When I was on vacation to India, my mom told me one fine Saturday that we are going to Annavaram tomorrow. I was a bit taken-back for three reasons.
1. I don’t want to lose my Sunday(you might wonder what’s the meaning of losing a Sunday when you are on vacation already). But Sunday is a Sunday.
2. I don’t want to stand in the long, never ending queues of devotees.
3. I don’t want to wake up early in the morning around 5 AM as I’m fed up of getting up early in the morning in Bahrain so that I can make it to the office in-time.
But my parents are adamant. What else can I do except heeding to their request. So, as planned, we caught up an early train and reached Annavaram around 9 30AM. We went to the temple on a bus, which seemed as if it’ll dismantle into pieces anytime, from the railway station. Then my mom told me to take a ticket to some special pooja which is priced around Rs 200/-. So far, everything’s fine. As we didn’t bring any coconuts and it’s compulsory to offer coconuts to God as per Hindu rituals, we thought of buying some and started looking around. Then we are routed to some stall maintained by the temple and were told that as we hold the ticket to Rs 200/- pooja, we have to buy some package of offerings at Rs 90/-, which is a very high price as per local standards. But as there’s no other option, we’ve to take it. That stall-guy took Rs 100/- and started saying that they hiked the price recently to Rs 100/- and yet to prepare new receipts and gave us a receipt for Rs 90/-.
Then we are directed to some hall where the pooja is to take place along with several other devotees. There I noticed that on every wall, it was written that “there is no need to offer anything to the priests or others and if you want to offer anything to God, please drop in the hundis”. This was written in every nook and corner of the temple. I was impressed with these writings and continued with my journey towards the pooja hall. This was a mass pooja and hence, many people perform the riots at the same time. I felt proud of being an Indian where people show this much reverence in God Almighty.
The pooja took around 90 minutes to complete after which the head priest took the mike and started telling some stories about the greatness of Sri Satyanarayana Swamy. He then concluded the pooja saying that “Your pooja is almost completed now. We’ve done so n so things in the pooja. Now in order for the pooja to finish completely, you need to go some donation(daanam) to the priests. You’ve to give certain amount for AnnaDanam or certain amount for VastraDaanam or certain amount for both of these daanam’s together. Unless you give this, your pooja is waste”. I was shell-shocked to hear this moral blackmailing. Surely, I never expected this type of things from that priest. It’s written everywhere that there’s no need to give anything to anyone inside the temple. So, those people have resorted to this type of things. What can devotees do in this case except heeding to the priests demand?
Next came the main event of “Daiva darshanam”. We were told that all the devotees who performed the pooja will be forwarded to a direct line from where they can go to the main temple in a jiffy. But this line took us forever to reach the main temple. In the way, at every nook-n-corner, I can see people who are telling the pilgrims that if they were given certain amount of money, they’ll take them directly to the main temple without the problem of having to stand in the queue for long. These people are everywhere in the temple. I, myself, had seen atleast 20 of them that day. Somehow, we finished our darshan without any hassle from these people. So far, so good. Then came the problem of lunch. We were told at the anna daanam counter that the tokens will be issued for just an hour and will finish even before the prescribed time due to heavy rush. So there’s no choice for us except to eat food somewhere outside.
So we went to the one and only restaurant just outside the temple and I was awestruck at the prices. One meals is around Rs 50/- and one Dosa/Idli is around Rs 15/-. My parents took meals while I decided to take Dosa. That Dosa was one of the worst I’ve ever eaten and roadside food seemed to be better than that. I felt that the God is definitely smiling on the hotel guy for keeping it just beside the temple as there’s no other alternative for the devotees to take food.
This is my brief experience at one of the famous temples of Andhra Pradesh. But there are some positive sides in this trip too. Like, this girl who came to the temple with her family. She mesmerized me a lot. She wore a half saree and some simple jewellery. But I felt as if she walked straight from heaven. I was looking at her for a long time till my dad called me for something. By the time I returned, she’s no where visible. This is one moment to cherish in the trip.