TIRUPATI is the most sacred Vaishnavite temple of Andhra Desa. It has a reputation not only in Andhra but all over India and the presiding deity Lord Venkateswara is worshipped by North Indian pilgrims as ‘Balaji."
Tirupati lies in the midst of the Seshachalam Hills at a distance of seven miles from the Tirupati East Railway Station. To reach it, one has to branch off at Gudur, which is the last but one main station before Madras on the Delhi Madras route, and take a train to Renigunta and Tirupati and then go by road from the foot to the top of the Tirupati Hill, which is called Tirumalai. Direct buses from Madras and other centuries also ply to Tirumalai. Till ten years ago, the pilgrims had to walk up to the top of the hill, by means of steps, but now a regular ghat road has been laid round the hills, and one can reach the top of the hill directly by road
The Tirumalai Tirupati Devasthanam is one of the richest Devasthanam of Andhra, as Lord Venkateswara, who is the presiding deity of the shrine at the top, attracts thousands of pilgrims, who pay large sums to the deity as their offering. Any number of Chatrams and Choultries are available, both at the foot of the hill and on the top of the hill, for the convenience of the passengers. In addition the Devasthanam authorities also encourage the construction of self-contained cottages on the top of the hill, so that people who seek solitude may live in complete solitude and in peace. If any devotee contributes six thousand rupees, the Devasthanam will pay an equal amount and a cottage consisting of three rooms with a bathroom and kitchen is constructed in the name of the devotee. When the devotees do not reside in them, they are available for rent for others. There are nearly five hundred such cottages, on the top of the hill, and these are available at a daily rent of four rupees or so per day. There are also Government guesthouse’s as well as Devasthanam Guest Houses both on the top as well as at the foot of the hill, where distinguished visitors can come and stay.
Lord Venkateswara, with the income of the temple, is actually maintaining the University called ‘The Venkateswara University’ in which sciences and arts are taught. In addition, there is an ‘Oriental Manuscripts Library’ at Tirupati, where research into ancient manuscripts is carried on. The Temple is still very active and live, and is probably the richest temple in Andhra Desa, and perhaps in the whole of India.
Tirupati lies in the midst of seven peaks or groups of hills in the Eastern Ghats Range, and lies in the North Latitude 13’41’ and East Longitude 79’24’. The Eastern Ghats break up into a number of parallel ranges in the region south of the river Krishna. The central group is called Nallamalais in the Kurnool District, and these meet the Eastern Range, round the group of hills at Tirupati. The top of the Tirumala Hill is two thousand feet above sea level, and the great temple of Lord Srinivasa or Venkateswara, as he is otherwise called, is on the top of the peak. The group of hills is also called Seshachalam Hills and these seven peaks are said to represent the seven hoods of Lord Adisesha the king of serpents. The consort of Lord Srinivasa is not with him on the top of the hill, but is worshipped at Alamelumangapuram, at the foot of the hills. The shrine of Lord Venkateswara stands over a ciuster of seven hills, which are said to form the Meruparvatha.
According to the legends, this temple is a sacred place in all the four yugas, and was known as Vrishabhachala in the Krithayuga, Anjanachala in the Tretayuga, Seshachala in the Dwaparayuga and Venkatachala in the present Kaliyuga. There is a beautiful legend that the seven Tirupati hills represent the seven heads of Adisesha, Ahobalam, where Lord Narasimha murthy is worshipped, representing the centre of Adisesha, and Srisailam representing the tail end of Adisesha.
One of the legends current at the temple is that a contest once arose between Adisesha, the God of serpents, and Vayu, and the God of winds. Lord Vayu tried as a part of the contest to blow out all the thousand peaks of Meru Parvata but Lord Adisesha covered them with his thousand heads and protected them. Lord Vayu being disappointed in his attempts to destroy the mount, feigned exhaustion, and discontinued his blowing. Adisesha, thinking that all was safe, raised his head, when Vayu once again blew out the peaks, one of which fell at the spot of Venkatachala or Tirupati. This beautiful legend accounts for the connection of Tirupati hills with the Meru Parvata, though geographically they are somewhat distant.
The Puranic conception of the hills is that they represent the body of Adisesha on which Lord Vishnu, the Protector of the world is said to rest. The seven hills of Tirupati are said to represent the seven hoods of Adisesha on which Venkata - chalapati dances, and Adisesha, with his several coils, denotes limitless time as a cosmic concept.
It is generally believed that in some hilly and sacred centres, the Supreme Spirit, the Paramatma makes a manifestation Suo Moto without any initial invocation and such a shrine is known as ‘Swayam-vykta’ or self-manifest God. The foremost instance of this is the shrine of Sri Venkateswara in Tirupati. According to the Visistadvaita system of Philosophy of Sri Ramanuja, who was the patron saint though it is universal, still has to have a seat, which is called Sri Vaikuntam. In Vaikuntam, every thing is good, and there is all knowledge and no ignorance. This centre of centres of the divine is Tirupati. Srivaikuntham is the place manifest as Tirupati Hills and the Parabrahman is the Lord manifest as Lord Venkateswara.
The popular belief is that the first Archa form, which the Supreme Being divulged for the benefit of human meditation, was in the Tirupati shrine. Hence it is that the Dhruvabera of the Mula vigraha presents all the three facets of the Lord and is a Trinity in unity, though only two aspects are physically visible in the manifested form. The Brahma aspect representing creation is unmanifest and the other two aspects of the Lord, namely Vishnu and Siva, are manifest to us in the Dhruvabera. The Jata in Kiritam and the other general features of the image, present us a vision of Lord Vishnu. In other words, this idol combines in itself the Vyakta Vishnu, the Avyakta Brahma, and the Vyaktavyakta Siva, and hence the Lord may be described believed that this spiritual influence is kept up here by the daily worship, not of human Archakas, but of the Nitya Suris, who are the ever-present angels. This is still reflected in the custom of the temple, where every night the vessels tributed as Prasada the next day, at it is said to be the Abhisheka Tirtha used by the Nitya Suris.
Some centuries ago, there would appear to have been some dispute about the identity of the Lord. Saint Ramanuja, the great Vaishnavite reformer of the twelfth century, is said to have settled the dispute and established the worship of Lord Srinivasa here. The idol of the Lord is in the standing posture, with the left hand extended to the left thigh, as if proclaiming that a steady devotion to the Lord's feet will achieve any object. The right hand is in what is known as Varadahasta. The idol is a complete representation of the Supreme Being in all its aspects. At the Dhruva Bera. Is a small silver idol or the Kauthuka, which is used for the daily Abhishekam. There is adjacent to this idol, the Snapana Srinivasa Murthy, and this Murthy is taken out only once in a year on the Kauthuka Dwadasi day at four A.M., and taken back to the temple before sunrise. The idea is that the Parabrahman represented by the Dhruva Bera in constant conjunction with the Purusha viz., the Kauthuka Bera and the Pradhana viz., the Snapana Murthy, is the cause of the creation and sustenance of the world. There is also an Utsava Bera, or the image of the Lord that is taken out for all the festivals and processions.
In this temple, unlike other Vishnu temples, we find no minor shrines or idols of Vaishnava saints, viz., the Alwars and the Acharyas. In this temple, they exist in their original form, as Nitya Suris, and hence there is no other shrine for them. There is only a temple for Sri Ramanuja, the great Vaishnavite saint who is said to have added the Chakra and Sankha to the Lord. The popular legend is that originally the Sankha and Chakra were not in the idol, and that when a dispute as to whether the idol was a Vaishnavite or Saivite one arose, Sri Ramanuja proposed that the Sankha and the Chakra, which are the emblems of Lord Vishnu should be placed before the deity during night, after worship, and that the Lord himself might choose between the two, and declare as to what form he has. It is said that Sri Ramanuja, who is considered to be the Avatara of Adisesha, took the form of a cobra, and went in through the opening intended for the Abhisheka Tirtha, and prayed to the Lord, whereupon the Lord himself took up the two emblems of Lord Vishnu. The pathway through which a great Saint like Ramanuja passed, was then closed and to this day the Abhisheka Tirtha is being taken out only in vessels,
In the temple there are two very important customs, namely, anointing the body of the Lord with camphor, and offering all the hair on the head of the devotee as a sacrifice to the Lord. The custom of anointing the body of the God with camphor has its origin from the fact, that at one time an old Brahmin devotee took up a vow to dig a tank near the temple. Since he was a very poor man, he fiimself did the work, and also pressed into service his wife who was fully pregnant. When the lady began to feel the pangs of labor, the God himself, in the disguise of a Brahmin youth, began to share with her the labor of carrying the earth. On noticing this, the old man became jealous, at some other man sharing the good fortune of service to the Lord, and so hit him with his crowbar. Then within the temple when he went to pray to the Lord he found, to his surprise, blood pouring out at the exact spot from the body of the idol, where the blow fell on the body of the youth. He then discovered that the Lord himself had graced him, by coming to share his labor, and he immediately began to dress the wound of the Lord with camphor. From that time the practice of anointing the body of the deity with camphor has come into vogue. The origin of the other custom, which is very famous and popular, viz., offering the hair on the devotees' head as a sacrifice to the Lord, is shrouded in mystery, and exactly when and how this custom began nobody is able to account for satisfactorily.
There is a work called 'Venkatachala Itibasa Mala,' in which the main items for the conduct of worship at Tirupati are laid down. This work is divided into seven parts, the first three parts being concerned with the Vaishnava characters of the image and the other four being concerned with what Sri Ramanuja, the famous Vaishnavite Saint and. after him, his disciple Sri Anantarya, did for the temple. Sri Ramanuja, restored the rituals of worship according to Vaikhanasa Agama, after performing the purificatory rite, and after repairing the Vimana over the main Shrine which 'Is called the Ananda Nilaya. Ablutions to the God on every Friday were arranged in accordance with the Ananda Samhita Vaikhanasa Agaama. The face mark for the Lord, or the Urdhva Pundra, was prescribed to be a mixture of camphor, for four days, and for three days from Monday white earth, generally called Namam. All the jewels and ornaments of the Lord were to be removed on Thursday and the God was to be dressed only with flowers on that day.
Ramanuja also arranged for the recitation of Nachiyar Tiruppavai, a famous collection in the Prabandbas, for the proper worship of the temple. In the temple, be elitrusted the work to an early Vaikhanasa priest called Bimbadhara. Sri Ramanuja also had the temple of Sri Govindaraja built. Sri Ramanuja also restored the two wells for the temple service and on the bank of the step-well he set up images of Srinivasa and Bhoodevi, and arranged that the flowers used for the temple service should be thrown into the well. Sri Ramanuja's attention was also drawn to a Naga jewel, which was worn, on only one arm of Sri Venkateswara. It was stated that a Gajapathi king by name Veera Narasimha was at Tirupati in the course of pilgrimage, and arranged for the construction of a tower. At this stage, Lord Adisesha appeared before him in a dream, and told him that, since the whole hill was his own body, the weight of the tower was increasing the load on him. The king thereupon stopped the tower and, in token of the Lord Adisesha appearing before him, got a representation of Adisesha made as a jewel and placed it on one of the arms of the God.
There was another tradition that, not one but a pair of Naga jewels was presented to Lord Venkateswara on the occasion of his marriage with Padmavati, by his father -in - law, Nagaraja. Sri Ramanuja also installed within the temple of Srinivasa, an image of Sri Rama as giving refuge to Vibhishana. This manifestation of the Lord was made in response to the prayer of a certain yogi, by name Viswambbara, who lived on the banks of the river Kritamala. Owing to disturbances in that locality, the image was taken for protection to Venkatachala, and Sri Ramanuja arranged to set up the image e of Rama and the image of Sita also. Sri Ramanuja also enforced the old time worship of Varaha on the West Bank of Swamipushkarini, as in Venkatachala. Ramanuja also ordained at the temple of Venkateswara that, after the performance of the last item of worship, garlands should be preserved in the temple of Vishwaksena, the guardian deity. Sri Ramanuja also laid down regulations regarding the residence of the people of Tirupati. He laid down that only those who were engaged in the immediate service of the Lord should reside on the top of the hill and that all other devotees should live only at the foot of the hill. The pilgrims that came to the top of the hill should take for food whatever was provided by the temple after the temple service was over. No flowers should be grown for household worship, but all should be dedicated to the worship of the temple only. No animals or birds should be killed in hunting and no one should be allowed to die on the top of the hill but brought down.
A distance of seven to eight miles round the Swamipushkarini was marked off as reserved for the Lord and within that limit no other temple should be constructed. These are said to be the various reforms introduced by Sri Ramanuja, as seen from the Venkateswara Itihasa Mala. There are many inscriptions in which these are referred to and we can therefore take it that many of these injunctions were in existence either before the time of Ramanuja, or were newly brought by him and placed on a footing of permanence.
The exact period at which the temple was founded is unknown, and tradition has it that the temple is Swayambhustala. The earliest reference that we have to the temple is from the Tamil poet Mamulanar, who is a celebrated poet of the Sangam period. There are any number of references to the temple in the literature of the Alwars and Acharyas, of whom the greatest was Ramanuja.
The Vimana or the Ananda Vimana, as it is called, is the most sacred spot over the Lord Venkatesa. From an inscription of the Varadaraja temple of Conjeevaram, we learn that one Tatacharya built the Vimana of Lord Venkateswara. With gold in the year Pramodoota, corresponding to 1492 Saka Era or 1570 A.D. This Tatacharya was the General Superintendent of the temple affairs of the Vijayanagar king Venkatapathi Deva Maharaja. He was also the spiritual guru of the king and the king is said to have offered his entire kingdom to him in his admiration for the Acharya.
Lord Vishnu as Varahaswami has his shrine on the banks of the Swami - pushkarini Tirtha. At Lower Tirupati the temple is dedicated to Govindaraja Perumal in contradistinction to the Venkatachalapati shrine at the top of the hill. There is also a tower called Galigopuram, which is famous. In the Gopura downhill many puranic legends are commemorated in sculptures. The wealth of epigraphic details in Tirupati takes us to the times of the later Cholas, Yadavarayas, and Vijayanagar and Saluva dynasties.
In the lower Tirupati we have the temple of Sri Kodanda Ramaswami. In Tiruchanur, which is two miles from Tirupati is the temple of goddess Alamelumanga, the consort of the Lord on the top of the bill. A visit to Tirupati will not be complete unless a Darsan of this Goddess is also had. Sri Adisankara in the course of his tours is said to have established a Dhanakarshana. Yantra at Tirupati. This is established by the fact that even today the income of the temple from the offerings of the devotees is going up by leaps and bounds. Lord Venkateswara is a 'Pratyakshamurthi and any prayer made to him in sincerity ond utter surrender is never denied. Many instances of miracles said to have been done by prayer to the Lord are current in the place.
The puranas are full and replete with the great deeds of the Lord. The Lord is worshipped with one hundred and eight names, each one of which has a reference to the Puranas.
As the shrine of Lord Venkateswara is one of the most celebrated shrines in India, a few of the Puranic legends, which are well known, are given below:
The Puranic legend on the above is contained in the Brahmanda Purana, in which, the sport of the Lord in hunting in the forests, and in killing Vrishabhasura is described. Vrishabhasura was a great Bhakta of Siva, and was living in South Tirupati, and was giving trouble to the Rishis etc. Suddenly one day he found a hill growing up, and Vrishabbasura, thinking that it must be the result of some magic, wanted to give battle to whoever it was that created that hill. He therefore went in search of the creator of the hill, and found the Lord who was hunting in the forests of the hill, and mistook him for the creator of the hill and started giving battle. The Lord with the help of Vishwaksena destroyed the entire army of Vrishabhasura. There upon Vrishabhasura created a second huge army through his Maya, and himself disappeared into it. The Lord thereupon began to attack that army with his Chakra. Vrishabhasura then understood that it was Lord Narayana who was his opponent and, being a good Bhakta, thought that death at the hands of the Lord would lead him to salvation. There fore he prayed that the Lord should kill him.
Accordingly the Lord killed him with Chakrayudha and got the name Vrisha bhasurahari. This legend is given in Brahmanda Purana.
This same legend is given in Bhavishya Purana in a different manner. According to this Purana. Vrishabhasura was doing daily puja with Tapascharya for five thousand years to a saligrama idol created by Lord Narasimha at Tirumalai. Every day be cut off his own head and offered it as a sacrifice’s the Lord and every day a fresh bead began to grow through the grace of the Lord. Lord Srinivasa doing who was pleased with his austerity appeared before him, and asked him what he wanted. Thereupon Vrishabhasura, who was a great Bhakta, wanted Yuddha Bhiksha, or an opportunity to fight with the Lord, so that he might attain salvation at the hands of the Lord. His request was granted and so the Lord was known as Vrishabhasurahari.
In the above story there is a reference to the name of the hill, which is Vrishabhachala. In Tretayuga the same hill is called Anjanachala and corresponding to this the Lord is known as Ananagotrapati The lengend about this is given in Brahmanda Purana, and the legend is as follows:
In Tretayuga there was an Asura called Kesari who was a great Siva Bhakta. He did Tapascharya and wanted from the Lord the boon of a son. The Lord however told him that he was not destined to have a son, but only a daughter, through whom he would get a grandson. The daughter was called Anjana and when she became of age a Vanara, also called Kesari, sought the hand of Anjana and this was granted. However, Anjana Devi did not have a child for long, and one day the Dharma Devata came in disguise and told her that she would have a child provided she did Tapascharya on the banks of Akasa Ganga in the Venkatachala hill. She did Tapascharya for seven thousand years, and every day Lord Vayu gave her a fruit as food. Pleased with her Tapascharya Lord Siva and Parvathi gave her the boon of a child, and in Sravana masa and Sravana nakshatra.
At the time of sunrise, she gave birth to Anjaneya. Who was otherwise known as Hanuman. The child saw the beautiful rising sun in the sky and, thinking' it to be a ripe fruit, flew towards it and, not being able to bear the heat, fell back to the earth. The Purana therefore declares that, since Anjana Devi gave birth to her child on account of Tapascharya on this hill, the hill is called Anjanachala. The following verses from the Bralimanda Purana give us the legend, and tell us how the hill came to be named as Anjanachala.
There is also a reference in the Brahmanda Purana about how the hill came to be called as Vrishabhachala. Vrisbabhasura at the time of his death represented to the Lord that, since he died on the top of the hill, the hill should be named after him as Vrishabhachala, and the Lord also granted this boon. This legend is seen from the follow ing verses of Brahmanda Purana.
The religious service in the temple is conducted in a very elaborate manner. There are morning Darsans of the Lord known as Tomalaseva and Archana. A free Darsan follows this to all the worshippers. This is again repeated in the evening ending in another free Darsan. The pilgrims perform special services on payment of proper sacrificial offerings. In the morning, there is a special service to the Lord under which the daily accounts are rendered to the Lord and the Almanac or the Panchangam is also read out to Him. This is in-recognition of the fact that the Lord is a king and all royal honors should be shown to Him. The most important festival here is the Brahmotsava Festival which lasts for ten days.