Friday, July 27, 2007

back from a beautiful vacation

Had a vacation this time which was well planned out much ahead in time.. which hasn't been the case with my usual vacations till now.. but do what I may, my plans had to be changed, thanks to the Rain Gods.. did get a couple of sunny days in between which was made use of 200%

Went over to Thriparapu on our way back from Nagercoil. I had been to this place 14 years back, on a trip from School. Could see that a lot has changed since then.. they've done some landscaping efforts to give it that well maintained picnic spot status, but seem to have spoiled the magic of the place.. was much disappointed with it, though not with the drive to the place. We took the NH47 which is unbelievably gorgeous around Thakkalai. Do find some of the snaps in the ppt stream below. More of them at: http://picasaweb.google.com/3ggerhappy/Thriparapu



Got a chance to visit the Kovalam beach after a good 6 years now, though my home's just 10km away from the place. It was a fulfilling trip. caught up with it during a small break b/w the rains... the beach was gorgeous as always nonetheless.. Did get to check out the old ITDC Ashoka Hotel which has been taken over by the Leela group now. They've done an absolutely great job with it. The only disappointment was the sorry state of the Halcyon Palace, thanks to it's new status of 'disputed property'. That's as many snaps as authorstream let me upload. More of them can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com/3ggerhappy/TheMonsoonBeach



Had been to the Vettucaud Church and Veli as well.. thanks to the new departure timings of the train and lucky for the fact that we did not know that beforehand.. got a good couple of extra hours which made us forget for sometime, the fact that we were to travel the same day!
More at: http://picasaweb.google.com/3ggerhappy/AnotherLuckyTripToABeach

Friday, July 6, 2007

a blessed trip to Srikalahasti

Have you ever been in situations when you just go ahead and do something just because you were told to do it.. no questions asked.. not having any idea why you are doing that, or for what!?

It's even weird when you do it because some astrologer asked u to.. (yeah I can almost see that smirk on the faces of my satyachristiani or atheist friends..) ok, the fact of the matter is that:
1. I do believe that astrology is a science.. but then I'm not too enlightened about dat science, so I end up believing the astrologers blindly and go ahead to do wotever is being suggested.. dat includes endless pujas and trips to temples which I have never heard of.. now, the second part is like a blessing in disguise to me.. I love visting temples.. n more so when it's temples I've never been to. (mebbe that's why I subconsciously agreed to do this with absolutely no rebelling!)
2. Experience has taught me that it isn't too easy to convince my Mom when she's made up her mind about pujas and pariharakriyas. If I plan to rebel, I need to be brave enough to fight all those emotional blackmails n I seriously am not too keen about making life difficult for myself..

This trip to Srikalahasti was something like dat.. I was adviced to do a rahu-ketu puja to ward off the ill-effects.. ok dude, so lets go do that as well! :)

The trip was wonderful (family trips always are, in a beautiful way.. more so when it is a pilgrimage) and so was this temple which actually surprised me as I've never heard of it earlier. I have to admit, Google Uncle was of more help than my AP acquaintances here! Though comparatively speaking, info was abundantly available about this old temple town's more famous neighbour, Tirupati. And that lack of info is what prompted me to make this post which I hope would be of some help to people planning to visit this historic temple known as the Kailasa of the South (dakshinakailasa).

where is it?
On the banks of river Swarnamukhi in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, India
about 30kms North of Tirupati, through Renigunta. (around an hour's drive by road)

how to reach there?
Nearest Airport: Tirupati
Nearest Railway Station: Kalahasti [KHT]. All trains from Vijayawada to Tirupati halt at Kalahasti.
Nearest Bus Stand: Kalahasti
The best option from Banglore is to go via-Tirupati: it takes around 5 hrs by bus to reach Tirupati(KSTRC/APSRTC do have their express/volvo options- though the Volvo bus service is not as frequent as the Express bus service), from where you can board an APSTRC bus shuttle (every half an hour) to reach Kalahasti in an hour's time.

options to stay?
The temple town is around 2-3 kms from the Rly statin and around 1-2 km from the Bus Stand.
there are some decent hotels around. One run by Saravanabhavan, which I found pretty good.

food?
The best option from what I could see is the Saravanabhavan Restaurant. Their gigantic paper dosas were a delight as always. n the pulao they serve there is the bestest!

locker facilities?
As I could see, most of the pilgrims were accomodating this temple visit in their pilgrimage itinerary because of it's close proximity to Tirupati. I felt most of them must b putting up in Tirupati and hiring a cab/bus to visit Srikalahasti. I could see a lot of (private) places providing locker facilities in the temple vicinity. There is said to be a temple run cloak room facility available, though I could not find it.
Cameras are not allowed inside.

what can I look forward to, in the temple?
Once inside the premises, I felt it is more of a puja mode with chants filling the air as compared to most of the other famous shrines where most of the devotees come in for darshans. Over here, most of the people seemed to have come to do some specific puja or the other. (it could have something to do with the fact that it was a saturday and also during the rahukalam) the puja ticket queues are pretty long and one finds every other family searching for the ticket counters.. in addition to the confusion caused by the options for the varied range of pujas conducted in the temple. (they have seperate counters for specific pujas, one needs time to figure out things there, so it's advisable to reach there much before your planned time for the puja) The longest of these was the queue for their trademark Rahu Ketu Sarpadosha Nivarana Puja

One needs to take tickets for the darshan too.. but then they have different rows for pradakshina and darshan depending on the cost of the ticket you have taken.. the costlier ones fetch you 5 star treatment and let you take the row nearer to the sanctum sanctorum while the others have to struggle their way through the row next to it. (yeah, money talks everywhere, baby!)

Keep lots of loose change with you.. (Read in multiples of Rs.10.. which I felt was the standard range in here)
Tipping/dakshina is inevitable in this place. Papa claims to have spotted notice boards in there, asking the devotees to abstain from giving it. But it's something which is being followed very religiously in here. It is a beautiful stone temple, and a pretty big one.. though not too big that you could get lost in there. There are many dieties placed around the pradakshina path, again with lone tantris/ priests doing arti. some of them had boards nearby displaying the dakshina rate from Rs.10 to 100. (Somehow it reminded me of the trips to some amusement parks, which charge you an entry fee and then once inside, you have to shell out more for taking the rides of your choice.. talk about commercialization.. it's like 'on your face', everywhere!) And at one place, a bunch of cleaners approached us demanding 'something' as they are the ones who clean the place. mind you, not just asking, but following you for 5 to 10 steps bugging you till you give them the money! (me thinks the Temple authorities should pay them over-time or something for working on Saturdays?)

main diety: Srikalahasteeswara (Lord Siva)
Other dieties in the temple:
'Sri Pathala Vinayaka', 'Sri Balambika', 'Sri Kalimatha' outside the shrine and 'Lord Saneeswara', 'Bezawada Kanakadurga', 'Lord Venkateswara', 'Lord Subrahmanya', 'Sri Kasi Visweswara', 'Sri Ramalingeswara' & 'Sri Dakshinamurthy'.

The story behind the name of the temple:
SriKalahasti got its name because in days of yore a spider (sri), serpent (kala) and elephant (hasti) elephant worshipped Shiva with great devotion. A spider lived in the inner sanctum and worshipped the Lord by weaving elaborate temples and images of Shiva. One day a breeze came up and caused the altar fire to destroy the spider’s offerings. It became angry and was about to gulp down the flame, (realize the Self) endangering its (ego’s) life. Appreciative of its devotion, Shiva appeared and granted the spider a boon. The spider requested moksha, release from the cycle of births and deaths. Accordingly it became one with Shiva, the Self.

A cobra worshipped Lord Shiva by offering rare gems, pearls and rubies that it brought from Nagaland, a mythical place where Nagas (serpents) dwell. Serpents are one of India’s most visible symbols of the spiritual power of the Self. The spiritual power of the Self, called Kundalini, the latent electricity of Consciousness, is hidden in the dark recesses of the unconscious like a snake hidden deep within the earth. After the snake had worshipped, an elephant, fresh from its purifying bath in the nearby river, came to worship. In preparation it sprayed the altar with water from its trunk, scattering the gems. It then proceeded to decorate the altar with leaves from a holy tree. When the cobra returned it was angered to see its offerings disrespected and replaced by mere leaves. So it replaced the leaves with gems. This charade repeated itself every day until the cobra became fed up and decided to punish whomever was destroying its offerings. When the elephant returned to worship with its leaves the cobra slithered up its trunk and injected its venom. In agony the elephant dashed its head on the stone altar in an attempt to kill the snake. The snake fell out of the trunk and died from its wounds and the elephant succumbed to the poison. Understanding that both had sacrificed their lives for the sake of their love of the Lord, Shiva resurrected them, gave them liberation and took them into his own body. At the foot of the linga one can see a spider, two elephant tusks and a five-headed (the five elements) serpent to remind the devotee of these acts of supreme devotion. [ quoted from here]

More about the Rahu Ketu Sarpadosha Nivarana Puja- which is basically done to appease the grahas to pacify malefic effects of the planet & neutralize its negative effects.

fee: the options are>
#1: the ticket for Rs.600> they do a mass puja in a hall (outside the temple)within the temple premises.
#2: the ticket for Rs.1500> this is apparently the same puja, but done inside the temple, near the sanctum sanctorum. This is also a mass puja, but the headcount will be comparatively less. Upto 4 family members can accompany the person to the pujawith this ticket.
Note: * Most of the online info refers to the ticket charge as 500/1000. I'm not sure whether they have ramped up weekend rates as in the multiplexes(i told you, it's the commercialization story, again!) or if it is a plain hike in the puja charges.
* There is said to be another option which costs Rs.250, for the same puja. But I could not find much info about it.

The fee(I'm talking abt the Rs.1500 option, here) is inclusive of the puja samagri (which consists of 2 metal representations of Rahu and Ketu, along with the prasadam of Laddu and Vada. make sure you ask the people for guidance/clarifications, as in addition to what you are given at the counter, you need to go around and get the flowers n leaves from others counters (at a nominal extra charge- which is very much required during the puja). make sure you carry your ticket around.. (very, very important.. u'll need it everywhere till the exit.)

from whatever little i know about the Puja, it is said to give better results if you do it during the Rahukalam.. and some astrologers even suggest the day on which you should be doing it. apparently Saturday is the most prefered day for it..

The puja is not a fire ceremony(homa/havan). It's mostly about praying to the two (snake like) metal representations of Rahu and Ketu and doing offerings with kumkum(vermilion) and haldi(turmeric) powders and flowers while repeating the mantras which the Priest recites.(now poor me had no idea whether i was speaking telugu or sanskrit or wotever.. but i was trying my level best to repeat something like what i interpreted he was saying.. n I found myself praying to God to forgive me if um actually saying something stupid!)

You'll be asked to tell the priest your name and gotra (now I thought he must be refering to the janmanakshatra.. but SR enlightened me later that gotra is something different, and has to do something with your caste and it is mostly named after the Rishis of the Vedas - now um not too sure whether this gotra thing is something specific to Andhra Pradesh? :/ )

The process takes not more than 20 - 30 minutes.

Dakshina (This tradition is one of acknowledgment, respect, and thanks):
Dont be surprised when the priest murmurs something in your ears like a mantra, after the puja.. and you hear something like 200 rs.! yeah, he's refering to the dakshina! you are required to keep 2 crisp 100rs notes on the betel leaf and hand it over to him. I told you, its inevitable! c'mon, someone who spends 1500 per head for a puja shouldnt be bothered abt shelling out aother 200 bucks, eh?(I've been wondering how I did that without any afterthought when I've always been ready to fight such bribing in RTO offices and the like! Even when we were out of the temple, we literally got swamped with people trying to make some quick bucks by just holding an image of Tirupati Balaji or Shivji and a plate in front.. hatte katte people who can very well do some job to support themselves.. I even found one carrying a tired ill-fed snake in a dabba.)

I've been told that after the puja, one should take bath and discard the clothes / ornaments that were worn at the time of the puja (which is symoblic of washing away all the ill-effects). But I could not find it from my online researches.. and I did notice that most of the devotees there, were wearing diamond/ navaratna rings and Rado watches and brand new Lee jeans and i seriously doubt whether they were planning to discard them!? ;)

Another free advice which I was given is that it's better if one doesnt go to any other temples on the way to /back from the temple. I'm not too sure if it is just a myth, 'coz as I said earlier I could see many people coming here after their Tirupati Balaji darshan.

about the Temple town: Beautiful place. helpful people. not too many hawkers around. The people who helped us with our stay were very thoughtful and made our stay and the temple visit very pleasantly memorable. Guess it has got to do with the saying that when you get that bulaava to visit places of worship like this, the Gods make sure that you steer clear of all the hindrances for the darshan.

I'd say that this chance to visit the Dakshinakailasa has been a blessing and would recommend it to everyone to visit the place atleast once in your lifetime.