Tirupati Balaji Temple - Andhra Pradesh
The Divine Temple:The temple of Seven Divine Hills, located at a height of 3200 feet above the sea level, one of the eight temples in India where Lord Vishnu abodes in the self-manifested form, is the Tirumala, a town in the Chittoor district in the state of Andra Pradesh in India. The holy shrine where the Lord Venkateswara Swamy abodes being a bestower of boons to all his disciples, to be included in the list of South India Pilgrimage packages even though you have no plans in your itinerary.
Tirumala, where the self manifested (Swayam Vyaktha) Lord Venkateswara is in the standing posture at a height of more than nine feet. This is the 106th Divya Desam mentioned in the holy canon of Vaishnavaites, Naalaayira Divya Prabhandam written by different saints between 6th and 8th AD and composed by the saint Naadha Muni . All the saints of Shri Vaishnavaism called Alwars have sung the glory of this holy shrine and the Lord. It will be quite surprising to know that 50,000 to 1,00,000 people per day are visiting this temple making it to 30 to 40 million people annually. The offertory pots(HUNDIAL) placed in the temple makes this holy shrine as the richest temple in the world in terms of revenue generated by the offerings. During festive seasons, the number of visitors increases tremendously upto 5,00,000 bringing the fame to this temple that it is the most visited holy place in the world.
The age of this temple could not be assessed by anyone. This shrine has sustained many dynasties and all the Kings have been the ordained devotees of Lord Venkateswara and they have made this temple so flourished with their endowments and offerings. Exactly at one kilometer to the north of this temple, you can see a geological wonder named as “Silotharanam”. It is a natural arch made of rocks and many research works on this have revealed that this may be Proterozoic, that is , the Silotharanam must have been existing from the Precambrian Era. (geologic time prior to 600 million years ago).From this, we can understand the age of this place. Philosophically, this temple is a part of Mount Meru and the Lord is believed to protect the Earth from the evils of Kaliyuga.
The Architecture of this temple has adopted the Dravidian Style and the construction works is said to have started by 300AD. The holy journey to this magnificent temple starts from the place called Alipiri at the base Tirumala. Though there is a sophisticated road to reach the top by vehicles, many devotees prefer to climb the 3550 steps covering a distance of 11 kilometers. The entire stretch is roof topped and there is another easier route starting from Srivari Mettu having 2400 steps to reach the entrance of the temple.
Once you enter the temple, you are greeted by the outer courtyard having a fifty feet five storeyed tower having seven caskets(kalasams) at its apex. The entrances are also called Dwarams. The next Silver Entrance leads us to the Sampangi Prakaram. This inner courtyard also has a three storeyed tower having seven caskets. Next comes the Golden Entrance through which one can reach the Sanctum Sanctorum (Garbha Griha) where the Lord has abode. Above the sanctum, there is a three storeyed tower with a single Casket atop.There are two tall copper idols (Jaya, Vijaya – the Dwarabalakas) at the entrance and there is thick wooden door on which there are gilt plates of gold depicting the Ten incarnations (Dasaavathaarams) of Lord Vishnu.
As Tirumala is a place where Telugu is the major language, the Lord is fondly called as Dhruva Beram. (Dhruva means pole star or fixed and Beram means deity.) It is believed that the presiding Deity is the creator of this Earth, so he is not tempted by the rituals and offerings of the devotees. Hence, a miniaturized silver deity is in front of the main deity, which is offered with all kinds of poojas and rituals wished by the devotees. This deity is swayed on a silver cradle and made to sleep on a golden cot every night. This deity is called as Bhoga Srinivasa (Bogha means comfort) as He is enjoying all the comforts and rituals every day. Also he can never go out of the sanctum, as he is tied with the main deity with a gold string. Bogha Srinivas is placed to face the devotees at an angle of 45 degrees because He has a Prayoga Chakra (a discus in a ready state to be thrown at the evil) in his hand. As the presiding deity cannot be taken out of the sanctum, there is a tradition of having a processional deity in all temples. Here also, the processional deity is called as Malayappa Swamy. He is taken as a procession during all festivals.
After coming out of the Sanctum, it is a custom to circumambulate (Pradhakshinam)the Sanctum.The first one is the Sampangi prakaram, while passing through this, the Prasadams are distributed to the devotees. Next is the VimanaPradakshinam in which there are many sub shrines for Gods like Varadharaja, Yoga Narasimha and Visvaksena. The main kitchen of the temple also functions in this prakaram only.
It will be surprising to know the Daily Rituals performed at this temple. The temple follows the very old tradition of Vaikasana Agama worship. Though, the devotees are allowed at different timings to worship the Lord, the Sanctum is busy with the rituals from 2.30 am in the morning till 1.00 am the next morning, almost 23 hours a day, the Lord keeps himself busy in gracing His devotees. The daily rituals starting exactly at 2.30 am in the morning are, Suprabatha Seva ,Thomala Seva, Archana, Kalyanothsavam, Arjita Brahmothsavam, Arjita Vasanthothsavam, Sahasra Deepalankarana Seva and Ekanta Seva. Apart from this, there are weekly rituals as Vishesh Poojas on Mondays, Ashtadala Pada Padmaradhana on Tuesdays, Sahasra Kalasaabhishekam on Wednesdays, Tiruppavadi Seva on Thursdays and Abhishekam & Nijapaadha Dharshan on Fridays. There are no special rituals on Saturdays and Sundays. The detailed information about the temple, seva timings, online reservation for sevas, e-publications, online booking for accommodation and many other details are available on the website maintained by the temple authorities as www.tirumala.org
Tirumala Tirupati is a temple of festivals. There are 433 festivals celebrated in 365 days. On any day you go to the temple, one festival will be in progress in a pomp manner. To name a few, Srivaari Brahmothsavam, Vasanthothsavam , Dolothsavam and Rathothsavam are some of the festivals attended by lakhs of devotees. The temple practices include prasadam, Tonsuring, Hundi and Thulabaram.
The world famous prasadam given in Tirumala is the Tirupathi Laddu. On an average, three lakhs laddus are prepared daily in this temple. There is a mega kitchen functioning round the clock for this purpose. The kitchen is furn ished with all modern facilities. The ingredients for laddu preparation are thoroughly tested in the research labs by experienced professionals the quality of laddu is also checked before distribution. The tradition is maintained with value added latest technologies in preparing and distributing a healthy and hygienic laddu to all the devotees. There is a geographical indication tag in every laddu mentioning that the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam is the only authorized entity to make or sell the laddus. Besides Laddus, there are other traditional prasadams distributed to the pilgrims. Also, the free meals scheme of the temple feeds more than one lakh devotees every day. The details are displayed as live status in the temple website.
There is a huge crowd of devotees tonsuring their head for God against their prayers fulfilled by Him. The amount of hair collected from all the tonsuring counters exceeds a ton daily. The hair is sold by public auction to international buyers and used by them for hair extension and cosmetics. By this auction, the temple generates a revenue of 6 million dollars every year. The temple website displays the number of devotees tonsured everyday.
As per the Historical data, the first devotee offered her hair to God is believed to be Neela Devi, a Gandharva Princess. God her graced her by naming one of the seven hills as Neeladri after her name.
The offerings by the devotees make this temple, the world’s richest one. In 2010, the collection of 3000 kilograms of gold over a period of time was deposited with the banks. The revenue is getting increased day by day and the maximum record as of now is 14 crores INR. The money thus collected is used for free meal schemes for all devotees, improving the infrastructure, building comfortable waiting halls for devotees, nursing rooms for new mothers, automobile clinic for the needed medical care, running free buses in Tirumala and Tirupati, building marriage halls to benefit the devotees & various charities for vedic,educational and rehabilitation purposes.
Thulabaram is a very interesting ritual followed in many temples. It is to offer the God things that equals the weight of the devotee. This is done as an act of gratitude by the devotees for having got their prayers answered by Him. Though there are special procedures defined on books like “Siva Purana”, the modern day practice is very simple. The devotee is placed on one plate of the balance and on the other, any one of the materials like gold, sugar, jaggery, tulsi leaves, banana is placed equal to the weight. It can be commonly seen that many newborn babies will be in queue to complete this ritual.
Other shrines of religious significance:
Besides the presiding deity, there are many other deities housed inside several sub shrines which are also religiously significant and important places to visit. To name a few, Varadharajar, Yoga Narasimhar,Garuthmantha, Bhuvaraha Swamy, Bedi Anjaneya, Vakulamatha , Kuberan, Ramanujar are some of the deities who have separate small shrines that can be visited while going round the temple.
No one can say when the diety Varadharaja was installed in this temple. He is in the sitting posture facing west and the shrine can be seen in the Vimanapradhakshinam. He is believed to be one of the incarnations of Lord Venkateswara.
Yoga Narasimhar shrine:
Yoga Narasimhar is a lion-headed deity, said to be the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. His shrine is also in the Vimanapradhakshinam. From the inscriptions, it can be observed that the temple must have been built between 1330 A.D and 1360 A.D. The Lord is in the meditating sitting posture facing west
The small sub-shrine where the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, Garuda is placed. The shrine is placed just opposite to the Golden Entrance. The Garuda statue is six feet tall facing his Master, waiting for His commands.
Bhuvaraha Swamy Shrine:
The incarnation of Lord Vishnu named as Varaha is abode in this shrine as Bhuvaraha Swamy. The God is said to exist even before Lord Venkateswara. There is a procedure that the food offered to the Lord called Neivedhyam is offered to Bhuvaraha Swamy before taking it to the presiding deity. Similarly, there is a tradition that before worshipping Lord Venkateswara, the devotees have to visit Bhuvaraha Swamy and then proceed further.
Bedi Anjaneya shrine:
This shrine is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. He is housed exactly opposite to the Mahadwaram near the place where the coconuts are offered in huge quantities. The Lord is called so because he is found with both his two hands handcuffed. (Bedilu in Telugu)
Vakulamatha is the mother of Lord Venkateshwara. She is worshipped in the form of a statue inside the temple behind the Varadharaja Shrine. She is believed to be present and supervise the procedures when the food is prepared for Her son. Even today, you can see a hole in the wall partitioning the Vakulamatha Shrine and the kitchen called Srivari Potu.
The God ,when worshipped sincerely,makes you wealthy, is Lord Kuberan. He is housed inside a shrine facing south behind the sanctum sanctorum. It is believed that, Lord Kuberan had financed the marriage of Lord Venkateswara and Padmavathi Thaayar. So, Lord Venkateswara is repaying the loan to Lord Kubera with the help of the offerings given by the devotees.’
Also called the Bahsyakara Sannadhi, Ramanujar Sannadhi is the sub shrine where the Acharya (Guru) of Visishtadhvaitham is abode. Just as He did in Srirangam , here also Lord Ramanaujar had spent many years in Tirumala. He put all his efforts in the codification of the religious and administrative practices of the temple. All the procedures got institutionalized and they are strictly adhered to even today.
Padmavathy Thaayar Temple, Tiruchanur:
The consort of Lord Venkateswara , called Padmavathi Thaayar or Alarmel Mangai Thaayar is abode at a place called Tiruchanur,and the temple is called as Padmavathi Ammavari Temple, which is five kilometers from Tirupati. The Goddess is also said to be in a self-manifested form. The meaning of the term Padmavathi is that “She who emerged from Lotus”. The famous poet in Telugu,a staunch devote of Padmavathy Thaayar, Sri Annamacharya has personified her benevolence and grace in many of his songs(Keerthanas).
How to reach Tirupati?
Road : From Alipiri, Tirupati is only at a distance of 23 kilometers. The TTD runs free buses inside Thirumala for the convenience of the devotees.
Train : Tirumala is at a distance of 26 kilometers from the Tirupati Main Railway station and 38 kilometers from the Renigunta junction situated on the Chennai-Mumbai Rail Corridor. There are trains connecting all major cities. Tirupati is 435 kms from Vijayawada, 572 km from Hyderabad, 138 km from Chennai, 291 km from Bangalore and 781 km from Vizagapattinam.
Airport : There is a domestic airport at Tirupati, 40 kms from Tirumala. This airport operates flights to Hyderabad, Vizagapattinam and Delhi. The nearest international airport is Chennai from where tirupati is only 162kms and can be reached either by road or rail.
Places to visit in Tirupati:
1. Venkateswara Museum at Tirupati and Tirumala – huge collection of ancient weaponry, Pooja items and Idols. There is also a photo gallery and meditation center.
2. Natural arch called the Silathoranam, said to be a geological wonder existing from Precambrian Era.
3. Srivari Paadamulu – Footprints of Lord
4. Papavinasanam – A waterbody originating form river Swarnamukhi
5. A river with seven lion headed channels for bathing by the devotees
6. Temple for Goddess Ganga
7. Akaasa Ganga – a natural waterfall.