The walls of an Indian temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Krishna and his consort Radha are covered with thousands of messages asking for help with exams and to open the doors to top universities.
The pleas, written in English and Hindi, are from aspiring students desperate to be accepted at prestigious engineering and medical institutions.
The words reach the ceilings of the temple in Kota, a city in India’s north-western state of Rajasthan.
Among the messages are calls to be granted a place at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and to be given help with entrance exams to study medicine.
The Radha Krishna Temple's “wall of belief” exemplifies the pressure many people feel when they take exams with the hope of pursuing a prosperous career in a country with a high level of unemployment.
People believe that writing on the walls of the temple will ensure their success.
“I came last year and visited the temple after I heard that all the wishes come true,” Ankit Raj told The National. "I have written my message to God. I am waiting for it to be fulfilled."
He travelled to Kota from the eastern state of Bihar and is planning to take an exam to study engineering.
Pressure of studies
Kota is known as India’s “coaching factory”, where thousands of centres prepare hundreds of thousands of aspiring medical and engineering students to take university entrance exams.
About 1.5 million people in India graduate with engineering degrees every year, more than any other country.
Many dream of enrolling at one of the 23 IITs, institutions that have produced business leaders including Google chief executive Sundar Pichai and Parag Agrawal, former chief executive of Twitter, now known as X.
Competition is fierce. This year, more than 1.1 million students took the Joint Entrance Exams, with only about 40,000 places available. More than two million took admission exams for state medical colleges, with about 40,000 places on offer.
The immense pressure means students often rely on divine powers.
Dreams and aspirations
While many of the messages on the walls are pleas for personal success, some are dedicated to siblings and friends who are also preparing for the entrance exams, while others are written by students who want to make their parents proud.
The temple was built in 1992 and soon became a hot spot for students seeking help and comfort.
Some gather outside temple during lunch breaks or in the evenings after leaving a coaching centre, where they can study for up to six hours at a time.
Once the doors of the temple open, they rush inside with a pen and write their messages.
“I feel at peace here. This temple is filled with messages written by students. I can't tell you my wish, but it was fulfilled,” said Garima Govind Rao, who attended the Allen Career Institute, a coaching centre in Kota.
"After that, I came back again and wrote 10 messages in a single day. There was no space left."
The temple priests said the volume of messages written in the temple meant the walls were repainted every two weeks.
“This temple is the epicentre of the students’ faith,” a priest, Dharmendra Acharya, told The National.
"Students come to this temple in large numbers every day. The trend started in the late 1990s, when some students wrote down their wishes. It soon became a ritual.
“The students say that their wishes come true. They write on the windows, the walls and even the ceilings, so we repaint the walls every two weeks to give every student an opportunity to write their wish.”