Visa Balaji, Hyderabad (By Praveen Donthi)
Devotees are requested to wear handloom apparel on Saturdays..Lakhs of weavers are committing suicides..The dress code has been introduced to encourage handloom industry,’ reads a notice in Chilkur Balaji temple on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Clearly, there’s a lot of thought going into making this small 500-year-old temple a very ‘modern’ one. No ticket is needed to see the god; no gifts or money is to be donated, no VIP treatment to anyone, no usage of plastic bags. The result: on an average there are 5,000 devotees visiting everyday, and the number goes up to 30,000 on weekends. (According to police estimates 1.30 lakh people visited this temple on the New Year’s Day but only 62,000 in Tirupati). And they are overwhelmingly young. What more? They call him ‘Visa Balaji’.
Nobody knows when, but it all started with the 60-odd students from neighbouring engineering colleges — aspiring to go abroad to seek jobs and degrees — came to him with a wish to clear the visa hurdle. Now people flock from all over the state. Most of them believe Balaji will grant them the visa. “This is like a small Tirupati but you don’t have to spend anything. No pujas or special charges,” says Ashvin Kumar (24) a second year MBA student of JBIT college that is four km away.
Devotees who come with a wish for the first time are supposed do 11 rounds of the temple and come back for another 108 once the wish is fulfilled. Temple priest M.V. Soundararajan, 74, says, “It’s not that the wish gets fulfilled only here. But god is definitely happy here because there is no commercialisation and politicisation.” Adds Vinay Kumar (27) who has come from Mahbubnagar, 130 kms away, “My brother has gone to work in Texas. Now I am here.”
Cricket Ganesh, Chennai (By Amitava Sanyal)
A cosmic connection was struck across thousands of kilometres on March 11, 2001. By that afternoon, Australia had totted up a comfortable 190-for-one on the first day of the Kolkata Test, the second match of the series. The Aussies, who had won the previous 16 Tests, went into the tea break brimming with confidence.
At about the same time, in the sleepy residential suburb of Anna Nagar East in Chennai, K.R. Ramakrishnan was preparing to consecrate the Ganesh idol installed at the back of his apartment complex. What was he, a cricket fanatic who had been following the game since 1963, to ask of the Omnipotent? “Why can’t he mend the Indian cricket team’s fortunes?” Ramakrishnan, now 61, recalls having asked. A collective prayer was sent out.
Ganesh struck right after the tea break — through Harbhajan Singh. The spinner scalped three Australian wickets on consecutive balls and India went on to log a thrilling win. With another win at the next Test in Chennai, India won the series too.
An avatar was born: Cricket Ganesh.
Ramakrishnan, a company secretary, wanted more such instances to ‘prove’ that the elephant-headed god had as much say in cricket as in other worldly affairs. He installed another idol, this time with the trunk pointing left — and southpaws such as Sourav Ganguly and Hemang Badani started scoring centuries.
He then took a poster of Mathew Hayden executing a square-cut to the temple town of Mamallapuram and got a bat-playing granite idol made. Sure enough, the Australian hard-hitter started scoring higher and faster. A convinced Ramakrishnan decided to help the whole Indian team and installed an 11-headed Ganesh with two trunks pointing in two directions, padded up as if ready to walk on to the field.
To propagate his views, Ramakrishnan has composed, sung and commercially released more than a hundred “cricket songs”. One of them goes: “Offside mein ja-key legside mein sixer marne-wala namaha (Hail the one who moves to the offside to hit a sixer on the legside).” Mahendra Singh Dhoni should be glad.
Jaswant Baba, Jaswantgarh (By Rahul Karmakar)
China today manufactures idols of all Indian gods, except one. There are two reasons why it won’t replicate the image of Jaswant Singh Rawat, or Jaswant Baba. One, this rifleman and seven others of 4 Garhwal Rifles killed over 300 soldiers before the People’s Liberation Army could take the 13,000 ft Sela Pass in Arunachal Pradesh during the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
Second, Rawat resides in the heart of every Indian soldier. “Wherever we go, Baba goes with us. He gives us mental strength and protects us from enemies, particularly in this frozen frontier where he made the ultimate sacrifice,” says Subedar Madan Singh, commander of a contingent of 19 Garhwal Rifles men assigned to take care of the Baba.
Rawat was posthumously honoured with the Maha Vir Chakra, one of the Indian army’s top gallantry awards. Soldiers serving the Tawang sector subsequently deified him and established a temple 14 km north of Sela Pass where he died.
For the quintessential armyman, Jaswant Baba’s blessings during family functions are a must. “Soldiers posted at Jaswantgarh ensure Baba gets a feel of the letters from a small chamber where all his personal belongings are kept. And they serve him three meals right on time, every day,” says Col Rajesh Kalia, PRO of the army’s 4th Corp based in Tezpur.