Everyday about 30-50,000 pilgrims visit Thirumala to have Lord’s darsan. On weekends this number goes up to 70,000 and on festival days it is as much as a lakh. For some of the sevas in the temple one has to wait as long as 15 years to get his turn… till a few years ago, the waiting time for most of these sevas is a mere 2-3 weeks… till early 60’s about 500-1000 people used to visit thirumala…how the times changed?…none of us can hardly believe that devotees used to walk straight through mahadwaram, main entrance to have Lord Balaji’s darsan in those days. So how was Thirumala in those days?… it will be very interesting to know how thirumala used to be in those good olden days…. come., let’s take a trip to Thirumala about hundred years ago.
Thirumala was a very serene place in those days. All these cottages, shops, canteens etc were not to be seen at all… Thirumala was blooming with wonderful flower gardens around the temple… the temple and Hathiram Math were the only structures on the hills. Even temple archakas used stay in kothur village down the hill. They used to climb the hill everyday and offer suprabhatham to lord at 7.00 A.M. and get down the hill by 4.00 P.M. itself as it was very chilly on the hills throught the year. It was very difficult to stay in the nights…added to the cold winds was the fear of wild animals, thirumala was surrounded by thich forests and tigers, lions, bear etc. used to wander the Thirumala streets in the nights… There was no ghat road and proper steps…piligrims used to trek the nine miles through difficult terrains reaching the top of the hill after a couple of days.
They used to rest in between at wayside water ponds in the nights…they used to make bon fire to scare the animals devotees often used to hear roaring of lions in the nights but by the grace of Lord Sri Balaji, they never harmed the piligrims British Government built the steps for the first time in 1870…they were laid out with stones and were not symmetrical but far better than earlier rough terrain piligrims were finally happy By 1940 the number of pilgrims went up to 200- 300 a day as there were no canteens, prasadam was their lunch in fact very tasty prasadams were given inlarge quantities in the early years to devotees children used to play in the temple premises while elders are engrossed in discussions.
It was thought that unless Thirumala develops as a village it will be difficult to provide amenities for the pilgrims. Hathiram Math leased some lands to some locals of Thirupathi and invited them to stay on the hill with their families slowly couple of families started settling on the hill and the number went up to 200-300 by mid forties pilgrims used to stay with these people and were given warm reception. Our famous laddu was not heard on those days at all!…only pulihora, vada and daddhojanam used to be given as prasdaam vada prasadam was costing mere four annas (about 25 paise) the then Madras Government introduced sweet boondi in the prasadams which in the later years turned to become LADDU.
In the initial days only about 10-20 laddus used to be prepared which went up to 500 over the years today about one and half lakh laddus are prepared everyday using 4,500 kilograms of basan, 9,000 k.g.s of sugar, 1,080 k.g. of cashew nut,120 kg of elachi, 500 kg of kismis and 5,000 kg of pure ghee! In the early sixties one could attend lord’s karpoora harathi by just paying one rupee! thomala seva ananthara darsanam was mere four rupees! in those days kalyanotsavam was not a daily utsav as it is now kalyanotsavam of lord used to be performed only when any visiting v.i.p. specifically asks for it prasadams in large numbers used to sent to the cottages of gruhasthas performing the kalyanotsavam… temple nadaswara musicians used to accompany the prasadams.
The hundi collection used to be between rupees 1,000-2,000 in the early days today it is between 1- 1.5 cr.a day! The first ghat road was constructed by GANNON & DUNKERLY in 1944 and was opened to public by SIR ARTHUR HOPE, the then Governor of Madras State. Slowly bullock carts and horse carts started moving on this road… all the materials required for making prasadams were transported by these bullock carts motorized transport was first introduced in early 50s by way of small buses which look like today’s matador vans… they were called ‘budda bassu’ by locals initially only one bus with just one trip was running between Thirupathi and Thirumala. Slowly the number of trips increased to thrice a day today the state owned transport runs one bus every ten minutes during Brahmotsavams the frequency is much higher with one bus every minute.
The first cottages on the hill were in the form of asbestos roofed sheds they were called N.M.SHEDS…north mada sheds…thirty sheds were initially constructed in early 50s with the donations from piligrims later concrete blocks were constructed for V.IP.s…they were called N.M.R.C.C. sheds the cottages have increased over the years…today we have cottages with most modern facilities Oh! Srinivasa!… times have changed people too have changed a lot but you are ‘nitya’… never changing… ocean of ever flowing charm whether it is millions of years back or today, you are blessing your devotees with the same benovelence… with the same magnificent grace… Oh! Swamy!.. bless us all… relieve us all from these worldly miseries and take us all in your lap… Om Namo Venkatesaya…Om Namo Srinivasaya…Om Namo Narayanaya…