Last Sunday I visited the famous Golden Temple near Vellore along with our neighbours. The golden temple is built by Sri Narayani Amma for Goddess Narayani. This temple has become a big tourist attraction for people more than the spiritual pursuit in which you visit temples. There is lot of talk about the tonnes of gold which has been used in plating the entire santum sanctorum, vimana and the mandapam. So, we also wanted to see the golden temple and started with the same amount of curiousity.
This golden temple is situated 140 kms from Chennai and you have to take the Chennai - Bangalore highway. This highway is real pleasure to drive so I dont have any qualms about it. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to reach the temple. The entry to the temple was arranged through Vellore DSP, thanks to my neighbour, so there was a Police constable waiting to take us inside. We didnt have to wait and we were taken swiftly through the special darshan queue. Few privileges you enjoy when you go along with influential neighbours. If I had gone on my own, I would not have even opted for a special darshan queue.
The temple is very new, well built and you have to walk close to a kilometre before you reach the presiding deity. Temple has been well planned and the entire stretch of a kilometre or so is completely shaded so that "bhaktas" are saved from sun or rain. Along the way there are 300 boards which carry small verses or sentences about the spirituality, meaning of various pujas etc which I found unique and useful information to know. In this temple as well, for the dharma darshan queue, they follow the Tirupati model. By which what I mean is that they have 3 huge halls where the devotees would be made to wait in case of heavy rush.
The striking thing about this temple is it is run like a corporate. Everything seems to have been designed perfectly and the entire complex is very clean. The entire stretch of 1 km from the entry point to the deity is wheel-chair accessable and I saw lot of elderly people use wheel-chairs to have darshan. There are volunteers everywhere who are more than happy to help you. It took almost 20 minutes to reach the deity and being exam season we did not encounter much of rush. As you go closer to the sanctum sanctorum, you will start seeing the Golden Vimana. As you near the sanctum sanctorum, quantum of gold used strikes you . The entire mandapam which houses the presiding deity is gold plated along with the pillars and you look at it with awe.
There are different counts as to the amount of gold which has been used in the temple. Officially, it seems that they have used 1 1/2 tonnes of gold for plating all the walls, vimana and pillars. But the rumour is that it has taken 4 1/2 tonnes of gold in completing this. There is one more beam being currently added and it is going to gold plated. At current market prices, a tonne of gold costs Rs100 crores. Considering the fact that the temple was constructed 2 years back, the minimum cost would have been not less than Rs100 crores to complete this temple.
Goddess Narayani was well decorated and adorned with various precious stones and diamonds. She looks very beautiful and you will start praying if you are not atheist or woman! I really pity women and how they would feel when you see so much of gold around you. Prayer may be the last priority!! We could get as close as 20 yards from the deity and got a good couple of minutes to stand in front of the deity as we came through the special darshan queue. But if you have gone through the dharma darshan queue, then you will get to view the deity from some 50 yards away. I forgot about the gold and the hype surrounding it and prayed whole-heartedly standing before the deity.
On the way out, they have donation counters and they accept all credit cards, including American Express!! It is not the temple alone what this Trust runs. They have 150 bed hospital run for charity, a school, day care centre and various other social service activities. There can be doubts on how the Trust got this much of money to build a temple like this but there can be no question on the kind of social service they do. They have given away grants to thousands of poor people for heart surgeries and other medical cases which is worth sharing here.
You cant carry mobile phones, cameras and any other luggage inside the main temple. You need to deposit it in the cloak room and take a token if you inadvertantly enter the temple with these items. Therefore, it is advisable to leave the camera and mobile phone in your car before entering the temple.