Tirupati, Jul 29: When we bow to God, God stoops to us. They say devotion in any form reaches God immediately. If a devotee, for one reason or another, cannot go to the ever-loving God, then it is He who travels right up to the doorstep of His worshipper.
And inhabitants of Dalit villages in this richest pilgrimage city located at the foothills of Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh will vouch for it. In a virtual 'godsend' for the Dalit villages around, Tirumala's Lord Balaji descends from His abode Tirumala Hills and travel to them to provide a darshan to those ostracised and often banned from entering temples.
This revolutionary social movement by the world's richest God to undertake a journey right up to the doorsteps of Dalits' homes would not only provide a sight for sore eyes but also enable them to worship their God in front of their own homes.
''Dalit Govindam'' is a revolutionary initiative that involves Dalits in prayer rituals and ceremonies without prejudice. The Lord and his entourage spend the night with the Dalit residents.
A majority of them cannot afford a pilgrimage to Tirumala and the prevailing caste bias means they are not allowed into many local temples.
Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Chairman K Karunakara Reddy says the Trust Board has made a substantial contribution to the social and religious uplift of the weaker sections of society.
''Dalit Govindam is yet another revolutionary social movement to root out the evils that beset society. It is a great endeavour to bring Dalits and other underprivileged people into the mainstream of society. The project envisages taking out processional deities to Dalit localities, singing bhajans and arranging spiritual discourses. The Dalit Govindam demonstrates Devasthanam's firm determination to endeavour for the well-being of the Dalits. And It has evoked an overwhelming response from the community wherever it was organised,'' he adds.
''God does not discriminate and this is the message we want to convey to them,'' says Mr Reddy.
Due to abject poverty, most of them wait endlessly to make a trip for the Lord's darshan.
''We introduced this programme of taking the idols of Lord Venkateswara and his two consorts to Dalit settlements to eradicate caste discrimination and also to give them an opportunity to pray and worship to their heart's content and take part in the traditional rituals and ceremonies which they never witnessed. The priests also give them vedic blessings which only VVIPs visiting the main temple in Tirumala normally receive,'' Mr Reddy further throws light
According to TTD Executive officer K V Ramanachary, the idols in all their grandeur are once carried by the main temple's priests and bearers down the seven hills to a Dalit settlement. Normally, the procession is taken through the traditional Maada street of Tirumal only. The TTD makes all arrangements in the particular village, including decorations, 'Pandals' and no expenses are spared.
While entering the 'Dalitwada', the priests chant the same vedic hymns that they do in the main temple, says Mr Rampulla Reddy, Public Relations Officer of TTD.
The idols are kept on a platform in the middle of 'Dalitwada' for rituals. To make sure that there is no hesitation among the residents, the priests go to each and every household and invite them to join the ceremony and rituals. The 'prasadam' and food are also prepared with the involvement of everyone. To clear misconceptions like untouchability and segregation, the priests, TTD officials and local residents then share the 'Prasadam' and food from the same vessels and plates.
''It is still rare for Dalits to participiate in the rituals standing beside the main temple's priests and amid people of all castes.'' Pointing out that Dalits are getting alienated from society and the Hindu religion, leading to conversions, the Board Chairman says,'' I hope this will also help bring them back into the mainstream.'' 'Matsya Govindam' is another programme introduced by the devasthanams to promote 'Sanatan Dharma' among the fishermen community. Training is imparted to them in performance of rituals and chanting of mantras. Matsya Govindam is also aimed at propagating spiritual values enshrined in the Vedas and Puranas and raising social awareness about hygiene and sanitation.
Mr Reddy says the present Board, which assumed office in 2005, has made a bold and constructive approach when it evolved training programme for the tribal community. It envisages training the Girijans in rituals and rites.
''It is a massive effort to bring the tribal people into the Hindu fold,''