Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A million reasons to pray

Yesterday, i visited Tirupati, or rather the Balaji temple at Tirumala. As it has happened in the past, this time it was not easy to attain the 'darshan' easily. Like many major pilgrimage sites around the world, Tirupati (almost synonymous the temple, located at Tirumala, up in the hills nearby) also regulates the millions visiting the temple. I searched the internet for some statistics on how many people visit this temple annually, and came up with counts ranging from 19 million to 25 million a year.

The process to gain entry using the normal route can be very difficult and time consuming. This has lead to a lot of short-cuts to gain entry and obtain the 'darshan'.  Long back, i had walked away from the temple refusing to wait the time, among the myriad of other reasons, including paying money to see the god, obtaining help to reduce the wait time in the queue, and the manner in which the temple was being maintained. There is a belief, instilled in me, mainly by my mother, that the God of Tirupati, decides when you get to see him. I didnt believe it then, but after many failed attempts, this belief seems to have taken root in my psyche and so my special meaning to the word 'darshan'. Darshan as in, when you are granted the appointment to see the god.

Again, all this comes from the same person, who also toys with the idea of atheism and holds the belief that god is everywhere, literally everywhere and everything we see, feel or touch. So then why endure all this to pray at a temple. To wait hours in a queue to have a glimpse of a decorated piece of stone, covered in gold and other finery. A long serpentine queue filled with people in penury, to see a god who lives in an opulent home that is paved with gold. The biggest paradox is that you are pushed and shoved through a distance of less than 10 feet, during which if you see the idol for more than 2 seconds, you are blessed. And to further add to the anomaly here, like most people you close your eyes as you try to pray.

Yet, the reasons according to me are plenty. To me, today, the time i spent waiting in the queue to obtain the 'darshan', is my time to pray. This wait is almost an humbling process, when you consider that you are no different from the millions others waiting patiently or as restlessly as you to obtain the same fleeting vision. Every step as take to move closer to the inner sanctum, is moment to think and shed a layer of your ego. But most importantly, in todays world, the time spent waiting without a cell phone or tv or other world distractions (electronic kind), is a blessing in itself. You are only sorrounded by people, people like you and me, with all their shortcomings, held up as a mirror to you. So you can observe what you are or can be, or what you should never be, or what you must aspire to be.