Mehdipur Balaji: A surreal experience of exploring the unknown

Mehdipur Balaji: A surreal experience of exploring the unknown

A trip to Balaji definitely bolstered my scepticism, and one knew from realisation that the supernatural still resides in our world, waiting to be uncovered

The winter sun was roasting Jaipur, when anxiety started brewing in my belly. My mind had been apprehensive of my latest assignment – a trip to Mehdipur Balaji, a Hanuman temple and also a centre for exorcism and faith healing.

By 5 pm, our car with three others, had hit the highway to Dausa. One of the co-passenger Vanshvardhan, began the history lesson, “Balaji temple is old, but has gained much prominence in the last 30-40 years only.” Vansh had been to this temple many times before, and recounted the changing time.
As the conversation flowed, it was about 6:30 pm. We were two kilometres away from the temple, and had a hung house. Two passengers were believers in the supernatural, while the other two were not. But our beliefs and perhaps our lives were about to change.

The temple

The temple road was decorated with purple, green, blue and yellow disco-like lights. The temple town was getting ready for a Maha Dharma Katha which was to take place in the next couple of days. With the likes of Sri Ravi Shankar and other spiritual leaders expected, the town was ready. locals believed that a million people could pass through with the Gurus’ brigades. Last week, townsfolk had been busy decorating the city, while the temple committee engaged in creation of special five star pandals to house saints and sinners alike.

We got lucky to see the fanfare, but as we began nearing the temple, loud wailing screams penetrated my mind. I looked right and left and found on the temple boundary railing – dozens in trance. A lady in a dark blue saree was shrieking like a demon, with her frizzy hair all opened up.

She was shaking her head left to right. Next to her was a girl of about sixteen, writhing on the floor. Loved ones sat behind them crying, waiting for the evening darshan to open. A family had a 10-year-old boy in the centre, who was in distress while the family were clapping and singing a bhajan to revive him.

Hundreds had gathered at the temple door and the energy was chaotic. With each step I heard new screams and crazy wails as if demons were lurking, waiting to come out from inside human bodies. My rationality was struggling against this cacophony, and I often found myself falling into reverence. Our guide led us to a shortcut inside the pandal, where another family was waiting. They were carrying gifts for Balaji and from their eyes you could tell that something was wrong.

It was 7 pm, and it was time for the viewing. We were ushered to the main sanctum. On the way there, priests were leaving as the main “Aarti- arzi” had just finished. Hundreds afflicted with supernatural ailments and possessions are part of ‘arzi Aarti’. Earlier, this was open to the public, but now only affected people and families could participate. As per accounts, after prayers, before the main deity’s parda is removed, holy water is thrown on the seekers, who are often chained or restricted. It is the faith of people that the holy water has healing powers, and can exorcise demonic entities.

Situated two and a half hours from Jaipur, this little area has hundreds of temples surrounding the main shrine. A small Aravali hill casts its shadow on the temple town. The hill from which Bala ji emerged is encroached upon by the town folk and the back side of the Balaji temple hill is being cut off to make more space for pilgrims. The local belief is that Bala ji appeared after a hermit did penances and tapasya (spiritual work) and subdued the Djinns that lived in the area. Some stories allude to the shrine being 400 years old.

But today, there are no traces of the trees or silence. The temple town is a growing commercial hub with fancy dharmshalas and even a liquor store on the outskirts, breaking the earlier myth of not eating or drinking water in this area. Earlier only the temple prasad was eaten by outsiders.

From the look of it, the temple organisation seemed like an efficient and well-funded operation. But requests for an interview or information was strictly forbidden. I was told I can visit like a devotee, but no article. I decided to not listen to them.

Mehdipur Balaji A surreal experience of exploring the unknown

Devotees in the temple. Image has been shared by the author.

The sanctum

The red curtain was drawn, a checkered floor led straight to a golden skinned, rock-face deity. Hordes of people were shouting and running behind us, so I had little time. I looked straight into Balaji’s eyes, his ancient amulets and necklace.

Energetically, something was changing around me. I said a prayer and moved ahead to visit the sanctums of Behrav and Pret raj. The other deities were rocks covered with silver dust and eyes. Strangely, they both were stuck to the ground. The energy felt was neither human nor gravity, but something else and it commanded reverence and pulled billions to its door. Unlike other Hanuman temples, Saturday was the main day for worship here.

My mind was bursting with questions and enigmas, when we came across a girl from the Aarti. She was being led by her father, and each time she was presented to the other deities, she had convulsions. It was all too surreal. Our darshan was done in 15 minutes, but all our jovial energies had turned to piety and solemnity.

We quietly walked barefoot to the temple entrance to get our shoes. The street outside was less crowded as people had rushed inside the temple. Now totem poles were visible, one of them had all kinds of locks on them.

A class of faith healing priests has also emerged and often became the gatekeepers of divine grace.

One of them told me, “This is an ancient land and since the temple has come up here, millions have been healed. No evil entities can come even close here because of the spiritual power. We survive by healing others and in return Balaji takes care of us too.”

In my heart, I knew even Balaji may be facing trouble battling greed, corruption and vanity in the temple town. But that was another subject.

The walk back to the car was even slower. I felt almost entranced not only by the deity, but also how modernity, temple capitalism and the supernatural existed on one plane.

A classic example was how people like me were clicking videos and photos of the afflicted, while a general store nearby sold nearly all popular packaged food. Commodities, money, demons and a god- all were working together.

As a rationalist, I believe in all things, including the supernatural. A trip to Balaji definitely bolstered my scepticism, and one knew from realisation that the supernatural still resides in our world, waiting to be uncovered.

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