Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Varadaraja Perumal temple- Kanchipuram

Varadaraja Perumal temple is situated 3 Kms from the Kanchipuram bus stand and the presiding deity is Vishnu. This is also called as Hastgiri ( Hast means elephant, Giri means hill) and the sanctum is atop a small hill. It is also one of the 108 divyadeshams of Vishnu where Alwars have sung in praise of the Lord. To reach the Varadaraja Perumal's and Perundevi Thayar sannidhi one has to climb a fleet of steps. The sanctum houses the imposing idol of Varadarajar and outside the inner prakaram of this temple there are two sacred lizards sculpted on the ceiling , covered with silver and gold sheets. Sculptures of sun and moon are also visible near this. Pilgrims are allowed to touch these lizards and it is believed that it would wash away their sins and would bring prosperity. This hill is encircled with double storeyed, enclosed verandhas with a terrace and the whole thing forming a beautiful courtyard around the Varadaraja temple. This temple is also more than one thousand years old.

This temple was earlier known as Attiiyurar. The original image of perumal was made of Attimaram (fig tree) and that image is worshipped for 10 days, once in 40 years.

There are sannidhi's for Rama,Yoga Narasimhar, Kannan, the Alwars, and the Acharyas, Kariamanikka Perumaal, Andal and Varaaha Perumaal.

The front side tower is about 180 feet high and was built in 11th century and was renovated by the Vijaya Nagara kings. The 100 pillared mandpam carved out of a single rock is a real master piece and we can see many pillars embellished with minute carvings.The temple tank is the near the 100 pillared mandapam.

Temple timings: 7 am-12 noon, 3.30 pm - 8 pm.

How to reach: Kanchipuram is well connected from Chennai by road . Regular buses at good frequency ply from various areas in Chennai.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple- Kanchipuram

Kamakshi Amman temple is very near to the Ekambareshwar temple . This is one of the sacred Shakti peetams and the only Amman temple in Kanchipuram . The deity here is enshrined in a sitting posture with sugar cane in one hand, parrot, lotus and chakra in other. The deity here is the Parabrahama Swaroopini. A Sree Chakra has been installed in front of the deity by Adi Shankaracharya. In the inner prakarm there are many shrines dedicated to Varahi, Ayyapan, Anna poorni, and Adi Shankaracharya.

Near the main entrance , on either side are deities of Kalabhairavar and Mahishasura Mardhini. The dwajasthambham is also near to this and there is a lion, the vehicle of Amman in front of this.The sanctum sanctorum of Amman is plated with gold and the temple tank is very attractive. There is also a shrine dedicated to Vishnu inside the temple. This temple is under the control of the Kanchi Shankara Mutt.

Temple timings: 5.30 a.m-12.30 p.m , 4 p.m-8.30 p.m

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ekambareshwarar temple-Kanchipuram,Tamil Nadu

Kanchipuram is about 76 Kms. from Chennai and is considered as one of the seven holy cities in India. There are about thousands of temples in this holy ancient city and I think one can easily spend about a year just going around the temples which were built by Pallavas, Cholas and kings of Vijayanagara. This place is famous for the world famous Kanchipuram silks and one would find each and every street lined with Kanchi cotton and silk shops. There used to be an old Tamil saying, "Kanchipuram sendral kalatti pizhaikalam " meaning if one wants he can go to Kanchipuraam and get his livelihood by weaving as this place is famous for handloom silk and cotton sarees.

Ekambareshwarar is the most famous Siva temple in Kanchipuram, another Padal petra sthalam where Sambandar, sundarar and Tirunavukarasar had sung hymns in praise of God. This is one of the Panchabhutha Lingas, and is considered to be the first among them as it represents the Earth. The others are Kalahasthi (Vayu), Chidambaram (Akash), Tiruvanaikal (Jal) near Trichy and Arunachaleshwar Tiruvannamalai (Agni).

The Lingam in Kanchipuram is made out of river sand and it appears like a cone at the top. It is believed that Goddess Kamakshi herself moulded the Lingam here out of river sand. Behind the Lingam are the idols of Ekambareshwar and his consort Kamakshi. This temple covers an area of 20 acres. The Rajagopuram here is 192 feet high with 11 tiers. The temple was originally built by Pallava kings but was later reconstructed by Chola and Vijayanagar kings. This temple dates back to 600 AD

The temple has many shrines around . Behind the main temple is the Mavadi sannidhi, the sacred mango tree where the Lord Siva appeared before Kamakshi, where she was performing a penance to reunite with him. Pilgrims offer their worship here and it is believed that if a childless woman takes the mango of this tree she would be blessed with a progeny.

There are also other shrines around this temple dedicated to Bhadrakali Amman, Sahasra Lingam( this Lingam looks beautiful with one thousand small Lingams carved on it). Then there is a sannidhi for El vaar kuzhali, the Utsavar of the main deity and Kamakshi. There is a Vishnu's shrine known here as Nilattingal Tundattan in the outer prakaram and is one of the 108 Divya deshams of Vishnu. It is believed that Vishnu helped Kamakshi during the penance when ever she faced obstacles.

The Nandimandapam outside has the dwajasthambam and behind this mandapam is the Maha Nandi. Each and every pillar has exquisite carvings and one can easily spend a day in this temple enjoying the temple architecture.
Temple timings: 6 a.m-12.30 p.m, 4.30 p.m- 8.30p.m

This temple is situated just 2 kms from the Kanchipuram main bus stand.

How to reach:
Kanchipuram is well connected by road from all the towns in Tamil Nadu and regular buses ply from Chennai with good frequency.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kapaleeshwarar temple- Mylapore, Chennai

This temple is situated in the heart of Chennai and the presiding deity here is Siva , known as Kapaleeshwarar and the Amman here is known as Karpagambal. This is also an important Sivasthalam or Padal petra sthalam. This temple has two towers, one on the East and the other on the West with excellent sculptures depicted on it. This temple also houses many sub shrines and each has its own beautifully carved towers.

Amman shrine is facing South and is near to the Kapaleeshwarar sannidhi. This shrine has the palliyarai (bed chamber) of the divine couple. There is a separate Utsavar for the Amman. Hymns praising the Goddess are engraved all along the walls of the inner prakaram.

Kapaleeshwarar sannidhi is facing the West side. In the inner prakaram as we circumambulate, there are idols of 63 Nayanmars, separate niche for the Godesses Lakshmi , Saraswathi and Parvati , Vinayagar, Bairavar, Veerabhadrar, Durgai Amman, Lingodbhavar, Dakshinamooorthy and Chanbdikeshwarar. There is also a separate shrine for Nataraja and Sivakami inside the Kapaleeshwarar inner prakaram.

Outermost prakaram has the Nandi mandapam and behind that is the dwajasthambha. There are beautiful carvings on the pillars of this mandapam. As we go around the temple in the outer most prakaram there is a shrine for Punnaivananathar. Inside this shrine there is a Sivalingam with a peacock near by. It is believed that the God appeared to the Amman here under the Punnai tree when she worshipped him in the form of a mayil (peacock) and this place is known as Mylapore. The Punnai tree is adjacent to this shrine and considered as a sacred tree and the aspiring and child less couples tie cradles with the belief that such an act would bless them with a child.

Then there are separate shrines for Saneeshwarar, Navagrahas, Sundareshwarar, Jagadeeshwarar, Narthana Ganapathi and Annamalaiyar. Each shrine has its own beautifully carved tower.

The shrine of Singara Velan (Muruga) on the South side has a separate dwajasthambha. Parallel to this shrine is a long mandapam where pilgrims can rest and listen to discourses in the temple. Attached to this hall is the shrine of Dandayudhapani and Vayilla Nadhar. Vayilla Nadhar, a great saint worshipped God by maintaining silence through out his life . The bell tower is also on the West side.

This temple is about 350 years old. But historical manuscripts point out that it existed on the shores of Chennai much before that. The temple might have been shifted to its present place due to sea erosion.

How to reach:

Chennai is well connected by air, rail and road. As its a metropolis transport facilities are excellent. Many budget as well as luxury hotels are available.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Parthasarathy Temple - Chennai

Parthasarathy temple is at Triplicane, in Chennai and one of the 108 divya deshams of Vishnu.This temple is about 1000 years old and the main deity here, Partha Sarathy is none other than Krishna, a reincarnation of Vishnu who had become the charioteer for Arjuna during the Mahabharata war. The main deity in sanctum sanctorum is very tall , around 9 feet in height and along with him is his consort Rukmini on his right and Sathyaki, a powerful warrior belonging to Yadava dynasty on the left who also played an important role in the Mahabaratha war. There are many Panchaloha idols in the front side. This is the only Vishnu temple I have seen the idol sporting a moustache.

There are two grand festivals, brahmotsvams here one for Parthasarathy and the other for the Azhagiya Singha Perumal which falls in the month of May and July.

Legend is that a king wished to see worship Lord Venkatahalapathy as Krishna. The Lord fulfilling the wishes of his devotee appeared here as Parthasarathy and is also known here as Venkatakrishnan.

Just outside the main sanctum sanctorum are the shrines of Rama, Lakshmana and Seeta, then a shrine for Ranganatha, and Azhwars. On the Pradakshina* path there are shrines for Varadaraja Perumal.The main deity in this shrine is sitting atop a Garuda, the mount of Vishnu. There are separate sannidhi's for Vedavalli thayar and Andal. On the western side is the Yoga Narasimhar shrine with a separate dwajasthambha. The Panchaloha idol of Azhagiya singha Perumal inside the Yoga Narasimhar shrine looks beautiful . Outside the main prakaram is the dwajasthambam of the main temple and the history of the temple is displayed on a board on the left side of the office.

Foreign tourists are also allowed inside the temple to enjoy the temple architechture. But photography inside is banned.

Opposite to the temple is the large temple tank which was once filled with lillies - (Tiru meaning -sacred, alli means lilly, Keni-pond) hence this place is known as Tiruvellikeni, which later changed to Triplicane.

Pradakshina*- Circumambulation

This temple is very close to the famous Marina beach.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shore Temple-Mahabalipuram

Mammalapuram or Mahabalipuram is about 56 Kms.from Chennai, is famous for it's shore temple, an architectural marvel dating back to Pallava period. i.e 600 AD . This is a classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Monument and it has become a protected sight. There is no worship in this temple though there are one or two shrines. Out of the 7 temples or pagodas , only one is remaining now and others got submerged in water. The shore temple is famous for its monolithic sculptures, bas reliefs and small caves. Tourists flock to this place and spend time leisurely enjoying the beauty of the monuments and the wonderful beaches.

The deities and outer walls of the main temple have started eroding due to the exposure to saline water which flows into it during high tidal waves. This temple along with the monolithic Rathas and Arjuna's Penance are famous. There are also a couple of temples nearby. This place is a must see for those who are planning a South Indian tour.
To reach:
Many AC and non AC buses ply to Mahabalipuram from different parts of the Chennai city

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sthala Sayana Perumal Temple

Sthala Sayana Perumal temple is situated in Mammalapuram or Mahabaliuram which is about 56 Kms from Chennai. En route to Tirukazhu kundram we decided to visit this temple also which has its own legend, history ,and captivating architecture. The journey was easy and weather was fine.We were travelling parallel to the sea, which was so till we reached Mammalapuram. After a light breakfast we decided to visit the the temple which is just behind the main bus stand. The name indicated it was a Perumal (Vishnu) temple. The big Tirunamam which is common for all the Vishnu temples was in front of the tower. The name Sthala means place and Sayana means reclining position. The Deity found here is in a reclining postion .We could not go near the inner most prakram as some pooja was in progress. The other shrines inside the temple are for Sreedevi and Andal, Anjaneyar, Narasimha Moorthy ,Chakrathazhwar, Rama, Lakshmana and Seeta and some saints.The dwaja sthamba is in front and there is one mandapam on the left side.
As per the legend a rishi named Pundariswar wanted to offer a lotus with one thousand petals to Lord Vishnu and with that in mind to reach near the God, he started bailing out water from the sea. Seeing his devotion the God took pity on him and appeared before him as an old man and asked to bring him some food from the nearby village and promised him that he would help him in his efforts. The devotee went away to a nearby village and when he returned, the Lord was waiting for him here in a reclining posture lying on the floor. Hence the deity came to be known as Sthala Sayana Perumal. I was very happy to visit this age old temple which was built in the 8th century by the Pallava kings.
How to reach- This place 56 kms from Chennai. Excellent bus services are available.and the fare is nominal. Frequency of the buses is about every 10-15 minutes.There are also many tour operators who offer package tours to temples in and around Mammalapuram.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tirukazhu kundram Vedagirishwarar ThazhKovil

This a continuation of my earlier post. The temple in the town is known as the The Vedagirishwarar tazh kovil or Tripurasundari Amman koil as she has a separate sannidhi here.The main deity here is known as Bhakta valsaleswar (Siva) and this temple has tall towers on all 4 sides and there is a temple tank in the outer most prakaram and we could see the Nandi of the hill temple near this tank facing the hill.

This ancient temple has exquisitely carved sculptures all around the temple. Outside the sanctum sanctorum there are idols of Aruvathimuvar (63 saints) ,Vinayagar, Dakshinamurthy, Lingodhbhavar, Durgai amman, utsavar, and a separte niche for Bairavar. Outside this prakaram is the Nandimandapam and here we could see the Agora Veera Bhadrar , a fierce form of Siva's idol. We could see many vehicles and chariots used for the festival season in this mandapam.

As we go around the temple there are shrines for Somaskandar, Athmanadhar, Ekambareshwar, Annamalaishwarar,Jambugeshwar (all different names for Shiva), Vinayagar and Shanmugha. There is a shrine dedicated to Manikavasagar one of the four saints, the great devotee of siva. it is believed that the God appeared before him at this place.

The Amman sannidhi, the temple of Tripura sundari is also facing the east but is at the Northen side. The Amman idol was looking beautiful and the idol was decorated beautifully. This temple has separate dwaja sthambam and in front of this temple also there are two shrines one for Vedagiriswarar and other for Kalasthiswar . Nataraja has a separate shrine in the outer most prakaram and there is a long corridor in front of the shrine wih intricate carving on pillars.

The Sanku theertham is again half a kilometre from the temple and people converge here every twelve years for a festival which is next to the Mahamaham in Kumbakonam. The temple has a huge collection of conches numbering one thousand and these are used for performing abhishekam (bathing) the deity on special ocassions.The legends, linking it to various epics always stupifies me and the architecture of the temples makes me wonder how could they create such collosal structures when no machinery was invented.

How to reach: Easily approachable from Chennai via Mahabalipuram .
Regular buses ply from Mahabalipuram

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tirukazhu Kundram Vedagirishwarar temple

My recent trip to Tiru kazhu kundram was the best trip I have undertaken in recent times as it also involved a bit of adventure. This temple was not on our itinerary at all. But a sudden mention by my husband made me long to see this temple here. The main attraction being that this temple gets visited every day by two eagles, to partake the prasadam offered by the temple priest at 12 noon. The temple derived its name Thiru kazhu kundram, from the divine (Thiru) eagles (kazhugu) who visited this place. I wanted to witness the event and immediately searched for some information in the net and could see the picture of the same in a daily published some time in 2002. My husband and my brother in law had seen this great event some 40 years back . The temple started attracting huge crowds because of this and used to be a tourist attraction along with Mahabalipuram and Kancheepuram nearby.

We decided to visit this place the next day but there was a small hitch. I learnt that we had to climb 562 steps to reach the temple but decided to go ahead with the plan. To reach Tirukazhu kundram we had to go via Mahabalipuram. From here it is another 17 kms but when we reached Mammalapuram or Mahabalipuram (you would see that post soon, which really is a fantastic place.) we got the news that the hill temple is no more visited by the divine eagles. But that didn't dampen my spirit at all as I had made up my mind to visit the temple. The journey was beautiful as the air had become cool because of the rains, and I also got fascinated by seeing sculptors carving out beautiful idols on granite blocks and the road side was lined with beautiful images.

We reached the base of the hill and got a glimpse of the temple on top. At base of the hill there are small shrines dedicated to Vinayagar, Murugan and Ayyapan. There is a small entrance fee for visiting this temple . It was around 10 o' clock and the place almost looked deserted but for few people manning the ticket counter and few shops .We started the climb and for first few steps we were very brisk and did not feel any difficulty. By the time we had climbed around hundred steps it was becoming difficult to climb and every few steps we needed to rest before we resumed our climb. With no body around it was a bit scary as we were all alone in that hill. We reached a place from where the steps were going in 2 different directions .We were wondering what to do when we heard some people hundred steps up waving to us to follow in that direction. We followed them , the climb was becoming difficult and the frequency of our rests were becoming more. We had a few sips of water as we relaxed.

Suddenly a group of 10-15 students could be seen climbing in a trot and soon they passed us in a flash .Though our mind was matching their speeds our legs weren't. We really huffed and puffed and felt we could not proceed any more.We were sitting in one place, my husband few steps below me and I reluctantly got up and climbed a few steps to reach a landing and Presto! I spotted the temple just few more steps up ahead and immediately shouted in joy. My husband by that time was wondering on the options of giving it up felt rejuvenated immediately, got up and finished the last fleet of stairs in one go and we entered the temple. What a feat!

The Thirukazhu kundram temple is also an important sivasthalam i.e padal petra sthalam as Manikavachagar has sung hymns on this deity here.The deity in this temple is a swayambhu and the hill is formed of 4 boulders sitting one on top of the other ; representing the 4 Vedas Sama, Rig, Yajur, and Atharvana. The deity is believed to have emerged from the top most one, the Atharvana veda hence known as Vedagiriswarar.

We had to wait for some time to worship the deity here as some pooja was in progress. It was really a blessing for us as we could relax for a while before starting the descent.Though I was slightly disappointed at not seeing the eagles I was happy that I could visit a 1400 years old temple and get the blessing of the deity here.

Just outside the sanctum sanctorum is the deity of Nataraja and Sivakami and once we were outside we could see one or two shrines dedicated to the Goddesses . Viewing inside this was very difficult as one has to be almost on all fours to view the deities inside . There is a small mandap on a lower level with some beautiful pillars, from here we could capture the pictures of the town below and the famous Sankutheertham.

We descended the hill on a different route. This route had huge boulders on one side and wilderness on the other with no one in sight made us very scary. I think this is the route used to bring supplies to the temple and to carry old and infirm in dholies (palanquins) . I could see the orukal mandapam (monolithic mandapam) but it was kept locked which I believe is a store house of excellent statues of Mammala period. This route joins the main route after a 15 minute descent.

Though the main temple is on the hill top, there is no shrine for the Amman here. Absence of Nandi is also another unique feature of this Siva temple. Both are installed at the Bhaktha valsaleswar temple in the town which is just half a kilometre from the base of the hill. We decided to visit that temple also and was amazed to find wonderful carvings and huge towers which made the trip really worth while.

To be continued....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Karaikudi and Nearby Temples

Pillaiyarpatti KarpagaVinayagar temple -

Pillaiyarpatti is situated 12 Kms. from Karaikudi which is the prime town of Chettinadu. As there is a famous Pillaiyar temple, the village takes it name as Pillaiyarpatti. The temple is a rock cut temple and the sanctum sanctorum is inside a cave. This temple 1600 years old. This deity is believed to be the benefactor of all the business community and every one from this community apportion a small percentage of their income as their offering to this deity and they also ensure excellent maintenance and up keep of the temple through regular contributions and care. The main deity faces the North and it is considered, a worship here bestows prosperity as he is facing the direction of god of wealth Kubera hence the attraction for the business community.

The mammoth idol of Vinayagar is a bas relief, more than 6 feet in height and is in a sitting posture. The uniqueness of this deity is that it has only two hands compared to the other Vinayagar idols and the trunk is curved to the right and he is known as Valampuri Vinayagar. Another name for this deity is Karpaga Vinayagar. The Sivalingam, Tiruveesar is also a bas relief. Nine lamps always glow around the Vinayagar idol as it is believed to be representing the Navagrahas. The Lord Vinayagar looks magnificient in his golden kavacham and people flock to this temple to seek his blessings.

There is a beautiful temple tank in front of the temple and there is an entrance from the east side also. There is a small shrine outside the temple above a small rock.

Other deities of the temple are Siva, known here as Marundeshwar and his consort Vadamalar Amman. There are niches for Lingodbhavar, Dakshina moorthy, Muruga and Navagrahas. The sthala vriksham is also inside the temple. The small road leading to the temple is lined with shops selling various items related to worship, devotional books and idols of Ganesha made of granite.

The main festival in this temple is Vinayaga chathurthi and during the festival period the temple gets thronged with pilgrims. The Karthigai festival is also very important and special buses ply during these periods to help the pilgrims. On April 1 st also this temple attracts lot of crowd as that is the beginning of the financial year for the business people.

Last two pics.  Pillaiyarpatti idol , pictures courtesy Wikipedia.

Enroute to Pillayair patti from Karaikudi 3 Kms before, is a Murugan temple atop a small hillock.This place is called Kundra kudi . One has to climb a fleet of stairs cut in the rock itself to reach the temple. It would take about 10 minutes to reach the top . The temple is about 1000years old and is situated at a height of 200 feet from ground level. The famous violinist Kunnakudi Vaidya nathan hailed from this place.

Then Tirupathi- .Ariyakudi
Ariyakudi is 5 Kms. from the town of Karaikudi is famous for the Venkatchalapathi koil known here as Thiruvenkadamudayian. This temple also very old and was recently renovated. When we went there some special pooja was being conducted to the deity. This is considered to be an important abode of Lord Balaji. It is believed a worship here is equivalent to that of a worship a Lord Balaji at Tirumala and hence it called Then Tirupathi meaning Southern Tirupathi. There is a special Garuda's idol here on the Norther side of the temple known as Kalgarudan. Some pictures which I captured during my recent visit.

Vairavar Koil
Two Kms. from Pillaiyar patti ,on the way to Tirupathur there is a temple dedicated to Lord Vairavar, another incarnation of Lord Shiva. The Vairavar idol is beautiful and is always decorated with a golden kavacham which is around 1000 sovereigns, There are separate shrines for Siva known here as Varalori Nathar and and his consort known as Vadivudai Amman. This temple is small and the ceiling of the temple is painted in myriad colours. Near the entrance of this there a shrine for Vinayagar.

Tirupathur Koil
Thiruthali Nathar Koil is an ancient temple near Tirupathur bus stand. This is on Karaikudi- Madurai route in Sivaganga district. It is 12 Kms. from Pillaiyar patti.This temple is under renovation and here, there is a seperate shrine for Yoga Bhairavar. Of the 64 forms of Bairvar, Yoga Bairavar is considered to be the most important as he is the Moola Bairavar meaning he is the first. All other Bairavar's came off him. We could not approach the Amman sannidhi as it was under renovation. It is believed that sage Valmiki stayed at this place  and also took care of Sita, Rama's wife when she was banished from the kingdom. The Lord  Siva here helped his devotee to win rewards from the king by helping him by composing a poem.

A word about Chettinadu
Chettinadu is famous for Sir Raja Annamalai Chettiyar, Sir Raja Muthiah Chettiar, Dr. Alagappa Chettiar etc. who contributed to their well being of their community and founded many educational institutions like Annamalai University , Alagappa University, A.C.Tech in Karaikudi and Chennai and many schools in Chettinadu and Chennai . Even now the Chettiyars community people who do business in other parts of the country and outside India make it a regular habit to come back to their roots at regular intervals and they have built palatial buildings with best accessories imported and each house is a store house of antiques and arte facts. Most of the houses have open central courtyard with rooms arranged on all four sides. The Chettinadu cuisine is very famous , would be attractive for people who like spicy food. Chettinadu saris are also very famous and is a definite attraction for women.

How to reach Karaikudi
Can be reached from Madurai and Trichy which are at 70 Kms and 82 Kms respectively. Both the cities have airports and railway stations. Karaikudi also has a railway station.

Buses ply from all the towns in Tamil Nadu to Karaikudi and all the above temples are on regular bus routes and are easily reachable.

Karaikudi town has good number of hotels for boarding as well as lodging.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Poornatharayeesa temple - Trippunithura

This time I am taking you to Kerala, the place I was born and brought up. It is known as God's own country. This state also abounds in temples, some of which are over 1000 years old. Kerala is famous for its picturesque landscape, lagoons, beaches, hill stations and Asia’s first synagogue (Shall write about the same later ) and few monuments which has made this place a haven for tourists. Here I am going to start with a temple in a locality, where I have lived for about 7 years and used to visit daily. The place is Trippunithura situated in Ernakulam district.

The temple architecture is different from the ones that we see in Tamilnadu.

Poornathrayeesa temple

The presiding deity is Mahavishnu and this temple was constructed by the erstwhile rulers of Tripunithura which was the seat of royalty. Even to day we find many palatial buildings here. The temple is very big and the idol is sitting on the serpent God Ananthan whose hood serves as a canopy for the Lord. The deity here looks magnificent with his right leg folded at knees and perched on the seat and left leg hanging down. He carries conch and discuss in two hands and the third hand holds a lotus and fourth hand is resting on the seat. The sanctum sanctorum is circular in shape and on the South side there is a shrine for Ganapathy (Vinayagar). Facing West side is the shrine for Ananthan. The door of this shrine always remains closed and the idol can be viewed through a small slit in the wall. A lamp always glows inside here round the clock called as keda vilaku, meaning a lamp that keeps glowing always. Excellent brass idols of Gods moulded to artistic perfection line the circular walls of the temple.

Kerala temples give so much importance for cleanliness and the temple precincts are always kept clean. The area of temple is around 5 acres and it is always frequented by the tourists and the locals as well. There are view galleries on the south and west side side, these were meant for the members of the royal family where they used to assemble in large number during the festival to watch and listen to the various art and classical performances.

The custom in Kerala temples here, the devotees are expected to wear traditional Kerala costumes. Men are expected to wear dhoti and angavastram and women, saris or chudidhars. Western clothes are not allowed. Some temples allow men to wear trousers but expect them to remove shirts and vests while entering the restricted prakarams. The devotees who do not want to follow these customs are allowed to worship the deity from the outer most prakaram. It is recommended that people travelling to Kerala on pilgrimage keep this in mind.

There are many oil lamps here big and small, which always glow and the devotees ensure the replenishment of the oil by regular offerings. The wall of the outer prakaram is fully is lined with columns of lamps and a tall deepa sthambham (multi layered lamp post) in front of the temple which are lit up during the temple festivals.

There is a huge Peepal tree in front of the temple and a Sivalinga on a pedestal below the tree. The flag mast is very tall and considered to be tallest in these parts of Kerala. There is a pond inside the temple itself and it is not uncommon to find one or two elephants inside the temple as the deity here is a lover of the same.

There 2 main festivals here, one during the Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala and the other in November which lasts for about 8 days. This festival in November draws huge crowd here and the whole town gears up days before the commencement of the festival. The main roads leading to temple get decorated with festoons, arches and illumination. Shops spring up on either side of the road and it resembles a village fare.

The main attraction for the festival is the Seeveli, it’s a procession of caparisoned elephants carrying the idol atop. At least 11 -15 elephants get lined up for this and it is really a spectacular show where young and old participate with enthusiasm and sway to the accompaniments of percussion instruments; the ensemble called as panchari melam. The colourful parasoles held atop the elephants add charm and brightness to the whole atmosphere.

Yet another festival is the ambalmkathi festival (ambalam= temple, kathi = caught fire, in Malayalam) in remembrance of a fire that engulfed the temple years ago. On that day the whole temple would be lighted with lamps and heaps of camphor around the temple.

Even for daily poojas carrying the deity on an elephant is part of the custom here. The idol that is used for these rituals is the utsavar. Devotees accompany these seeveli chanting the name of Lord and participate in the worship there after.

The abode of Mahavishnu here is considered to be an important holy place for the Hindus and it is believed that the deity here was installed by Arjuna one of the Pancha Pandava brothers. He consecrated the temple here and lit the lamp by crushing gingely seeds from a near by plant and from that day lighting the lamps with gingely oil came into vogue.

Poornathrayeesa is also known as Santhana Gopala here and child less, aspiring couples offer their prayers here in the belief that God will bless them with children. This temple is situated on the shores of river Poorna hence the place takes its name Trippunithura.

The birth star of God is Uthram and on this day thousands of devotees throng the temple and about 35000 participate in the annadanam. (Free meals) . In the evening there is a ceremony called Lakshmi Narayana Vilakku and God's sister from the nearby Pishari temple is brought here. The main deity of Poornathrayeesa is always adorned with garland of lotus flowers and tulsi. (Basil leaves).

When ever I go to Tripunithura I never miss a chance to visit this temple as I like the atmosphere very much. The effulgence emanating from the sanctum sanctorum is difficult to be expressed in words. The vision always lingers in the mind.

The temple timings are 3.45 am, 4 p.m-8.30 pm

How to reach:
Tripunithura is 10 Kms from Ernakulam Junction. Frequent buses ply from the town to this place. This place is an extended part of Ernakulam itself.
The nearest airport is Nedumbassery which is 30 Kms, from Tripunithura.

Accommodation: Luxury, deluxe and budget hotels are available in Kochi which is the new name for Ernakulum and Cochin twin cities.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Anjaneyar temple- Anai patti

 This temple is situated near Nilakottai which is 40 Kms from Dindigul. From Nilakottai we had to travel 5 Kms. more to reach the temple of Anjaneya.  We were travelling parallel to the  river Vaigai at times,  only  there was no water in it. But there is a dam near the temple called as Peranai, a regulator constructed by the British.  We had to cross a bridge to reach this Anaipatti (anai meaning dam, patti meaning, village.) an obscure village. The climate was cool and the temple was set in sylvan surroundings. The temple is quite small, no special  architectural splendor as it is normally found in temples around here .

We entered the temple and could see the idol of Anjaneyar inside the sanctum sanctorum, which was about 4 feet tall and was adorned with silk. The eyes were big , the display board mentions the God is watching his devotees with one eye and the other eye is looking at the direction of Ayodhya, Lord Rama's abode. The  hand which carried the Sanjeevani parvath (the hill which he brought  from Himalayas during the Ramayana war) is on his thigh. The tail is ponting upwards.  Though I could not see all the details, the display board gave all the description. When water rises in Vaigai river the idol gets half immersed in water. But when I went, due to lack of rains inside was dry. The archanas are offered to another small deity kept outside the sanctum sanctorum.

At the back side of this sanctum  there is another Hanuman  idol where pilgrims were lighting lamps. It  was windy and it  was difficult to light the lamp but after a  few  futile attempts I could also light one. Outside this temple there is another deity of Vinayagar and of serpent God.

The legend says that when the Pancha Pandavas were in exile Draupadi wanted to drink water and  Yudhishitir the elder brother sends Bheema to fetch the same. Anjaneya intercepts him on his way and an argument ensues between the two  but Bheema is not able to get water. Bheema goes back to Yudhishtira who advises him to  pay respect to Anjaneya and he would oblige . Bheema does as advised and Anjaneya gleefully allows Bheema to take water from vaigai.  This is the place they met.

I enjoyed the visit to this temple and I wanted to add one more interesting experience of that tour. Just outside the temple is a huge banyan tree which is providing a canopy of sort to the travelers. This place is abounding in village eateries and a simple South Indian food  is offered and we decided to have our break fast in this simple open air surrounding as the next possibile hotel was at least one  hour away. An old woman was making kuzhi paniharam and dosai. The air was filled with the fragrance of freshly cooked food and they were  using primitive  method of cooking, using the dried palm leaves and coconut husk as fuel. I was really fascinated by this as people were making use of the  bio fuel for cooking, which has become a thing of the past for all .  We decided to have a go at that eatery.  We were made to sit on plastic stools  under the Banyan tree and food was served to us in banana leaf. The Paniharam and dosai were very soft and we could finish our breakfast with out much ado. Three of us ate and I was surprised when I heard it has cost us only Rs. 14. We could really enjoy the simplicity of village folks.

Mallishwarar temple.

Just one kilometre from Nilakottai  on the way to Madurai we found this 1500  year old Siva temple.  Here  Siva is known as Mallishwarar and  his consort is sitting outside the sanctum .  History of the temple is not known . The entrance of  the temple is just 4 feet x 2 1/2   feet opening and we had to stoop  to get inside. There was an idol of Bairavar outside the temple.

How to reach:

The nearest railway station is Dindigul.  Regular buses from Dindigul, Vatala gundu and Madurai though frequency is low. It is better to stay in Dindigul or Madurai which is around 50 kms.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kuchanur Saneeshwarar Temple

Kuchanur is a small village, 20 kms. from Theni town and the temple here is dedicated to the planet Saturn i.e Lord Saneeshwarar. People flock to this temple to ward off any ill effects due to the transit of Saturn by offering worship to the deity here. This place is second to Tirunallar in Kumbakonam district which is also famous for the Saneeshwarar temple. The temple in Kuchanur is small and the idol is resembling a Lingam which is considered to be a swaymbhu. It is believed that the idol is growing in size over the years and turmeric is applied everyday on the idol. A small Utstavar is also near the main deity. Behind the temple is the shrine for Vigneshawara and here too I found a sthala vricksham. It was not crowded when we went and we could get the darshan easily. The pilgrims were lighting lamps made of sesame seeds and gingely oil, in front of the temple.

There is a small sculpture of a crow, the mount of Saneeshwarar in front of the temple. Offering food to crow is considered auspicious and is very common here.

A small rivulet, Surabhi flows near the temple and I could see many were taking bath in the same before offering worship to the deity.

After offering prayers to Saneeshwarar we went to the nearby temple of Guru bhagawan .There is also a separate shrine for Siva here. The Guru's temple is believed to be very old and it is believed that Lord Indra himself worshiped the deity. Pilgrims perform various poojas to fulfill their wishes. This temple is under renovation and there are two new small temples outside the Guru temple dedicated to Lord Anjaneyar and Pancha Mukha Ganapathi.

How to reach: Nearest railway station is Madurai which 75 kms. from Theni.

Bus services are available from all parts of Tamil Nadu to Theni and from there regular buses ply to Kuchanur.

Accommodation- Theni has good hotels and lodges for comfortable stay.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Guru Temple- Kuruvithurai, Sholavandan

Guru temple and Perumal temple in Kuruvithurai near Sholavandan is very ancient and famous. From Sholavandan town it is only 8 Kms. The road to the temple is through small villages and we could see banana plantations on either side of the road. We could really enjoy the greenery of the pristine surroundings.

The temple here is dedicated to Guru Bhagavan and along with him is the deity Chakrathazhvar. Opposite to this small temple is the Chithra Ratha Vallabhar Koil and the deity here is Chithra Ratha Vallabhar as Perumal came riding on a decorated ratham in the Tamil month of Chithirai to grant the wishes of the Guru Bhagavan who meditated sitting on the banks of river Vaigai.

First we rushed to the Perumal temple as we feared the temple would get closed as it was nearing noon. Luckily for us the temple was open and the priest told us that the temple remains open till 12.30 pm. The main idol of Perumal in the sanctum sanctorum is sculpted in granite. On either side are Bhooma Devi and Sree Devi but I could see only their crowns as they were in a sitting position. A red cloth was tied across the main idol and only the chest of Perumal and above was visible. Outside the sanctum sanctorum small panchaloha idols were kept and the priest was performing archana for those. Opposite to the main deity is the Garudalwar sannidhi and on the south side facing east is the shrine of Lord's consort Shanmughavalli Thayar.

The legend is that the Guru bhagavan performed his penance on the banks of Vegavathi ( Vaigai) to redeem his son from dosham and Perumal appeared to him in this place and granted him the boon. Guru requested him to stay in this place to fulfill the wishes of all devotees . The priest informed me to pray fervently to God if I had any wish to be granted.

Outside this temple is the seat of Guru. Here we could see Chakrathazhwar, both are swayambhus. Chakrathazhwar was guarding Guru when he performed the penance and they are on the floor of the temple. Two idols are on top of this which were adorned with kavachams. Here also the priest was asking the devotees to make their wishes to Guru as he would help to fulfill them by requesting to Perumal. This temple gets thronged with pilgrims during Gurupeyarchi ( transit of Jupiter).

How to reach : The nearest airport and railway station is Madurai and this place is about 26 Kms. from Madurai. Regular transportation is available from the town.

Accomodation : All types of accommodation budget and luxury hotels are available n Madurai town.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Edaganatheswar Temple -Tiruvedagam, Sholavandan

This is another very old padal petra sthalam of Siva situated in serene surroundings away from the dust and din of the city. There are two temples here one for Siva known here as Edaganathar and one for Parvati known as Elvaarkuzhali. Both the temples have separate gopurams (tower) and entrances. Edakanthar temple has a Dwaja sthamba at the entrance and a Nandi atop a platform. On either side of the entrance there are shrines for Vinayagar and Murugan . The Sivalingam is small and is visible only with the help of oil lamps.

When we circumambulated the temple we could see the usual shrines dedicated to various Gods typical of any Siva temple like Dakshinamurthy facing the South, Lingodh bhavar at the back facing the West and Durgai amman on the North side. Behind sanctum sanctorum on the right side there is shrine for Shanmugan and just outside his shrine we could see the idols of Sapthu mathrukal, Irattai Ganpathi, Durgai, and Lakshmi. There is a separate shrine for Nataraja and Sivakami on the North -East corner . An idol of Bairavar and Navagrahas are also outside this shrine.

There is an inter connecting door between the Amman and Sivan temple. There are beautiful carving on each pillar inside the temple. There are 3 idols of Sakthi around this sanctum sanctorum known as Ichha sakthi, Gnana sakthi and Kriya sakthi. There is also a small Vinayagar shrine behind this temple in the inner prakaram. The divine couples palliyarai (sleep chamber) is also in this temple.

It is believed that marriage obstacles are removed if one prays and conducts Archana at this temple. A wedding ceremony was in process when we were there. Another specialty of this temple is there is annadanam (offering of free lunch to devotees and poor) in the temple every day , for this contributions are accepted from the interested pilgrims or the temple provides food on its own. This I found very attractive as it may be useful for a wary traveler or a hungry person who will at least get a meal a day.

This is the 14 th Siva sthalam of Pandiya nadu, so reads the sthala puranam board outside. The legend is that a Pandya king had embraced Jainism under the influence of Jains and this was not to the liking of his wife who was the daughter of Chozha king. She arranged to invite saint Gnana Sambandar to resolve the matter. The Jains challenged Tiru Gnana Sambandar for a verbal duel of poetry. The first was fire duel in which both wrote a verse and threw it in fire. The verse of Sambandar survived where as the verse written by Jains turned to ashes. The enraged Jains then challenged for a cold duel in which the verses of both were floated (pathigam) in the Vaigai river. The leaf (edu) of Sambandar reached the other side of the river flowing against the current while the one floated by Jains got blown away in the current and they were humbled, restoring Saivism to its past glory.. The place where Sambandar's Edu landed is called Tiru edagam. Hence the deity here is named Thiruedaganathar. The Eduthurai eriya utsavam is very famous here which falls in the month of May. The sthala vricksham is Vilvam and is just outside the temple and this place is also called as Vilvaranyam. Saint Sambandar has composed many hymns on the God here.

The nearest railway station is Madurai, only 16 Kms. from this temple. Regular buses ply from the city to this place. Madurai is well connected by air to Chennai, Bangalaore and Mumbai.

Madurai city has many hotels suiting to individual needs from budget to luxury hotels.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ardanareeshwara Temple -Tiruchengode

Ardanareeshwara temple is situated in Tirunchengode atop a hill which is 1900 feet above sea level. From Namakkal it is only about a 45 minutes ride so we decided to visit this temple also. There are 1200 steps to climb this hill or there is a beautifully paved motorable road . We went by the road and with in a few minutes we were on top of the hill.We reached the temple around 3 p.m and thought we may have to wait for another 1 hour or so as most of the temples gets closed around 12 noon and open only at 4 p.m . We were surprised to see that the temple was open as the timing there was from 6 a.m to 6 p.m. We went around this ancient temple also called as padal petra sthalam or Siva sthalam , meaning the great saint Thiru Gnana Sambandar had sung hymns about the Lord of this temple.

The temple was looking neat and clean as it had undergone a recent renovation. All the pillars and sculptures were shining with protective coat of paint and the floor was relaid with granite. There is a tall gopuram on the Northern side of the temple and I could see the image of Aadisesha carved in the outer prakaram of the temple. The main deity here is Mathoru Paagar Ardhanareeshwarar, half Siva and half Parvati . Behind the sanctum sanctorum there is a temple dedicated to Sengottu Velavar ( Murugan ) which is also famous here. There is a separate shrine here for Aadikeshava perumal who had asked Parvati to perform the Kedara Gowri vritham to unite with Siva . There is another shrine for Nagalingam and there are also Navagrahas here. The main deity that of Ardha nareeshawara is about 6-7 feet tall and was dressed on one side like a man and other side like a woman with jada and dandu on left hand representing Siva and manglayam and silk saree on the right representing Parvathi.

The Utsavar is also quite tall and is kept in an enclosure and we could have a close view of that. We could see the main deity only with the light of aarthi as there is no illumination inside the sanctum sanctorum. As the temple was not crowded we did get a good darshan.

This temple is only 18 Kms from Erode and 32 Kms. from Namakkal. The nearest airport is again Trichy and the nearest railway station is Erode itself.

Buses ply from Salem, Erode and Namakkal to this place.

This place is famous for Engineering colleges as nearly 3-4 colleges are around this town. There are decent accommodation and restaurants should one care to spend a day over here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Temples in Namakkal

Namakkal is near Salem in Tamil Nadu and is famous for its Anjaneyar and the Narasimhar temple below the rockfort in the town itself. We were planning a trip to these temples for quite some time and yesterday we did visit the same. For us it was a 2 1/2 hours ride from Dindigul via Karur. The newly laid road NH 7, part of the Golden quadrilateral made the journey smooth and easy.

Narasimha Moorthy Temple

We reached the Narasimhar temple at the foot of the rock and I was awe struck by the temple as it is a very ancient temple. The appearance itself is sufficient to show that it belongs to a by gone era. When we entered the temple, a board indicated that we have to offer our prayers at the Goddess Lakshmi’s sannidhi known here as Namagirithayar.The idol was resplendent with beautiful ornaments and silk. Her eyes were very wide like that of a lotus petal.

The town takes its name from her as she had performed Nama japa (penance )and the Lord appeared before her. It is believed that Anjaneya in front of the temple brought the saligrama of Narasimha and Renganathar here. When he wanted to offer his evening pooja he entrusted Goddess Lakshmi with this saligramam but he could not lift it after his pooja as it had grown into a hill. The Lord Narasimha Moorthy expressed his wish to be in that place and Anjaneya returned to serve God after Rama left for heaven.

On the way to the Lord Narasimha Moorhty’s temple we could see the Sthala Vriksham, a wish tree. On either side of the entrance that leads to the shrine we could see two serpent idols guarding the gate with Ganapathi nearby.

There wasn’t much crowd though it was a Sunday. The main idol that of Narashima Moorthy (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, half lion and half human) is inside a cave and is very huge in size, around 12 feet in height in a sitting posture and it looks majestic. The whole atmosphere inside the cave filled my heart with Baya bakthi (fear and devotion). There are carvings on all side of the cave and I could catch a glimpse of Vishnu on his Aadisesha and Vamana ( another reincarnation of Lord Vishnu) though it was pretty dark inside. Siva and Brahama are also near the main idol which is a very rare occurrence. The idol of Narasimha is facing the west unlike other Vishnu temples where it faces the east. It is also believed that The Lord here is in Ugra moorthy (Fierce) form, sitting here after killing the demon Hrinyakashipu.

The temple is very old and on top of this rock is a fort which appears magnificent from any part of the town. But I didn’t have the time or energy to climb the steep rock in a hot afternoon.

Anjaneyar temple

Anjaneyar temple is just opposite to the Narasimhar temple . After visiting the Narasimhar temple we headed towards the Anjaneyar Kovil. The idol of Anjaneyar here is gigantic, around 18 feet in height and is visible from a long distance. The Lord is facing the the Narsimhar temple and it is believed that his gaze is in level with Lord Narasimha’s lotus feet. He is in a standing posture with his hands folded with Bhakthi. We didn’t join the long queue as we got a good darshan of Lord from a comfortable distance itself. The Lord was adorned with Vada malai which is very favourite prasadam for the Anjaneyar.

Renganatha Swamy temple

We also heard that at the other side of the hill there is another temple of Lord Vishnu known here as Renganatha Swamy . To reach this temple we had to climb a set of 70 stairs, cut on the hill wide and easy, the only draw back being there was no support for the old and infirm to hold on to while climbing. The temple is open only till 11’oclock in the morning probably because the steps would become too hot to climb bare foot.

Here also the sanctum sanctorum is also cut inside the rock and it was very dark as there was a power cut. Here the Lord is in a reclining posture on the serpent karkodakan unlike other temples where he is on Aadisesha. We could see the idol in faint light of camphor lit by the priest. The idol is about 10-12 feet long and with eyes wide open and two hands again a rare occurrence.

I was wondering why the temple authorities could not arrange a generator for uninterrupted power supply which would help the pilgrims a lot. The temple surroundings looked beautiful with trees and it was quite cool, a moat was on either side of the temple. We could also see the Goddess Lakshmi’s shrine on the left side of the main temple. One cannot but wonder how centuries ago people built such artistic construction which could live through and remain unaffected surviving the vagaries of nature.

All these temples are quite near to one another and are with in walking distance from the main bus stand.

How to reach:

The nearest airport is Trichy which is 70 Kms. from Namakkal.

The nearest railway station is Salem -54 Kms.away

Regular buses ply connecting all parts of Tamilnadu to Namakkal.

Namakkal is a fairly big town with decent hotels and restaurants offering places of residence and eateries. We had breakfast at Hotel Sangam on the Thuraiyur road which was neat and clean and offered South Indian fare at very moderate prices. Lunch was at Nala residency which offers both boarding and lodging. The restaurant here offers multi cuisine and the dishes were quite attractively priced and of good taste too. The ambience was very nice added with excellent service. As we were getting out we bothered to check the tariff for rooms here and were informed that we could get air conditioned rooms , double occupancy for $ 30 only.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lord Venkatachalapathi Temple- Tirumala

This temple of Lord Venkatachalapathy is situated in Andhra Pradesh in Chittoor District 3200 ft. above sea level. The temple is situated on the seven hills called as Tirumala which is around 20 Kms. from Tirupathi town and it’s believed that the mountain resembles the seven hoods of the serpent, Aadisesha. The Tirumala God is the richest God in the world as nearly one lakh pilgrims visit the temple everyday. On special occasions the visit exceeds more than 4-5 lakhs in a single day. The offerings to the temple run into crores and it includes a recent addition and the costliest ever, of a 23 kg. weighing gold crown studded with gems and emerald donated by a devotee. The temple Hundis overflow with offerings and every now and then this is emptied and devotees themselves offer their service to God by counting the money and sorting out gold, silver and valuable gems which comes as contribution to the temple. The main idol in the temple which resides in the sanctum sanctorum is of black granite, a swayambhu and the utsavar here is the one that is brought out of the temple for various rituals that are conducted by the temple and the devotees.
People trek the hills to reach the temple or travel by buses run by the temple administration. Private cars and vans can ply on the hill but not buses. The serene atmosphere and greenery around will captivate anybody’s heart. Stringent checking of vehicles and luggage is done at the entry point as liquor and smoking are a big No in the hills. The whole Tirumala town is kept neat and clean by the workers round the clock. Drinking water, clean bathroom and toilet facilities are also available for facilitating the pilgrims. In fact the temple administration is taking care of all the needs of the pilgrims though the numbers visiting this hill temple is enormous. Annadanam (free meals) is provided for the pilgrims who visit the temple and the pilgrims take this as a prasadam .

As the temple is always thronging with people getting darshan of Lord is also not easy. Many perform sevas to the Lord like kalyanotsavam, (the celestial wedding), or sahashra deeplankaram, Unjal seva and other sevas etc. as an offering to god or to get a quick darshan of the main deity. For people who cannot afford there is always a sarvadarshan which is free but pilgrims may have to wait for a few hours depending on the season before they have good darshan of the Lord. There are beautifully designed queue complexes with good seating arrangements and CCTV where one can see and listen to Bhajans and temple video clippings. The pilgrims also get free food in this queue complex for sarvadarshan during the wait. During Brahmotsava time the wait could be even more than 24 hours.

Mobile phones and cameras and other electronic gadgets are not at all allowed inside the temple so it is better to leave them in the cloak rooms as frisking is done at least at 3-4 points.

Once we are inside the precincts we can see a mandapam on the left where all rituals are conducted and we can see the flag mast also before we proceed into the inner most prakaram of the temple. The temple reverberates with chanting of Om Namo Venkateshaya and one’s mind automatically focuses on God . The devotees also chant the Lord's name "Govinda Govinda"( yet another name of the Lord) . Opposite to the main deity is the Garudalwar the vehicle and devotee of God and the main dwaram is guarded by Jai and Vijay the dwarpalakas, the gate keepers.

The idol is over 10 feet tall and is always adorned with priceless diamonds, gold ornaments and flower garlands. The idol is visible from quite a distance. Now a days the entry is restricted up to a safe distance for security reasons.

The security people lined along the queue see that the people move fast and every one gets a quick darshan. The time one gets to see the god would be only few seconds but people who come out are a contented lot.

Middle men are not entertained so do not fall for people who would promise quick darshan. After the darshan each devotee gets some Prasad from the temple . The prasadam here is the famous tirupathi laddu and the Vada . For each seva performed the devotees are entitled to some specified number of laddus and for some sevas vadas are also added. Cost of this is included in the seva pricing. For those pilgrim who go the sarvadarshan route they get free darshan as well as a free laddu. The laddu tastes heavenly and people give as much importance to the laddu as they give for the darshan itself.

The annual Brahmotsavam festival at this temple is a grand affair and it goes on for about 10 days just before Navarathri every year. Every day the God and his consorts Sree devi and Bhoodevi are brought out in various vehicles, palanquin, Sesha vahana (vehicle), Hamsa vahana, Airavata, Garuda vahana dressed in beautiful costumes and it is really a beautiful sight to watch.

There is also a Varaha swamy temple on the northen side of the temple which is older than the Balaji temple, it is near the temple tank Sampuskarani, where the temple float festival takes place. It is believed that the water from this tank can purify a person of all his sins. There are many other places in Tirumala hills if one wishes to visit, like Papanasm falls and Kapilatheertham. There are plenty of buses available for a tour of these places free of cost.

A little legend- It was believed that Lord Vishnu came in search of Goddess who had left his abode over a small tiff with him. She was born as Padmavathi on earth and God wanted to marry her so he came and stayed in Seshachalam, the seven hills and married her. Padmavathi temple is situated at Alamelu Mangapuram 5 Kms. from Tirupathi town in the plains. A trip to Tirupati is considered complete only if one visits the Padmavathi Koil as well. Govindaraja Perumal koil in Tirupathi town is also quite famous where one would find God taking rest, in a reclining position after measuring gold which he had borrowed from the Lord Kubera (king of wealth)

It is always advisable to have lot of spare time in the schedule when one is planning a visit to Tirumala as the time for darshan is very unpredictable and depends on the the crowd for the day.

How to reach:
Tirupathi is well connected by air from Hyderabad and Chennai to all other parts of India by express and mail trains. Buses also ply from various States of Southern India at frequent intervals.

All kinds of luxury and budget hotels provide convenient accomodation for pilgrims. TTD devsthanams also provide quality accommodation on chargeable and free basis depending upon availability. There are many mutts and ashrams which provide decent accommodation for devotees.

Pictures by my nephew Pravin Bhat
2nd picture of golden vimanam coutesey Wikipedia