Today I attended Balaji Abhishekam with my wife. She’d been expressing interest in dipping her toe in the waters, as it were, at the temple I go to, and today she said she’d go with me. Only after she expressed her strong wish that we bring flowers for the abhishekam, which we did. My wife was happy to see that the flowers we offered turned out to play a special part in the events.
After the Balaji murti was anointed with the various elements of abhishekam (which turned out to be much more elaborate than I am used to, with multiple aartis throughout) and the curtain was pulled for the Sri Venkateshwar to be re-dressed, chants were chanted, and hymns were humn. And then, our temple offered, and imbibed a very special “prasad” of sorts, which was the music of the Minnesota Devaganam Ensemble. They are basically a troupe of female vocalists who sing musical renditions of the works of the Alwars, the South Indian Vaisnav poet-saints of yore. They were accompanied by a veena player and a mridangam player. The vocal group is based in Minneapolis (about an hour away) and came down to be a part of the festivities and to give away their CD, a copy of which my wife and I took home.
One of the songs they performed, “Ramanuja Mangalam” was written in reverence to Swami Ramanuja, one of the great Vaisnav saints. I’d been meaning to write something about Ramanuja since recently reading about him in Hinduism Today magazine. I probably still will. The article reminded me why I had been leaning toward Sri Vaisnavism some time ago, but never really headed full-on in that direction. I am very much a Smarta, it seems. I have a special place for Lord Vishnu, but He can never be the “be all and end all” for me. For example, in recent days my wife and I were talking about Balaji and I was explaining how Balaji is Venkateshwar, and Venkateshwar is Vishnu and Krishna is Vishnu and so on and so forth. She said something like “aren’t they all Vishnu?” I had to think about it, because what she meant was aren’t Ganesha and Shiva and so on all Vishnu? Well, yeah they kind of are. And they all are Ganesha too when it comes down to it. All the same with different faces.
Anyway, that was a nice reminder of Ramanuja for me, and a nice glimpse into the temple experience for my wife even though it took an unusually long time to dress the murti behind that curtain. But it didn’t matter because the music was uplifting, the people at the temple were kind, and we were both glad we’d brought the flowers. And the priest’s daughter made sure to bring prasad upstairs for me (I am in a wheelchair and there is no elevator) and my wife.
I think my wife was left with a very nice impression of everything and barely seemed to notice that the entire abhishekam turned out to go about 90 minutes longer than I’d predicted. And the Balaji murti was adorned so beautifully, my wife was moved to take some photos of it, and the others before we left (after I secured permission from our priest, of course).
We haven’t heard the CD yet but I wish we’d had the opportunity to donate to the organization who recorded it and sang to us today. I am sure we still can. The great thing is that now that I am fully employed again we have the opportunity to regularly donate to our temple.
Aum Namo Tirupati Balaji Namah!