My 2 out of 119 (11 + 108) trips around the Chilkur Balaji Temple's inner shrine

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2010/07/24 07:01 -04:00, original URI:

Not really anything technical, you know what that means!

I'm not really all that much of a tourist. It just isn't my thing in most cases.

Occasionally though, I forget about that because there will be a place or site or thing I really want to see.

Some of the time I spent in Thailand and Hong Kong and the Czech Republic for example.

Now when I was in Tamil Nadu, both when I was in Chennai and when I was in Coimbatore, there were two questions that people kept asking me:

  1. Have you been to Kerala?
  2. Have you been to a temple yet?

Kerala, I did not see -- though if I had not had all those American Express woes I had, then Kerala was on the list of things to do. Even back in Redmond Joe used to tell me I should visit Kerala. OK, something to do for next time.....

The temple? Well no one ever suggested one kind of temple over another, which I thought was interesting (I could never imagine someone recommending people see a church when they visit the USA, any church and it does not matter what kind). Since my only prior history with temples in India was from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom it seemed to me that what temple and in particular what Hindu (or other) God was involved seemed important, and my movie experience really did little other than give me the appropriate warning of which of those temples to avoid (i.e. Kali Thuggee religious cult worshipping temples), so I figured I would just go with it.

Now the temple posed an interesting challenge for me, because of the iBot.

You see, most temples are not very accessible to wheelchairs.

Even iBots, which can handle stairs, are pretty heavy to be taking up some of these old steps, so even if the folks at the temple were okay with it, I'd feel uncomfortable.

Perhaps I lack faith. :-)

Anyway, I was in Hyderabad, staying at Ista. And after a little work they found a temple that would work.

The Chilkur Balaji Temple (చిలుకూరు బాలాజీ గుడి).

You can read up about this temple here on Wikipedia. Most of the people I know from India already knew of this temple, whose alternate name is the Visa Balaji Temple or just the Visa Temple with Balaji as Visa God.

The idea is that you would go there to pray before you got your visa, then you'd go back again after you go it to thank Balaji. That is pretty cool if you ask me. :-)

Now I had no need of a visa (though perhaps divine intercession would have helped me with my own AMEX/Visa issues, they were resolved before I made it to Hyderabad), but I took this opportunity to see a temple since it was likely as close to accessible as I would get. And everybody really wanted me to see a temple while I was there, so....

Now the ritual at this temple is described in the Wikipedia article I pointed to above:

During the visit, the devotee goes through the usual rituals of prayer, including Eleven (11) circumambulations of the inner shrine, and makes a vow.

Once the wish is fulfilled devotees then carryout 108 times around the sanctum sanctorum.

Majority of wishes by devotees are VISA related, thus Chilkur Balaji is also referred to as 'VISA Balaji'

11 Circumambulations (11 and 108 rounds) represents about the secret of creation, 1 means SOUL. 1 BODY, uniting both with Divotion and full Determination to fulfill wish , Dedicate on the lord, there is no second everything is god.

108 represents 1 the EXISTANCE, ALMIGHTY, GOD (PARAMATHMA, here balaji in the minds of devotte), 0 represents CREATION (ILLUSIONARY WORLD,JAGATH), 8 Human Body need to come to this universe 8 months (JIVATMA).

GOD is everything , GOD does not want anything from devottes, GOD want DDD (Divotion, Determination, Dedication). This Temple has chance to surrender GOD with DDD. Thanks to inventor of this Ritual.

Having done my research about the temple, I showed up fully prepared to do those 11 trips around the inner shrine. Since I had no visa that I needed to get, I figured I wouldn't neeed to do the 108 circumambulations. Plus I was worried about the iBot battery a little. :-)

But I was ready. I was primed!

When I got there, I was asked to remove my shoes. Though there was a brief argument between two of the people at the temple as to whether that was necessary since I was in a wheelchair and my feet would not be touching the ground. I resolved the argument by removing my shoes, holding my hands together, and saying Namaskar (which is Telugu, if you don't know what it means think Namaste, and if you don't know what means look it up!). They both smiled and responded back in kind, and I then proceeded to move closer to the circle around the inner shrine.

I was given some flowers by a lady to offer once I was in the appropriate place, and off I went.

Suddenly another obstacle presented itself -- one incredibly huge step down with nowhere to grab on to so I could not use the iBot's stair climbing capabilities.

I could get down, but there was no way I could get up again without being lifted by some people.

That reminds me how much I love when people see the iBot and ask "Can that go down stairs?"  -- any chair can go down stairs -- the trick is to find the ones that can go up stairs!

I described my conundrum to the person there and he assured me people would be able to come and lift me back up. I mentioned the weight (131 kilograms for the chair and 73 for me) which made him pause for a second worriedly, then he smiled and assured me it could be done.

So down I went.

I moved up to two wheels, and carefully proceeded around the shrine (the "carefully" part was to avoid running over bare feet!). I offered the flowers at the appropriate time into the appropriate place and bowed, and people seemed genuinely pleased as I was doing all this.

One of the attendants started to move me toward that large step for the exit after just two trips around. I looked at him quizzically (since I expected to be doing nine more around) and with an embarrassed look he mentioned how distracting the iBot was to the people there. He did not want to offend me, but was genuinely concerned about the impact to the others (and their wishes) if I continued to make more rounds.

As another side point, I thought I'd mention that it was interesting how the most common question men asked in the USA about the iBot is "Isn't that like a Segway?" while the most common question in India is "How much does it cost?". That 11.2 lakh rupees figure would usually stun them, let me tell you!

But I became very serious and told him solemnly that I understood.

I told him I had a couple of conditions, though....

He had to

  1. help me make sure that I would be able to accomplish my vow (that I'd be able to get back up the big step with the iBot), and that
  2. when he was going around the innrer shrine afterward he would have to do at least a few of the remaining 9 and 108 trips around for me, so that I would not be disrespecting Balaji by my incomplete circumambulations.

He was a little surprised, but he covered it up quickly and became very serious himself. He said he said he would help lift me up, and he would be sure to do the remaining 9 and 108 on my behalf.

I thanked him very warmly. A:-)

Getting back up did hit one snag; I was not smart enough to power the iBot down before it was lifted, which meant the chair had trouble with the uneven lifting that is pretty much guaranteed to happen with four guys lifting an awkward ~200kg weight.

I knew I should have done those 9 myself!

But I quickly fixed its confusion and I headed out to where the driver was waiting (I paid the lady for the flowers on the way out, which had been bothering me since she walked away too quickly for me to give her money earlier!).

I was then outside the temple for over an hour enjoying the rare sunny day that time of year outside Hyderabad, talking to people, and them asking me lots of questions. Which was also lots of fun.

Finally we found some people to help haul the iBot back into the Innova, which I also have down to a science now.

And thus ended my visit to the Chilkur Balaji Temple....

After that we head off to the mall, which is a completely different story.

ErikF on 26 Jul 2010 12:45 AM:

You've got a great blog; keep it up!  How do you rate wheelchair accessibility in the places that you have visited (especially the non-touristy places)?  From my (non-wheelchair) experience of most places, they often give lip service to wheelchairs, but I would be hard pressed to get wheelchairs through those places.

Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Jul 2010 5:41 AM:

Do you mean in India or when I am in the USA? :-)

John Cowan on 26 Jul 2010 7:38 AM:

Also, accommodations often are worse than useless for "differently abled" people who don't use wheels.  "The elevator?  Sure!  Walk a quarter of a mile [or so it seems] that way, take it up one floor, and walk back."  No thanks, I'll struggle up the stairs somehow.

Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Jul 2010 11:55 AM:

Not even wheeled support requirements are all the same, and as someone who went from walking to cane to scooter to (briefly) manual wheelchair to iBot, knowing that the requirements of each were slightly different was something huge. Our story is simply not great here for a lot of people....

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referenced by

2015/03/30 How would a filibuster from a wheelchair work, exactly?

2011/04/05 Men Without Hats? Michael Without Shoes!

2010/12/24 Yes, I'll take my shoes off. *I* don't have to walk on that dirty floor!

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