The Tirumala Brahmotsavam that Correa Witnessed

A firsthand description of the grandeur of the Tirumala Brahmotsavam that the Portuguese chronicler Correa witnessed with his own eyes.
The Tirumala Brahmotsavam that Correa Witnessed

In this Series

The Tirumala Brahmotsavam that Correa Witnessed
When the Portuguese Bigot Martim Afonso de Sousa Tried to Invade Tirumala: Unknown Chronicles from the Christian History of India

This is the picture of the Tirumala Brahmotsavam that Correa witnessed with his own eyes. The full text of Correa’s description that follows is in italics.

I saw this festival and the fair, which is held on that day. The temple stands on a large plain (campo). The people begin coming to this place with their baggage a fortnight earlier. At this time, there will be seen three to four hundred thousand of horses. Here people of all the nations of the world are to be seen and all kinds of merchandise which can be named and all the things of the world—the whole universe—are to be found in great abundance. All the coins of the world are current at this fair.

The plain which is full of people, covers an area of about eight leagues (one league = 5.5. kilometres) interspersed with a great number of small tents, where anybody can kill with impunity, a thief caught in the very act of stealing.

“The pilgrims, before going to the temple, wash their bodies, apply sandal paste, dress themselves gaily and adorn themselves with ornaments of gold.

“The male pilgrims shave their heads clean with razors with the exception of a thin lock on the top of the head which they twist and tie beautifully. It is said that this lock is of much use to the fighting men, in-as-much as when they fall on the battlefield, it serves the purpose of carrying them by their heads hung by it instead of by their ears, nose or beard, which is considered a great dishonour. There is a sufficient number of barbers who sit apart under the shade of some big trees and shave each head for a single copper coin called Caixa (or Kaasu). It is highly surprising to see the heaps of cut hair which fill the space under the trees as well as over them. This hair, however, is not allowed to run to waste. There is a dealer who buys it from the barbers for a thousand Pardos or more. He gets them twisted and made into thick or thin cords, puffs for women and many other things, out of which he makes a lot of money by selling them at the same fair.

“On the eve as well as on the day of the festival and throughout the night, the pilgrims, according to their means, present offerings to the deity, always accompanied with some coins. The rich sometimes offer from one to five thousand pardaos; the quantity of gold coins thus offered and lying before the temple is so great that it equals a heap of about 215½ bushels of wheat.

The Tirumala Brahmotsavam that Correa Witnessed
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“ Near the temple there are four big wells full of water. Besides these, some of the merchants open wells for their private use. There are other wells opened by poor men to sell water. Rich men open wells out of charity and count it a meritorious act just as we do with our alms, and in this way, there is to be found an ample supply of water. Eatables of all kinds in the world are to be had here in plenty and dishes of every sort that one can desire are to be found here. She-goats, sheep, lambs, kids and more than a million of reezes are sacrificed in front of the temple and after their blood is offered to the deity, the carcasses are given away in charity to the poor who sell them to butchers; thus, there is a great abundance of meats of all kinds to be had at this fair.

‘‘ The king of Bisnaga [Vijayanagara] comes to this festival accompanied by about 10,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, and a hundred to two hundred ladies attached to his person. The latter are conveyed in locked palanquins elegantly gilt inside and fitted with a very fine silver net through which they unseen could see all that passed. The vehicles are so constructed that the ladies can sit, sleep and perform their functions in them. A narration of their customs, the opulence of their ornaments, food and lodging would be an endless story, almost incredible. The king, while travelling, halts at several places and at each of them he is received and lodged with all his retinue and the great lords who accompany him, in a house specially built for the occasion by the principal man of the place, even if the king were to pass there a single day or night. The house consists of walls of clay covered with tiles; its inner roof is artistically overlaid and the whole thing is painted and finished with great perfection; it is provided with tanks and gardens full of aromatic herbs. It is so beautiful and comfortable that even the great king of Spain would be much pleased to stay there for a long time.

“ The king with all his retinue is served there with daintiest dishes and there is so much abundance and plenty, that the host who entertains the king a single night spends more than 50,000 pardaos. The house is pulled down as soon as the king goes away; for nobody can live in the house where the king has once lodged. In this way, new houses are built every year for the reception of the king; this gives rise to competition and rivalry among the hosts of several places, every one amongst whom tries his utmost to surpass the rest in point of perfection and abundance; for the host who gives the best reception is highly praised and honoured by the king. On the other hand, the host who, in spite of his opulence, is careless in according to the king a reception befitting his dignity and pomp, is ordered to be tied to four stakes and whipped barebodied, with his belly towards the ground!”

Quantifying the Abundance at Tirumala

To Correa, it was unlike anything he ever saw or would ever see in his entire life. If anything, the Brahmotsavam was a small slice of the overflowing abundance that the Vijayanagara emperors flooded southern India with. Likewise, Correa’s description is also a sliver of the Vijayanagara opulence that his other European contemporaries like Nuniz, Paes et al., chronicled in voluminous detail. But just to supplement some of the aspects of Tirumala that Correa has written about, we can briefly quantify them.

The Tirumala Brahmotsavam that Correa Witnessed
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One Kaasu was a coin. 80 Kaasu=1 Panam or Fanam or Hana. 42 Panam = 1 Star Pagoda. This Star Pagoda was 19.5 carats of pure gold. Star Pagodas were used for several years by the Madras Presidency, first established by the British in 1639.

The Pardao that the Portuguese saw in Vijayanagara was a “round gold coin, which is not struck anywhere in India except in this kingdom.” The obverse side was engraved with the Gandabherunda and the reverse with the name of the king who issued it. Paes for example, says that “this coin is current all over India.” One Pardao was worth 6.5 Pence.

Then, the 215½ bushels that Correa speaks about is more than 7,800 litres of gold coins offered by the wealthy pilgrims at Tirumala, i.e., excluding the offerings made by the mass of ordinary and poor devotees.

Remember that the aforementioned description was the scene of merely one Brahmotsavam that Correa had witnessed.

Small wonder that his boss, the Christian bigot Afonso’s head must have spun when he heard all this and more, and decided to plunder Tirumala.

And now we return to Afonso now anchored at Cochin, all set to leave for Pulicat, the penultimate destination from where he had planned to march towards Tirumala to plunder its treasury and break its heathen idol to pieces.

The story of this final leg of his journey and its aftermath will be narrated in the next part.

To be continued

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