Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Birla Mandir: God’s Marble Home

Industrialists Birlas have built a number of temples of architectural magnificence all over the country which, strangely, are referred to as Birla temples and not Lakshminarayan temple or Venkateswara temple. A quarter century ago, they built a temple in Hyderabad entirely in marble brought from Rajasthan and dedicated it to Lord Venkateswara, known as Balaji in the north. The temple, built on a hillock called Kala Pahad, one of the Naubat Pahad twins, lords over its equally celebrated surroundings comprising the imposing Secretariat buildings, the azure-blue waters of Hussain Sagar, the serene and halcyon Lumbini Park, the luxurious Public Gardens dominated by the Asafjahi-style Legislative Assembly complex and the Reserve Bank of India. From the highest level of the temple, the spectacle around is breath-taking, providing a view of the verdure of the city, the incessant flow of traffic on the Tank Bund, crowds thronging the administrative complexes of the government, the newly-built flyovers and the cultural hub of the city Ravindra Bharathi and the NTR Memorial.

The approach to the temple is through a lane opposite the Reserve Bank, and once you trek this small patch, you reach the foot and both sides of a meandering stairway flanked by ornate banisters. On the way are several marble statues representing the Hindu pantheon. The temple manifests a blend of South Indian, Rajasthani and Utkal temple architectures. Before you reach the sanctum, several structures beginning with the baroque canopies at the foot of the stairway, greet you. The main temple is entered through the four-tiered rajagopuram built in the garudalaya style of South Indian temples. Beyond the rajagopuram swings into presence the great Dilwara temple-style gallery dwarfing nearly every other structure by its intricately carved detail.

The 11-feet tall statue of Lord Venkateswara in the sanctum sanctorum is sculpted from black granite, specially mined and brought from Phirangipuram in Guntur district. This is very different from the white marble statues that one sees in other temples built by the Birlas. Over the statue is a lotus-shaped canopy done in marble again. The tower of the main temple called the Jagadananda vimanam has a close resemblance to the architecture of the Lingaraj temple at Bhubaneswar. Overlooking the presiding deity is the brass dhwaja stambham soaring to a height of 42 feet. In the adjoining mukhamandapam are several sculptures in marble depicting scenes from the Hindu mythology, the Ramayana and Mahabharatha in particular. The temple towers for the Lord’s two consorts Padmavathi and Andal are built in South Indian style, unlike the Utkal architecture marking the main temple.

If you are an early bird, you can catch the melodies of Venkateswara suprabhatam as early as 5:30 in the morning followed by devotional numbers of Annamacharya, Thyagaraja and Bhakta Ramadas. If you come for a second look in the evening, the whole temple complex is bathed in an aura of flood-lit glory. Temple rituals here are done according to agama shastras, the pancharatra agama in particular. Venkateswara temple on the hillock is a place where you are bound to forget grief and greed for the while you are there. The temple itself is cradled amidst tall and ancient trees, manicured and well-maintained lawns, and formal gardens. Birla Mandir is the centrepiece of the capital city’s skyline.

How to Reach :
7, 8, 9, 20, 113, 158, 225

Timings :
6:00 AM to 12:00 Noon
4:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Tickets :
No ticket is necessary.

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