“2 years back I had been to the Tirumala temple and my parents and I had taken a vow to perform the Kalyanautsavam there. Now I am not married. I have hypothyroid problem and due to my obesity I look older than I am. Is that my fault? Because I came without a husband I was denied a ticket for Kalyanautsavam. Now my parents are old and thus are my responsibility. Even the information counters did not give us proper information. We were told that I can take a ticket once inside on the way. But the security made us sit for a long time deciding whether to give us a ticket or not. Then finally I got a ticket of Rs.300/-. Then once inside I declared it and was thrown out of the venue. I almost begged them not to separate me from my parents. They were very rude. Later I got to know that being unmarried was not my fault. Wearing a salwar kameez was my fault since females wearing pavade dawani (ghagra choli) had been allowed inside. When pubs stopped people wearing Indian dresses, people protested. Now this is a temple. I am an Indian and was wearing a decent Indian dress much more decent than a pavade dawani or a sari. This is not fair. You have a dress code – Indian dress. I wasn’t wearing jeans or any other western dress. Then what was their problem?” recalls Yashaswini.
This is a real life incident that happened to my friend Yashaswini. Now-a-days, this is a common occurrence in holy places in India. As they say Ghor Kaljug aa gaya. It is also said in Tamil, Daivam varam kuduttalum, poojari varam kudukkavillai (Even if God has given the boon, the priest did not pass it over to us.). This is turning out to be true more and more as far as big temples in holy places are concerned.
Let us take another example. Pawan Soni, another writer, had a similar bad experience in Puri. He recalls, “My friend and I had gone to Puri and after the darshan we were caught by a pandit for donation. My friend emptied the contents of his pocket in his hands with the intention of separating the money from other papers he had stored in it. The pandit hit the small stick he had on my friend’s hand and all the contents fell into the donation box. Is this the way a pandit behaves?”
Another incident took place in Brindavan with Charnamrit Sachdeva. She recollects, “I was at Vrindavan last month with another friend of mine. With a lot of enthusiasm, we reached there and it was my first visit to the place. As soon as we got down from the car, a bunch of young boys coming towards us offered to guide us inside the temple and they will take the full charge of ‘Beautiful Darshan’ if we pay them a good amount. We kind of ignored them and moved further to enter the temple where another bunch of men stopped us saying that the temple is shut and they are the only ones who can get us in, again if we pay them a certain amount. We again ignored and kept walking towards the temple. Finally attended the beautiful darshan of the Lord Krishna… Moving on, we started going ahead for another temple in the region and unfortunately, the same experience of people stalking us. The hardest part to digest was that as we entered the temple and bowed down to offer our prayers, there were certain people keeping a check on us. As we got over with our prayers and planned to move out, we were HELD back by one of the ‘Pujaris’ and were asked to donate some amount as if we do not do that. Some uncertainty shall follow us. It was quite an awful thing to hear from a person sitting at that place in that position. I wonder if our Lord is answering the prayers depending upon the donations we are offering them because that was what taught to me at least in that temple by that pujariji.”
There is another complaint about Tirupathi. It is Pawan again, “In many holy places, groups of people pretend to help you to get the darshan at the cost of exorbitant amount of money. But in places like Tirupathi it has been legalized. If a person can afford Rs. 1 lakh, he can see the Lord without any problems. Variable amounts afford you darshan in variable amounts of time. According to the increase in cost the amount of time decreases. Now is that really fair? Does God answer your prayer according to the amount of money you can spend?”
Y. Babji has also suffered at the hands of these so called priests. He says, “The abode of the Lord Balaji. You visit Tirupati, Tirumala and Tiruchanur for peace of mind, but you get irritated at every point. To name a few, where you experience inconvenience and irritated are (1) You buy a ticket for speedy darshan, but before your eyes, in a separate entry, hundreds are allowed in the name of protocol. (2) You deposit your cameras and cell phones at a free counter, but while taking them back, you will be whispered to pay something (3) The parking fee for the vehicle is Rs.50/- at every place.”
In Babji’s experience, “I was born in Sri Kalahasti and brought up at Tirupathi, both being temple towns. Tirumala-Tirupathi-Tiruchanur is not an exception. Every pilgrim town irrespective of religion is like that. Places of worship that are crowded, that give credence to VIP protocols that charge an entry fee and exit fee, that charge for sevas as per scales that let out parking lots on auction to charge higher fee that employ ruffians and do not orient them properly and will not give you the expected feeling.”
The Public Relations Officer at Tirupathi, Ravi Thalari insists, “That is also a source of income for us. (The richest temple in the world still needs money and that is collected this way!) There are so many activities like Annadana, etc. for which we need the money given the sheer amount of devotees coming to the temple particularly during festive occasions.”
Yashaswini highlights another thing as far as the behavior of security personnel is concerned. It appears that others have experienced this in other big holy places too. Yashaswini says, “When a devotee enters to look at the Lord, the security personnel pull and push them with apparent hatred. My mother was about to fall down. We have known builders from Mumbai in particular, extort exorbitant amounts of money from people buying their flats. Then to wash away their sins visit the temple. At the temple they hand over 100s of rupees to the security personnel and get to see the Lord easily. Then the security personnel start expecting the same from other devotees too. Is that fair to the devotees?”
The PRO at Tirupathi replies, “This information is wrong. There are no corrupt workers here. Secondly we are slowly increasing the number of volunteers near the Lord. The employees will be reduced. (Perhaps he thinks that the problems will be solved this way). But we have a way to solve the devotees’ problems, too. Every month first week the Executive Officer listens to complaints of devotees via phone.”
But on a positive note, Pawan finds Delhi’s ISKCON temple and elsewhere a good experience. “There you will find pundits smiling. Have you ever seen smiling priests anywhere?”
This article first appeared in Eve’s Times. Reproduced here with the permission of Swati Amar, the Editor.