My audience with Lord Balaji from Chilkur

I remember Surekha tying a sacred red thread on my wrist and telling me not to ever remove it, it is from Chilkur. I didn’t know or research much into it. The sacred thread was there on my left wrist for many months and a day came when it wore off. I have it at the altar of my prayer table. Aunty has been asking me to come there since last year, it’s especially auspicious before exams, for visa purposes, yada yada and the Lord, I am told is a generous deity. I finally went there last Saturday. Life is not full of strife, but there is always a time to meet and do some heart-to-heart. I slept at some 11:30 pm on Friday. Woke up at 4:30 am, bathed and got ready. The drive was peaceful. We thought we lost our way, no that part of the city has changed in the last six months. Lot of high rises, expansion of roads and development in the urban sense -- forgotten farm houses, the sleepy roads, dust picking up and as we entered Chilkur, the village folk woke up to sacred chants, courtyards being cleaned, broomed and watered.

Beyond the makeshift car park on the right, one can see the pristine and calm Osmansagar. Barefeet, chappals and sandals in the car, we walk towards the temple.Ouch, there are broken coconut shell splinters everywhere. The road to the temple is lined with small stalls selling puja ka samagri, a means of livelihood for the locals. It is indeed, a small fair. The temple is overflowing with humanity. A patient bunch wait in the inner precincts of the temple. There is a labyrinthine queue outside, waiting for the darshan of the prabhu. Hundreds trying to complete their pradaksham, 108 in total with a lil’ chart and pen in hand. I almost fainted seeing that. There is a starting point, smeared in red vermillion. People are not supposed to break coconuts there or light incense. But yeh toh public hai, they just do what the rules ask them not to do.

Chilkur is different because there is no hundi or donation-box, there is no VIP treatment or special fee to meet the Lord and the Lord loves flowers. The priests are different, truly. Aunty asked me to do 3 pradaksham, 3 is auspicious and then stand in the queue. I did that like everyone else – fathers, mothers, children, students, grand-parents, young people, married and unmarried, employed and unemployed. It is a different feeling altogether. This toddler and I make faces in between chants of “Govinda, Govinda”. After my 3 revolutions, I stand in the queue, Aunty chided us for starting late. She is worried we will not get to see the Lord in the inner sanctum, until the last gopuram. Yes, even I felt a lil’ guilty. The entry is restricted after 6:30 am. The priest kept us updated. We followed him in the many prayers in between. He told us interesting facts that hundi means hawala, illegal money collection. The temple trust however accepts donation from the devout in some bank account. The priest spoke in three languages- English, Hindi (apparently for the Tamils) and in Telugu. He was fluent and very eloquent in all three languages. Being a Saturday, the temple visits and hits are double than normal times. It was also a special day per the panjika, I found out later it was Buddha Purnima. He requested the pilgrims to stop the pradaksham because there was no place to stand and assured that the Lord is very generous and will not be furious and, that one can always come and complete them another day. No, yeh toh public hai – they will do what they want. Our exasperated priest then announced that even if a devotee completed 108 pradaksham going against his request, his/her prayers would not be answered and he would make sure he/she is punished for his disobedience. All we did was laugh. There are conspicuous signboards telling us to pray to God with our eyes open. I am a social pariah for not closing my eyes in prayer, closing eyes is for people who need to concentrate and are not attentive. My turn came and yes, in total filmi style before the clock struck 6:25 am, we were in the inner recesses of the temple in time to pay our obeisance. Very relieved, we retreated with prasadam (ghee laddoo) to the Siva shrine next door.

Peepal trees with a very soothing courtyard, the Siva temple was a temporary resting place for the teeming devotees. Aunty asked me if I want to be part of the Siva abhishekham – one hour inside the small almost underground cave-like temple. That was rhetorical, she smiled and her smile asked rather triumphantly, “how will you escape this?” There were others waiting, only 9 will be allowed to take part in it – 4 women and 5 women. The priest made us stand around in a semi-circle around the giant black lingam. Yes, pleasing this Lord is elaborate – giving him a bath starting with water, then followed by milk, curd, pure honey with ghee, bibhuti, then a turmeric facial coupled with rose water, tender coconut water amidst chants of “om namah shiva”. The small fan in the background was of small relief. I began sweating profusely, at one point I was worried and panicked I won’t complete the puja. But then, until the call happens you or I can’t decide anything. The world moves because of God. I will complete the puja if the Lord wants. I did. A young boy priest came by to break coconuts and there was more laughter than somberness. The puja lasted more than an hour and I was happy at the end of it. It has been many years since I did some service to my favourite Siva.

Aunty stayed back for some service and prayer and we rested in the courtyard and saw people and monkeys in clothes and human form breaking coconuts and in the process, I nearly lost my eyes. We were mobbed by beggars and members of the third sex. We ate a lot of ripe guavas and took a short drive to Osmansagar. Thank you, Aunty for taking me to Chilkur.

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