then, witnessed a lotus like flame emerging out of his body and proceeding to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and merge in the feet of Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati. The idol soon sprang to life turning into the form of Baba.

      Swami then brought to light the past life of the boy, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Venkateshwara even in his previous life. He explained that the boy had performed penance for twelve years on the very steps of the temple tank, with a strong desire to attain Jala Samadhi, the reason for which he got drowned in this life. Baba also explained that the boy took birth in order to fulfill the desire of his past life and acted as the mother's Guru to lead her to Puttaparthi. He thus, asked the mother to give up all grief and sing the glory of Lord Venkateshwara, who took her son into his divine fold.

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  14. Wow ! So amazing to read about the Saptarishis & Hanuman ji !

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  15. Sai Ram brother Aravind , feel so thrilled to read this experience . It is so beautifully woven with the song - Brahma okate .
    Thanks for publishing experiences in such a creative way ! Jai Sai Ram !

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