Faith versus commercialization
Almost every other weekend, one of my team members pays a visit to Tirupati, and come Monday, the prasadam which he or she gets becomes much sought after in office. I have always been fascinated by Tirupati and have always longed to pay a visit to Tirupati, just to get a glimpse of the glory of Lord Venkateshwara.
According to Wikipedia (and my south-Indian colleagues, of course!), the Tirupati Devasthanam is one of the busiest religious centres in the world, and the second-richest, after the Vatican. Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Tirupati everyday, and the number seems to be growing day by day. The annual collection ("income") of the temple, it seems, runs into billions of rupees.
I have always pondered over what makes Tirupati one of the most frequented sacred places in southern India. Tirumala and Tirupati, no doubt, have a rich cultural heritage and religious history, not to mention the exotic natural beauty and picturesque surroundings. But recent times have seen Tirupati getting "commercialized" to such an extent that it makes one wonder whether it is really the faith in The Lord or the hype surrounding Tirupati that makes hordes of devotees flock to this temple town.
I am not particularly comfortable with the idea of an "entry fee" just to get a glimpse of The Lord. Even then, you get The Lord's darshan for only a few minutes, and sometimes more, if you are fortunate (the average darshan time is one and a half minutes, they say). My friends say it is possible to prolong the darshan, by making an "offering" to the temple staff...
I strongly believe that The Lord resides everywhere; even if one does visit Him, he or she should have complete freedom to be with Him for as long as he or she desires. But then, that is not always feasible (and possible) in a temple which boasts of thousands of devotees visiting every hour.
Devotees make their offerings in kind, and mostly gold and silver jewellery. As the name itself suggests, offerings are made with faith and devotion. But recently, such offerings have become a symbol of prestige and social status: the more you offer, the more devout you are. Such things do nothing more than add to the commercialization, by encouraging a "wealth-offering competition" between devotees, if it can be called that way. Devotees should compete in faith, not in terms of the value of offerings made to Him.
Before anyone gets mad, I have nothing against true faith and offerings made in full devotion... What I find disturbing is the commercialization of God and the artificiality and the hype surrounding it that is rearing its ugly head of late...
Oh, a bit of trivia to end (courtesy Wikipedia, for those of you who are too lazy to click on links): Tonsuring, the sacrifice of hair, which is performed at Tirupati as a symbol of devotion, is responsible for making India the largest exporter of hair in the world! ;-)