Venkata Shaila Vihara

Oh Venkatesa you are my sole refuge, please come to protect me. Lord Brahma and Lord Indra worship your feet. You are the saviour of your devotees afflicted with a multitude of sufferings. I heard the stories of your greatness and was eager to worship you. I saw the hills, the towers and the pavilions studded with gems. I have become your devotee.

VenkateshwaraTirupati Sri Venkateshwara has been on my mind for a while. There is a quiet desire to go visit the temple once more. Yet this is one God who will never miss me; is the temple not one of the most visited sacred sites in the world? Why would He even notice one amongst the 10-12 million who visit each year?  But yet…there is this call I feel.

In my childhood, Tirupati visits were an almost annual affair. My father held a lot of faith in the power of the Lord of the Seven Hills; He is the kula daivam of my birth family, the special God of our clan. My father would undertake sankalpams or special vows every now and again. He made vows to climb the hill on foot, all 3400 steps over 11 kms. He made vows of donation. He took vows to shave his hair. Once he took a vow for angapradakshinam or rolling bodily around the circumference of the temple. This is a physically demanding vow and I remember watching with both fascination and sympathy as he rolled in prayer, in wet clothes in the pre-dawn darkness. It induced terrible nausea but he went on; belief kept him strong.

In my own adult life I have been but a couple of times. It is odd to think that I might have been to Tirupati 20 times during the first 20 years of my life and only 2 or 3 times for the next 30+ years. My mother would say எல்லாம் கொடுத்து வெச்சிருக்கணம், one must have enough good karma to get even the opportunity to visit the temple. Have I run out of good karma then?

Yet the thought of long queues is so off-putting. The alternative, paying to get ahead in the queues, leaves me feeling guilty about my wealth. Should we not be all equal before God? Yet I have been softened by the very wealth that the good God has bestowed upon us. I am unable to withstand the discomforts of long waits under a hot sun. Is this physical discomfort part of what we offer up to God? This theme of physical discomfort as an offering to God has always made me uncomfortable. I could not watch the the kavadi carriers hook themselves to their loads, I could not watch the Muslim faithful lashing themselves at Muharram or the thought of Christian mortification of the flesh, even in film.  I could not even watch with ease my father throwing up as he rolled around the temple, body bare to the rough stone below. Of course all this is much more extreme than standing in long queues under a hot sun, still the principle is the same. Does God want you to torture yourself in faith?

All my instincts shout NO! Is God not like a the kindest of parents, the dearest of friends, the love of your heart? How could He even bear to watch us hurt? But what about all the difficult sankalpams people take up, both in our faith and others? It is all so confusing!

So for the moment, not knowing when/how/if I shall make it to Tirupati again, I lose myself in the Raga that reminds me most of Sri Narayana. Hameer Kalyani is a lovely, gentle raga and Subbaraya Shastri has created a beautiful composition in his Venkata Shaila Vihara. To know more about this raga, click here.

In honour of my father for the father’s day which just passed, I am featuring the great Maestro of yesteryears Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar whose music my father enjoyed and like whom he too proudly wore his thiruman and srichurnam all his life. The sound quality is not very good but the music is still good.

Alternate link here (song 10)

I very much like Malladi Brothers’ rendition in their CD called December Season 2000 (Charsur) which is available in Spotify and other platforms which I cannot link here. An alternate is this version below.


Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Subbaraya Shastri
Raga : Hameer Kalyani
Language : Telugu

I was aided in transliteration and translation by a native speaker. As I do not speak Telugu, I have transcribed it in Devanagari script below.

वेङ्कट शैल विहारा
नीवे गति ब्रोव रादा  (श्री)

पङ्कज भव सुरपति नुत चरणा
किङ्कर संकुल संकट हरणा  (श्री)

विन्टिनिने नी वरगुण कथलनु
वीनुलकेन्तो आनन्दमुग (alternate : युण्टिनि एपुडु सेविन्तुननि)
गण्टिनि गिरिनि गोपुरमुल मणिमय
मण्टपमुल(नु) ने बण्टुड नैति नी



venkaTa shaila vihArA
nIvE gati brOva rAdA (shrI)


pankaja bhava surapati nuta charanA
kinkara sankula sankaTa haraNA (shrI)


viNTininE nI varaguNa kathalanu
vInulakentO Anandamuga (alternate : yunTini epuDu sEvintunani)
gaNTini girini gOpuramula maNimaya
maNTapamula (/mulanu) nI baNTuDa naiti nI


Oh Venkatesa who dwells on the Venkata mountain, you are my sole refuge, please come to protect me.

The Lotus Born (Brahma) and the Lord of Devas (Indra) worship your feet. You are the saviour of your servants (should be read as devotee here) afflicted with multitude of sufferings.

I heard the stories of your greatness that are so pleasing to the ears (alternate: I heard the stories of your greatness and I was eager to worship you) I saw the hills, the gopuras (towers) and mantapas (pavilions) studded with gems. I have become your servant/devotee.


Filed under Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, Malladi Brothers, Subbaraya Shastri

6 responses to “Venkata Shaila Vihara

  1. I am so sorry, I didn’t get back to you in time. I was still searching for the definitive text.

    Last night I was downloading Malladi brother’s rendition of this song and when I clicked it – I found that it was mislabeled. What’s the right label?

    How was your vacation, Suja?

    • Hello Srinivas,
      Not to worry, I believe what we have now if sufficient and accurate. There is only the alternate text for which I do not have the translation, otherwise I am confident that the text is correct. I actually listened to at least 20-25 renditions so far!

      I have the correct link for Malladi brothers’ rendition in my post. Its a very good rendition.

      Thank you, my vacation was simply wonderful! I shall soon do a write up for my other blog, the travel one 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

  2. Ramesh

    Yes, Thoomani Madathu, is the more widely heard of the Hameer Kalyani tribe. There’s something about the Hindustani ragas that have found their way into Carnatic music. They are all my favourites and seem to embody the best of both forms !!

    Devotion is an interesting human emotion. I remain flabbergasted by the sight of grossly unfit people walking up to Tirumala, when they would protest a walk to the corner store. If devotion can enable people to do almost impossible feats, how much an agent of good it can be. And yet, in the name of devotion, and religion,untold horrors are also inflicted.

    The Lord has missed you, for isn’t each one of the 10 million devotees very special to him. And you are particularly special because you “sing” his name ever so often !

    • Me too! I have a great liking for the Hindustani ragas which have made their way into Carnatic Music like Sindhu Bhairavi, Mand, Behag and of course Hameer Kalyani. Often they sound different when sung in Hindustani style but it is their Carnatic ‘roopam’ I like best!

      Absolutely agree about what you say about devotion. How pitiable to use such a good force for evil purposes!

      It is kind of you to think that Lord Venkateshwara may be missing me after all 🙂 When I have been to Tirupati in the past, I have been amazed at the devotion of the hordes, heads shaven, poor as church mice but spending all the resources to make the temple visit. I could never be that – never that unthinking, blind devotee. In front of them, I feel like a very poor kind of devotee… Oh well, the Lord’s world is made up of all kinds..

  3. AKM

    Actually, over the years, Tirupati, I find, has made it relatively easy to remain untouched by the crowds and administration. By some creative use of tech, they allow you to determine minimum waiting times. The day-long waits of yore are gone, and all that remains is about 2-3 hours or so at the most. Of course, the separate queue commercialization is omnipresent.

    Unthinking blind devotion is both a giving and a crutch : perhaps you are blessed in many respects, to not need that support from a God whose existence itself is arguable : )

    Excellent post, was at home and mom was thrilled@ the Venkata Shaila Vihara rendition.

    • Thank you AKM 🙂 Tech supported queuing? A good use of technology if it helps all the pilgrims suffer less in the long queues.

      You are right in what you say about blind devotion, but indeed I DO need the crutch of God! Except its not some God in a temple, its a God within me so going on pilgrimages is so very easy – no queues at all!

      Cheers. Suja

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