India is a massive country, so 7 years ago when I first visited Tirupati, I never imagined I would be back here but this time, not as a foreigner but as an honorary local. Rewinding a good few years, I completed a pilgrim walk of 3500 steps, in bare feet, to Tirumala where the Sri Venkateswara Temple is. This was a walk that thousands of pilgrims a week completed and one I had read about but hadn’t fully understood its importance.
Now visiting Tirupati for a second time as a guest of my Indian friend’s family after attending his wedding, I was going to view the Sri Venkateswara Temple not as a tourist but as a local. This is his family’s temple and we are here the day after his wedding with his family and new bride.
Read about my experience at a Hindu wedding HERE
The Sri Venkateswara Temple brings in more visitors than Vatican City and is visited by 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims per day. Each of these worshippers enters the temple to see the shrine of Venkateswara, an avatar of Vishnu. Some endure up to 10 hours in a queue to get only a 14 second glimpse of the shrine. Today it was my turn.
This time instead of walking up from Tirupati town to Tirumala, we came up by car. The time limits of the wedding schedule couldn’t allow us to spend 4 hours to walk up to Tirumala.
As a foreigner it is possible to visit the shrine and have this experience but it is very difficult to know the rules to allow you entry. This is the main reason why I hadn’t entered the temple the first time I visited. First rule: You must wear traditional Indian attire.
I was kindly lent a dupatta by my friend and as a family we drank chai and ate breakfast of dosa before walking to the temple. Due to the sheer amount of people leaving their shoes outside the temple area we decided to leave our pilgrim hotel barefooted. A decision we later regretted in the strong midday sun and black paved roads.
The area is made up of multiple temples and shrines which we visited whilst we were waiting for the next influx of people to be allowed into the temple. As cameras are not allowed into the Venkateswara Temple temple, I also did not take a camera with me which is why most of these photos are not my own.
Then armed with our ID we started queuing. Now I haven’t been in a queue like this ever! People were pushing as thousands of people were squeezed into a caged passageway. I am not sure what would have happened if there was a medical emergency or a stampede! It would be difficult to get anyone in or out of the queuing system in a hurry.
Finally after 2 hours of queuing we were inside the temple area where the shrine was. We were lucky as people can queue all day to have a glimpse. Peering into a darkened area as you were slowly pushed with the flow of people I saw the shrine for all of 14 seconds. Even as we passed the area people were craning their necks to look back in the hope of seeing a little more. It astounded me how strong a faith these people had. I also felt privileged to have experienced this.
Outside the shrine area, we sat in the shade along with many other pilgrims to reflect on our experience and to rest our weary queuing legs. Women sat in their colourful saris, men held hands in a sign of friendships and children slept on the knees of their mothers.
Upon leaving the temple we received laddu, sweet balls given to devotees and outside you can purchase more. In India this is such a great gift to give to people you are visiting, we bought many.
I bet you didn’t know this:
– Many devotees have their heads tonsured (shaved) as an offering to God. Each day over a ton of hair is collected. The hair is then sold at auction to be used as hair extensions. This brings in over $6 million to the temple treasury.
– The area has an ambulance for animals. Funded by the Animal Welfare Board of India and the Marching Animal Welfare Trust of Scotland, it is able to move large distressed animals.as well as moving stray dogs. I didn’t see any animals in distress, just happy cows!
Have you ever been to a Hindu temple? Would you like to visit Sri Venkateswara Temple? Please comment below. Don’t forget to subscribe (It’s free!) to my blog for more posts like this and interesting travel tips.
Tips on how you can visit Sri Venkateswara Temple;
1/ Internationals – take passport as this enables you to skip a bit of the queue
2/ Take some water. You will need it. You cannot take it into the temple itself but you can take it into the queuing system.
3/ You need to be able to stand for long periods of time so this is not for someone who is frail.
4/ Make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing when visiting the area. To go inside the temple females must be wearing a saree or a suit with dupatta.
5/ Out of respect, stick to a strict Hindu diet; no meat, fish or alcohol.
6/ You cannot take your camera into any of the temples. However there are lockers provided to keep your equipment safe.
7/ Shoes are not allowed in the area and there are signs naming and shaming shoe thieves. I wouldn’t advise you to go shoeless like we did due to the hot pavement, just take some unappealing shoes with you and put them in a place where you will be likely to find them again.
You can book online to attend the Darshan through Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. At the cost of 300 INR you can book a special ticket which will vastly decrease your waiting time. This is the option we took. Bookings can be made between 1 to 14 days in advance.
The details you have mentioned in this blog is so useful for the person who wants to explore India venkateswara temple in a unique way. I think this blog covered satisfy the necessities of each traveler. Thanks for sharing
My husband and I want to go to Tirupati but have no idea what to expect. Are males and females split up at the queue or can you view the deity together? We want to go but the idea of a stampede is a bit scary!
Would love to hear back from someone who has been 🙂
Hi, No males and females are not split up. I think the worry of a stampede was always in the back of my mind but although there is a little pushing, everyone is respectful. I would highly recommend it but be aware that you will be in for a long wait. Have an amazing time and let me know how it was 🙂
Venkata = ven + kata = hair + cut. Venkata literally means to tonsure your hair. The reason Indians offer hair is not to donate. Their is inner significance to this tradition. When we tonsure our hair we look ugly. Hair gives beauty to our face. This is one of the signs of ego. e.g. that I am beautiful. When we are letting go off our hair, then we are saying oh lord, I am letting go of my ego. I don’t care about this body, as now I realize you are the in-dweller of my heart. This is to say in English: Venkata = Vain + Kata = Vain + cut. i.e. I am letting go of my vanity.
Thanks for the extra details. I love learning things and there are still many things from my visit to the Sri Venkateswara Temple that I can learn more about
I’ve never made it to this area of India, but the temple looks fascinating. I can’t believe you dared to walk without shoes- you’re brave! You look lovely in the Indian dress.
Thank you Gemma
I went to a similar temple somewhere in either TN, KA or KL (I can’t remember the exact location or name as I was on 1 super long road trip through a few different states) and it was one of the most amazing experiences so far in my life. Like with you, it was the dedicated temple of my friend’s family so I was fortunate enough to be able to see it through tourist eyes as well as from behind the shades of a local.
I was really taken aback at first when I saw so many people (mostly women!!!) queueing up to get their head shaven, but then when my friend explained the significance, and the fact that a lot of the hair is donated to good causes, I found it oddly admirable!