Mass tourism is welcome! But provide more infrastructure!
Preserving heritage sites,visiting the monuments and appreciating the same is what constitutes man’s search for identity,a link with his past.
Heritage education, cultural heritage must be integrated with the religious and spiritual quest of the pilgrimage in the new age of mass tourism.Some thoughts.
India has a rich history of many kingdoms and empires and many dynasties of very interesting achievements.So too the trail of the pilgrim centers of great antiquity is too long and too varied.The belief system of the various regions and religions and communities that inhabitated this country are also too varied and very rich in history and ancient lore.
What is missing today in India is the clear enunciation of a cultural policy for preserving and protecting the ancient monuments and pilgrim centers and heritage sites.
Our rich antiquity can match,if not exceed the other antiquities of yore like Babylon and Egypt and ancient Greece. Here are some thoughts on the great Indian past of religion,myths and antiquities. Archeology is a fascinating subject.Whenever and wherever I find an opportunity to visit a site of antiquity or a heritage site or a pilgrim centre I always reach out to the science of archeology and what I have read from the archaeologists.Leonard Woolley’s”Digging up the Past”has been a minor classic on the subject and it gives me endless source of excitement whenever I glance through a page or two of that little gem of a book.This time too I thought much of the antiquities of the pilgrim centres of Tirupati and Kalahasti in Andra Pradesh
Tirupati has been a perennial favorite pilgrim centre and the richest shrine in India.There are always hundreds of pilgrims lined up in the cage-like steel structures in the hills of Tirumala atop the hills for a glimpse of the god,Lord Venkateswara.The crowds often surge to unmanageable strengths and it is this belief of the mass that creates the mass hysteria and that is turned into a thriving business operation by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthana(TTD),a mini-government in itself.
The state of Indian society is such that as the society progresses in all directions,in material conditions as well as in education and awakening,there is an inverse relationship with the rise of mass hysteria for the worship of the popular deity.
So,in the process all supposed sanctities are thrown overboard by the temple administration and the priests seem to have a field day.I found that in the name of several pujas,sevas,the priests seem to have evolved clever formulas to fleece the un suspect believers and precious time and energy of the people is wasted.
This I found out for myself when at a recent incident I found out for myself how even the most intelligent can be misled!
Unfortunately,the enlightened state government doesn’t seem to have realised that in the crowd control the first objective is to minimise the sufferings of the visitors.First of all correct and reliable information must be given to visitors.This is not now forthcoming and every tries to give false information or try to mislead the visitors.The chairman of the trust board is a prestigious name and so too the executive officers.But the real clue lies somewhere in the nebulous area of ticket issuers and the men at the entry points!
Anyway,what I found rather disappointing is the lack of any reliable and scientific information about the antiquity of the temple so revered in the public memory.By chance I saw a notice inside the main temple premises some historic data about how the idol in Sri Rangam,near Trichy in neighbouring Tamil Nadu was hidden here in Tirumala in the 13 century when the Muslim invader Mallikapur invaded the South.So,there is a link with the famous Sri Rangam temple and this one in Tirumala.But there is no bookshop or any other source where I could get a reliable,archelogical information.That is a pity.
Our people ,both the common and the elite ones,don’t care for such niceties of historic truths or try to link the present feelings of religion or religious traditions with the past of us.Archeology is all about finding out the exact external evidence to link our past and thereby we establish and thereby enjoy and enhance our existence with the past links with our own ancestry.It is the high point in any of our supposed search for god or a sense of spiritual fulfillment,this understanding of our past with the present.
Tirupati is now a thriving town,a mini city and houses three universities,one regular,another for Sanskrit learning and the third one a full-fledged women’s university. Yet,I didn’t have a hint of the prevailing enlightened sense,the impact of our education and culture and our sense of understanding the environment we live in seems to be very poor.It is a great pity.
The neighboring town,Kalahasti houses another famous shrine and this is the one made famous by the Bhakta Kannappa,who gave his eyes to his favourite Lord,Shiva! There is a hill shrine before we enter the main shrine to Isvara,but there is almost no information forthcoming even in a small booklet that was sold there.The book by a Telugu Pandit,Vidwan,M.A.and Ph.D. has written pages and pages of unintelligible mahatmiyams of the place and even there is a chapter on the Kannappan.But when you look through the pages,there is none at all! Such is the superstition of even the learned that we care more for legends and miracles,less for the exact information,the geography,the history or the archeology of the places we seem to care much for their antiquity.Kalahasti is really a very important centre,its ancient temple of the Chola period is real huge,much more well-planned and elaborate stone works,than what we see in Tirumala and yet the place seems to have been neglected for some unexplained reasons.Surely,the town requires a full-scale research and a thesis and a book.
So too the Tirupati temple’s worthy antiquities.
The one really enjoyable visit was the site of the famous Vijayanagar period fort at Chandragiri,some 10 km away from Tirupati town on the Bangalore highway.This is the second time I visit the fort.The archeological department has done a good job in manitaining it so well and the visitors are treated to a history full of twists and turns when the fort came into being after the fall of the Vijayanagar empire till the fall and disappearance of the dynasty and the disrepair into which the fort has fallen.A very important reason why this fort acquires so much relevance is that it was here,in this fort,the document pertaining to the lease of the piece of land in Chennai was given to the British traders who later built their British empire in India!I remembered to have seen the document when I last visited the place,But this time when I visited the said document was not there but there were original receipts issued by the Chittoor collector to the fort authorities confirming the fall of the first as an independent kingdom.Some relevant pieces of information taken from archeological Survey’s small pamphlet is given here.
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