18 November 2010

Balaji Temple

The Balaji temple near Ketkavale village (turn left at Kapurhol when travelling from Pune on the Pune-Satara expressway) is a beautiful destination that one must visit- either as a standalone trip or whenever one is travelling on Pune-Satara NH 4... Built by the Venky's group the temple is a striking shape amid farms and Venky's factories. The best way to get there is in your own vehicle as I did not spot dedicated public transport. I did see some ST buses so that may be an option to reach the main gate.

One cannot miss the turning as there are several hoardings depicting the approaching turnoff the highway. There is plentiful vehicle parking space but is at some distance and the ground is in a bad state- one can almost hear the vehicle tyres crying out loud as one lurches over pointy stones and ditches... You may want to leave your foot wear in the car itself but know that one has to walk quite some distance till the covered temple area that is designated for the official entrance queue. There are titled pathways till this spot, but walking on them anytime after 10am can serve as hot tile therapy for city-bred pedicured feet! We have always gone at the crack of dawn so hot stones were not much of an issue. There is a stall where one can deposit footwear but you cannot avoid the 'hot' walk...

Cell phones and cameras are not allowed inside temple premises and can be deposited at the security station. If you can bear to be disconnected from the world, its better to leave them in your vehicle itself for some quality time with God and yourself...

Men and women stand in separate queues and bags are checked. The stairs at the temple's threshold have jets of cool water that are a wonderful balm to your feet. There are small statues of different gods placed in alcoves at the entrance and around the temple walls. These are adorned in wonderful jewellery and zari bordered colourful silk vastra.

One gets a darshan of the standing Lord in full splendour right at the entrance but one has to follow the queue for a closer view. If the crowd is not excessive, the pujaris offer teertha and place the 'crown' on your head as a blessing. There is not much scope to spend a few minutes to admire the jewellery or even restate your requests at God's doorstep so make sure to do that from afar.

The pradakshana involves walking around the temple courtyard (in a covered veranda) that has smaller idols of other Gods. At the end, devotees get a handful of rose petals and tulsi and the local version of the famous Tirupati Balaji laddo and another food item subject to the time of the day and availability. We have always received lovely warm curd rice as prasad that is a joy to eat sitting in the courtyard outside.

At certain times of the day, temple authorities offer coupons for food- mahaprasad for which one has to walk some more to another huge hall. At a recent visit, we were pleasantly surprised to be the couple honoured to eat the first meal with the day's prasad, other devotees had to wait till we started eating. The simple meal of rice, sambhar, chutney and sheera plus laddoo and a fruit were the most satisfying meal in a long long time. To top it all, the staff made sure to ask us for a refill and even gave us something to carry the prasad back home...

Presently the temple is under extensive renovations hence the serene atmosphere is rudely disturbed by violent sounds of stone cutting, crane engines and the like. They drowned out the aarti or bhajans or stotra that were played on the public announcement system. The usually pervading smell of burning camphor is hence overtaken by many others that I could not identify and wished to... I guess this is just a matter of time and an unavoidable part of temple improvements.

The temple interiors' were being painted - the ceiling of the veranda had different coloured regular stencil motifs. The columns and walls are getting a paint makeover as well. I was struck by the paintings on the ceiling of the main temple not as much for their artistry (that was excellent of course) but for the physical difficulties the painters must have had to paint them. Yet not one was distorted.

Here are a couple of photos of the prasad laddoos that are about the size of a red leather cricket ball.

Don't drool, drive out to the temple this weekend! Its only about45 minutes drive from Pune.

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