They are not run-of-the-mill gods. They function a lot like specialist doctors, whom a sick man approaches after the family doctor has washed his hands of the case. Devotees across the country are landing up in lakhs at these holy destinations with specific prayers, which they believe a general purpose god may be unable to answer.
Thirty kilometres off Hyderabad is a god known to alter the minds of bored consulate officers all over the country. Also called Visa Balaji, the presiding deity of Venkateswara temple, is believed to clear visa applications of his devotees.
On a given day, thousands of young visa hopefuls can be heard chanting at the main shrine. Unlike his devotees though, Visa Balaji is not materialistic. All he asks for in return is a holy round of the temple. According to lore, the first time a devotee reaches the temple, he has to take 11 such rounds. After the visa gets approved, the number rises to 108. Other than that, no money changes hands. “My son was rejected in his visa interview the first time. He then made a wish at Visa Balaji temple, and got it,” says Hyderabad’s Vimla Pande.
Parents may not approve and nutrition experts may baulk at the thought, but the goddess of Jivantika Temple near Rajkot in Gujarat, apparently gets pizzas, milk chocolates, pani puris, dabelis and sandwiches as prasad. The goddess is known for her love of children and is revered by mothers-to-be for a child and mothers wishing a long life for their children.
For the past 35 years, the temple used to give peppermint and chocolates to the kids. To attract them, a special prasad is offered once a week. “On routine days, the kids are given chocolates,” says Aim Prasad, chief trustee of the temple. For the grownups and their own set of unique problems, the state of Tamil Nadu offers a recourse in Sree Kulanjiappar, son of Lord Shiva. Kulanjiappar is known to employ slightly different methods. Empty prayers don’t work here; they have to be put forth via written petitions. The temple, which is some 220 kilometres off Chennai, hands out printed petitions to first-time applicants as examples. At the other extreme, even Supreme Court and High Court judges have trekked up to this remote destination for a resolution. The written prayers can span problems as far apart as property disputes, financial irregularities, murder cases, and the most common human predicament – marital disharmony.
“We charge Rs 10 for the cost of application and processing fee. And once the petition is formally lodged, the complainant has to pay a bata for handling the case,” says Gurunathan, the temple administrator. The bata is calculated at the rate of 10 paise per kilometre from the place of travel to the temple. Kulanjiappar’s court, which attracts petitions globally, handles every mundane complaint. Whenever a petition is filed, it is symbolically placed near the deity while offering prayers. Later, the petitions are tied to a lance stuck vertically on ground before the sub-shrine dedicated to Muneeswara.
Though the petitions lie in the open for everyone to see, generally people don’t touch them out of fear. “We don’t guard them. They remain there till they get withered by weather,” says Gurunathan. The temple story doesn’t end at filing of petitions alone. Once Kulanjiappar administers justice, the complainant should formally withdraw the petition.
The helpful temple has printed forms for withdrawing cases as well. In a year, Kulanjiappar receives not fewer than 75,000 cases. “Of these, 60,000 cases are withdrawn,” Gurunathan shows the list. One has no choice but to conclude that the striking rate of this divine court is quite impressive. And the lord, also known by other names such as Karthikeya, Murga and Shunmuga, delivers speedy justice from a minimum of three days to a maximum of three months.
Among these new-age methods of worship, old-world beliefs somehow pesist. People still throng the Jhankeshwari temple in the backwaters of Bengal’s Burdwan district to cure snake bites. A stone near Guledgudda in Karnataka’s Bagalkote district is worshipped by mostly pregnant women, and is appropriately called the “Pregnant Stone”.Â TNN
(Inputs by Meghanien Datta, Pradeep Nair, T S Sreenivasa Raghavan, Debajyoti Chakraborty, Radha Sharma & Meena Iyer)