PhotoDarshan: Devotional Balaji Rathotsav

We enjoyed the Navratri festival this year drenched in spirituality and devotional prayers. The next day of VijayaDashmi, Ashwin Shukla Ekadashi is Balaji Rathotsav or Chariot Festival day in my city and some other villages here.  Today's post is the beautiful tale about how I met Lord Balaji in the Rathotsav.
The festival begins in the morning with Pooja and Arti and devotional Bhajans are recited. The Rath is decorated with flowers and garlands. When Bhagwan Balaji is ready to begin His journey to visit His devotees, at around 11 AM, all the devotees are requested to empty the temple for some moments. Precise Muhurt is chosen for Bhagwanji to leave the temple. Afterwards, Bhagwan Balaji, the emperor arrives and takes His chair in the chariot. The Rath reaches in the most of the parts of the city. For safety reasons the Rath doesn't cross the bridge and can't reach where I live. I went for the Darshana in the evening. It was a beautiful Saturday evening and the roads were joyous with being full of devotees, singing "Govinda Hari Govinda Venkataramana Govinda", roads, devotees, air everything. Some devotee groups were distributing Prasad for the Balaji devotees at different places on the route where the Rath was supposed to arrive.

Following the devotees and guessing the direction to locate the Rath, I entered the narrow 4th lane of the city, the area closely populated by shops and the home within the shop. You must have heard about the famous lane design by Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya in Dhule city. The Street vendors were selling bananas, and other food for Prasad. I followed the path. Finally, a moment came when I could see the Rath from the backside. I think, I visited this area of the city for the first time. I parked my vehicle in a safe place and thinking about you, my readers....started clicking to bring the story for you. 

Image: Balaji Rath and devotees from the backside.

I could see the Rath and devotees. Happy devotees receiving Prasad and Arti. I tried to find the way to reach on the front side.

Image: Balaji Devotees with Arti Thali and Prasad

It was devotion, devotion and devotion everywhere. Two devotees with Arti and Prasad.  I just had to smile with an expression, "May I ........ capture and make this moment still?" 

Image: Balaji Rath from the back side closer view

I go a bit closer to the Rath. While clicking, I see the Sky and heavenly evening hues.  The feeling was like all the Devatas are present there for the darshan and worship of Balaji. The evening hues were so divine.

Image: Balaji Rath in densely populated lane surrounded by tall buildings and trees

Moving or stopping the Rath in the lane, densely occupied by the devotees, the trees there, buildings and street vendors looks really risky. But, when I was there I didn't feel it at all. To ensure the safety, measures and care are taken precisely.

Image: Balaji Rath the front side and devotees

Finally, I could reach the front side of the Rath in the small lane. It's a bit difficult for almost introvert like me to go in such an event, full of people, in a small lane where even standing still for a moment was impossible. But, I was desperately willing to have Darshan of the smiling face of Balaji blessing me, recognizing me. I managed to stand somewhere to have Darshana of Balaji. The moment didn't come yet...  

My great grandfather and grandfather used to be Purohit in this festival in their times. My Papa has also been there for some years for the same purpose. So, I have special attachment with Balaji temple and Rath festival here.

Image: Balaji Rath from side

I try to go a bit closer to the Rath. I kept clicking from different positions and angles to get the Darshan of Balaji. Bhagwanji was perhaps testing my devotion. 

Image: Balaji Rath closer view

And closer...Balaji was the celebrity of the day Pujaris, flowers, garlands, so many offerings to Him. We couldn't see each other. 

Image: Pujaris on Balaji Rath engaged in different tasks
I focused on decoration and Rath, for some moments.  As you can see, everybody on the Rath was engaged in some task, still the speed and direction of the Rath were maintained as much as accurately as possible. As the Rath is huge on the top, while advancing, sometimes it looks like slanting to one side. At this time the Rath was halted for Artis.

I couldn't get the Darshan of Bhagwan Balaji. The devotees began to chant Govinda Ala, Bol Balaji and pulled the Rath unitedly with the thick rope. 

I found myself trying to stand somewhere in the crowd on the other side of the road watching the gigantic Rath moving ahead. Rath was moving, devotees were chanting, joys and hopes were loud, I was 'still'.  My eyes and heart couldn't notice anything other than Rath for some moments. I was totally alone connected with Balaji only, though I couldn't see Him at all.

When the Rath passed some distance, I decided to return home with the hope to try another attempt, the next morning. 

The Rath visits different places for the whole night. People stay awake with Arti and offering Thali waiting for Balaji to come. 

The next day was Sunday. In deep sleep, my mind was planning to go meet Balaji once again, but eyes weren't ready leave the sleep. I silenced my mind saying, "It's Sunday, I'm not going to wake up and go anywhere." I drop my face in the comfy pillow and ordered my mind to enjoy the sleep again. 

Image: Rangolis to welcome Balaji

Within half an hour I find myself on this road waiting for the Rath to come. Who is the real controller, the mind, me, or the heart desperate for Darshan? I don't know how but I was fully awake, enthusiastically happy to capture pics once again. I reached near 5th lane of the city searching the probable location of the Rath in the morning. 

Beautiful Rangolis are drawn already to welcome Balaji.  

Image: Colorful Rangolis to welcome Balaji
More beautiful colors for the festivity, more rangolis and increasing enthusiasm.

Image: Big beautiful Rangoli
By this particular art of drawing rangoli, large rangolis are drawn in relatively lesser time.

Image: Welcome message by Rangoli
"Welcome" is  drawn by Rangoli to welcome the Rath

Image: Vehicle with devotees ahead Balaji Ratha

He is coming to meet you. People of all the ages are equally excited about the Rath, still the fervor among children was amazing. The atmosphere was like the day was still Ekadashi; it didn't change for them.

Image: Palkhi with Balaji photos and Kumkum for Puja

I meet the Palkhi with Balaji photos. People offer Kumkum there as a symbol of their devotion and pray folding hands. 

Image: Balaji Palkhi inside view

The photos, Diya and Kumkum for worship. The form of worship  for me was capturing these moments. I performed the Pooja in my unique way.

Image: Balaji Rath arriving
After a long wait, I could see the Rath, the chariot of Balaji. He didn't sleep the whole night. He had to meet everyone to fulfill the dreams in their eyes. He wasn't tired at all. He was the happiest person as He was meeting all the devotees who come to meet Him in the temple for the whole of the year. He cares for all of us, the rich and the poor; all are His children. People started gathering with Arti  thalis. 

Image: Balaji Rath and Devotees waiting for each other to meet
Everybody was waiting anxiously with eagerness to meet their beloved Bhagwan.

Image: Bhajan Mandali ahead of the Balaji Rath

I could see the Bhajan Mandali coming singing Balaji Bhajans with  devotions. Loudspeakers were chanting Venkateshwar Stotram. I could hear both voices separately and breathe in the Bhakti in my heart. 

Image: Bhajan Mandali singing Balaji devotional songs and Bhajans

Bhajan Mandali was singing and dancing the songs of Balaji blessings and love for His devotees. These bhajans are in Hindi. I don't know them properly, but whenever I hear them, I am in Vaikunth - the abode of Bhagwan Vishnu.  This must be Bhaktiyoga, 'me' - the aham doesn't exist anymore to think, believe or feel. 

Image: Balaji devotee Bhajan Mandali

I really don't know, how I was clicking, my heart could only hear those sacred words singing the stories of Krishna.  My brain  was perhaps engraving those Balaji Bhajan in my memories so that whenever I remember them again, I'll be again in the thoughts of Krishna. If I ever get overwhelmed with material duties and get confused these words remind me again, Krishna is waiting for me. 

Image: Shankha Dhavni to welcome Balaji
And, bhajan singers made Shankha Dhvani telling, He has arrived. Be ready with your Arti and offerings, and your prayers and complaints, He is coming to meet you. 

Image: Balaji Rath and the crowd of the devotees
Within a few moments the road was occupied by all the devotees. Many were there to pull the Rath. People believe it very sacred to get the chance to pull the Rath even for a moment. Wish there would be some of those moments reserved for women also, but seems that nobody have tried to ask about it yet.  

Image: Prasad Distribuation and girl devotees
Prasad distribution was going on just ahead of the Rath. See, girls have also already found a safe place away  from the crowd to have Balaji Darshan without any disturbance. 

Image: Devotees pulling Balaji Rath
 The people pulling the Rath, even children want to be the part of the devotees and pull the Rath 

Image: Balaji Rath with Pujaris and Devotees

Now, the Rath is so near to me. I feel a bit nervous, restless. Will Bhagwan Balaji recognize me? I have been waiting for so long. I feel like a child, crying inside, though with usual calm face. 

I try to adjust and find the best position. How can have Darshan? Again, I begin to click restlessly like previous evening. 

Thankfully, it was a bit cloudy morning with a little sunshine. I always wonder, how all the Pujaris and Porohits manage to stand inside the Rath. It seems  quite risky, perhaps the same way I could manage that day in the crowd. 

Image: Balaji Rath closer view

Now, the Rath is stopped for Arti. When Artis are performed, people offer their Arti thali individually. Pujaris take them, offer to Balaji and return with Prasad.  Pujaris showered Tirtham, sacred water, as a symbol of Blessings of Bhagwan Balaji. 

Image: Balaji Rath in Stopped position
The folks covered their heads with saffron cloth manually stop  the Rath with wooden manual brake. The Rath has its own brake and mechanism to control the direction and stop, but the speed of rath goes so high that it becomes difficult to stop it by the Rath mechanism only. I think, the job of these saffron headed folks is the riskiest the work in the whole journey.

Image: Devotees who help to apply manual brakes to Balaji Rath

I requested two of them for a photo. They smiled and gave their precious expressions for me. Dyaneshwarji on the left side and to the right is Nana Mahaleji. I feel them as the real celebrities because of their simplicity. They celebrate life, not by glamour, not by fame, not by controversies, but by  their dedication, by their sweat  for work. Their smile and the satisfaction on their face makes them celebrities of life.

Image: Pujaris sharing light moments

Pujaris found some carefree moments during Arti and Prasad distribution. 

Image: Pujaris giving back Prasad and Rath architecture
Pujariji giving back bananas as Prasad. Rath design and the generator closer view. 

Image: Wooden horses of the Balaji Rath

The Rath even has wooden horses on the front side. One Pujrari seems telling, "Have patience, He will hear everybody."

Image: Bhagwan Krishna and peacocks created with flowers

Balaji, peacocks created by flowers. All the Rath top is covered beautifully with flowers. 

Image: Balaji Rath advancing

I didn't have anything with me to offer Him. I didn't buy anything as me and my life is the gift of Bhagwanji.  

He met me at a point of His journey, I stopped clicking as my eyes were closed and hands were folded. I couldn't pray anything, just taken Him with me in my heart, thanked Him for meeting me. 

I separated myself from the crowd, returned to my life of solitude.  

The Rath continued to meet other devotees...

When Ratha returns to temple, Bhagwanji gets back to His usual work of blessing all of us through temple. Abhishekam is performed after bringing back Balaji in the temple. 
Meanings of Non-English Words:

  • Purohit: The person who performs Pujas and rituals daily or for special occasions.
  • Arti: Devotional prayer sung by intense Bhakti with Nirajan.
  • Arti Thali: The dish or tray containing things needed for Arti or Pooja, Kumkum, food, sweets or fruits to offer Bhagwan, Diya 
  • Pujari: Similar as Purohit. Pujari generally performs daily rituals for a particular temple and deity. Purohit performs Pujas for religious occasions of people also.  
  • Muhurt: Specially considered auspicious and or appropriate time for any work according to Hindu calendar. The selected time is based on astronomical calculations. Muhurt is not always related to its auspiciousness, sometimes it's just about accuracy and deciding the appropriate time. (Also please note that I am not an expert in astrology and astronomy. More appropriate meanings and definitions is the subject of experts. ) 

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