One of the must-see attractions in Hyderabad is an intriguing study in contrasting themes. The Chilkur Balaji Temple is most definitely one of the oldest structures of its kind in the area, being dated to the late 1600’s, yet it is also a temple with powerful relations to the modern world, being called Visa Balaji or the temple for the “God of Visas”. Yes, you read aright: visas, as in the formal documents that serve as authorisation for a traveller to enter a particular territory.
The Balaji Temple came by this name because of the vast majority of the people visiting it being ones pursuing their dreams of travel. For years upon years now, many of the people coming here have been ones praying to Lord Venkateshwara or Balaji, who shall perhaps be better recognised by those not too familiar with the specific deities of Hindu culture if it is explained that he is one of the many forms of the major god Vishnu. Originally, people in Andhra Pradesh would seek favours of this particular god by making the journey to his primary shrine, the famous Tirumala Temple of Venkateshwara. Legend has it, though, that one of the god’s followers was one day unable to make his annual pilgrimage to the main temple due to an illness that made the long journey impossible, and was then moved by the god to discover an idol of the god buried nearby—a sign that the god was near him and available to listen to the appeals of his devotees in Chilkur. The temple was then built to house the discovered idol.
The temple now is quite picturesque, especially given the quaint, still faintly rustic appearance of the town of Chilkur itself and the greenery surrounding it and Lake Osmansagar. Something worth noting about this temple and which renders it unique is that it does not take money from those visiting it to make their prayers, unlike the other temples in the country. The idea of the state taking over its operation and care was bandied about for a while, but it was eventually decided that the temple would be free of government control, something that few of the major temples in the country can boast of. Many of its devotees were actually very insistent on this, and were thus very pleased when the decision was made for the temple to remain independent of the state.
Those visiting the Chilkur Balaji Temple for the first time should observe the usual cautions when going to religious places: dress appropriately and behave respectfully upon arrival. If you have something you wish to bring to the god’s attention—it need not be a request for visa approval, by the way—you may make your appeal to Venkateshwara by going into the inner area of his shrine and moving around it 11 times. Those whose appeals are granted are then asked to return to the shrine to move around it another 108 times in order to thank the god for his magnanimity.