A temple is a destination to soften our minds, to be blessed by the Almighty, to get the linings in our red-letter days. Our beloved motherland India has been blessed with an uncountable number of such temples. The temples have played an essential role in this great country’s civilisation from the era of prehistory. The southern part of India has established itself to the rest of the country, comprising their countless temples of different deities. So, naturally, it attracts its pilgrims not only from all over India but also from abroad. Therefore, the pilgrims from everywhere are eager to be testified about all these unusual sculptures and their crafts. Here I am trying to highlight one of such remarkable temples of South India that is famed. It is named the ‘Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala’ situated in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is well- known by some other names of its like ‘ Tirumala Temple’, ‘Tirupati Temple’, ‘ Tirupati Balaji Temple’ and ‘ Temple of Seven Hills.
This temple is precisely located in the hill town of Tirumala( a census town), a part of Tirupati Urban Development Authority in the Chittor district of Andhra Pradesh, India. Tirumala hills are part of the Seshachalam Hills range, and these hills are 2,799 feet above sea level. These hills consist of seven peaks described as the seven heads of Adishesha(the Nagaraja or king of all Nagas and one of the primal beings of creation). Mainly this shrine is sedentary on the seventh peak, Venkatadri, on the southern bank of Sri Swami Pushkarini( a holy tank). That is why this temple is called the ‘Temple of Seven Hills’ also.
During the third-best of four yugas, Dvapara, Adishesha was helpless to reside on the earth at Seshachalam Hills after losing a contest with Vayu(the lord of winds and deity of breath). According to a byword of ‘ Puranas’, Tirumala is considered Adivaraha Kshetra, where Adivaraha(‘Varaha’ is the incarnation of the Hindu god ‘Vishnu’ Here ‘Adivaraha’ is the abode of ‘ Varaha’) began to inhabit on this hill.
During the last slap of four yugas, Kali the sages were busy performing yajna to decide who will have the fruits of yajna among Trimurtis( Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu). On behalf of that occasion, Narada sent the sage Bhrigu to the Trimurtis. Coincidentally Bhrigu had an extra eye( third eye) in the sole of his foot. With the help of that, he visited Brahma and Shiva, but both of them were unnoticed. Finally, Bhrigu visited Lord Vishnu, but the lord pretended as if he did not see Bhrigu. The sage Bhrigu got angry and kicked Lord Vishnu in the chest, but Vishnu did not react. However, goddess Laxmi felt very insulting and left Vaikuntam onto the earth to Kolhapur and began to meditate. Lord Vishnu then assumed human form as Srinivasa, left Vaikuntam in search of her consort, goddess Laxmi and reached Tirumala Hills and started to meditate there.
Goddess Laxmi came to know that through her meditation. Then goddess Laxmi requested Shiva and Brahma through her prayer to sort out this problem. Both of the gods then converted themselves into cow and calf. Then goddess Laxmi handed over the cow and calf to Chola king, who was ruling over the Tirumala Hills at that time. Cow used to provide milk to Srinivasa while it was grazing. But one day, the cowherd saw this and tried to beat the cow, for this Srinivasa got angered and cursed the Chola king to reborn as a demon. Then the king prayed to Him many times to obtain mercy. Srinivasa said to him that he(Chola king) would be reborn as Akasaraja and should marry off his daughter, Padmavati, with Srinivasa.
Everything would happen as the wish of Srinivasa, and He returned to Tirumala Hills. After few months of this goddess, Laxmi came to know all these. It is a rumour that Srinivasa had converted himself into a stone when he met Laxmi and Padmavati. Brahma and Shiva had also appeared there to clarify the whole matter to both the goddesses. Then both the goddesses turned themselves into stones also. However, goddess Laxmi resides on His chest on the right side, and Padmavati stays on His chest on the left side.
A benevolent lady named queen Samavai of the Pallava dynasty in the year 966 CE bestowed lots of jewels and two pieces of lands of 10 acres and 13 acres respectively for the welfare of the Venkateswara temple Tirumala. Then she decreed that the revenue yielded from those two lands to be used for the celebrations of the temple. Though, all the members of the Pallava, the Chola and the Vijaynagara dynasty were ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu. Still, during the reign of the Vijaynagara dynasty, this temple reached the apex of its wealth and size. In the absence of the Vijaynagara dynasty, the Venkateswara temple was handed over to Golconda in July 1656, then to the French for a miniature of time and under the nawabs Carnatic till 1801 CE.
At the primary stage of the British of 19th century, the authority had gone to the hands of East India Company. In 1817, Madras( now Chennai) government passed Regulation seven and holding its hands. The Venkateswara temple had reached to Board of Revenue through the collector of North Arcot District. In 1843, East India Company handed over his authority to Mahants of Hathiramji Muth, the acting administrator of the temple. This Muth conducted its administration until 1933, and in the same year, ‘Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams’ was formed based on the ‘TTD’ Act. The year 1966, the administrating authority of the temple had gone to ‘ Andhra Pradesh State Endowments Department, with ‘ Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act’.
The Act of 1966 regarding the temple authority or administration was revived in 1979 with a new frame. In this new frame, the temple administration was conferred to a committee holding of Executive Officer(EO), Chairman and two other members nominated by the government of Andhra Pradesh.
Pilgrims must cross three laps rather than three doors to reach the Garbhagriha(sanctum sanctorum) of the great Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala:
- ‘Mahadwaram'(first entrance) arranged through ‘Mahaprakaram'(outer compound wall). This ‘Mahadwaram’ is adorned with a fifty-foot height of five-storied Gopuram(Temple Tower) over it, along with seven ‘Kalasams’ at its top.
- ‘Vendivakili'(second entrance/silver entrance) is put on through ‘Sampangi Prakaram'( inner compound wall). This silver entrance is decorated with a three-storied Gopuram over it, along with seven ‘Kalasams’ at its peak.
- ‘Bangaruvakili'( third entrance/golden entrance) leads the pilgrims to ‘Garbhagriha’.
There are also two tall door or gate patrons named Jaya and Vijaya of copper images usually armed with a weapon. The Gada(club) on each side of the doors encircled with gold gilt plates describing Dasavatharam(ten incarnations) of Lord Vishnu. There are two alternating paths in the temple premises. Among them the one is the ambit interim Mahaprakaram and Sampangiprakaram, known as ‘Sampangipradakshinam’ and the other is called ‘Vimanapradakshinam’ which surrounds Anandya Nilayam Vimanam.
The Garbhagriha(sanctum sanctorum) is irradiated with the dwelling deity ‘Venkateswara'(Lord Vishnu) with his two companions: goddess Laxmi and goddess Padmavati. The main god of the sanctum sanctorum is four-handed, of which the first one is in varada mode, the second one is placed over the thigh, and the rest of two hands containing Shankha and Sudarshana Chakra, respectively. The Lord Vishnu here is well-dressed with priceless ornaments. But unfortunately, the pilgrims have no permission to enter the sanctum sanctorum.
The worship procedure is guided with ‘Vaikhanasa Agama'(one of the principal traditions of Hinduism and primarily worships Lord Vishnu and his all incarnations as the Supreme God). The name ‘Vaikhanasa’ here stands for the followers, and the name is derived from the founder, ‘Sage Sri Vaikhanasa’. The Hindu scriptures have prescribed six times worshipping of Lord Vishnu, of which single time in a day is mandatory. Rituals of this temple are abode by as daily, weekly and periodical mode of worship.
‘Tirupati Laddu’ is world-famous as the fascinating prasadam(grace) of this famous Vishnu temple. In contrast, other prasadams(graces) are dedicated to the Lord Venkateswara. All these prasadams(graces) are forked as Anna-prasadams(Dishes of rice) and Panyarams(an Indian dish made by steaming batter using a mould).
Anna-prasadams(graces of rice) contain its menu with some unique dishes such as chakerapongal(a creamy, sweet porridge made with rice, mung lentils and flavoured with cardamoms, dry fruits); pulihora(tamarind rice); miryalapongal(a South Indian dish which increases its taste with peanut condiment or with samber); kadambham(a popular and traditional South Indian dish with no onion or no garlic. Lentils and mixed vegetables are added to it); daddojanam(a South Indian curd rice).
On the other hand, Panyarams are decorated with some delicious items. Such as appam(a type of pancake); murukku(a spicy and crunchy snack); poli(a sweet parantha riched with mashed chana dal, jaggery or gud and shredded coconut), vada, dosa, jalebi and payasam(confection). Free meals are provided here daily to the pilgrims as the other temples do. Tiruppavada is a special Seva or ritual of this temple driven only on Thursday of every week. In this ritual, pulihora(tamarind rice) is gathered pyramidically to the Lord Venkateswara.
The Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala, is visited by the devotees of an average of 30,000 to 40,000 in a day, whereas the figure reaches its apex by 75,000 to 1,00,000 on a special day, that means on any convivial. The temple authority had arranged two Vaikuntam Queue Complexes-one in 1983 and the other in 2000, to manage this vast crowd of pilgrims.
Both the complexes have rooms where the pilgrims or the devotees can sit and wait for their turn. However, a tradition is influential where devotees have to pay their visit to ‘Bhuvaraha Swami Temple’, standing on the northern bank of Swami Pushkarini(tank) before visiting the Venkateswara Temple.
Very recent TTD has decided and declared to remove the VVIPs Darshan slots called L1, L2 and L3, which mean different visitors in different places per their privileges. Generally, the VVIPs take a miniature of time to reach their destination. In contrast, it takes not only hours but also a day for the civilians. And this is a very partial justification for the civilians. The temple authority has now arranged a free but limited number of biometric tokens for the pilgrims to enter this particular queue. These tokens are distributed based on first-come, first-served.
The Venkateswara Temple, run by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams(TTD), is the richest Hindu temple in the world by its wealth. It collects its primary source of income through Hundi offerings from the temple devotees. Since this world-famous temple faces a crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 visitors in a day, prominent of them are from economically giant class. Naturally, they all contribute to the temple the number of billions. Besides this, the temple earns a vast of its wealth from the sale of Seva tickets, sale of human hair and receipt from choultries(places of accommodation). In addition to this, bank interest on FDs is a royal source of income for the temple. TTD earns an average annual revenue from the donation of Rs 650 crores and makes its earnings of 11 million dollars from selling all its products and tickets selling. Apart from all liquid money, TTD owns so many fixed assets like vacant lands, buildings, and lots of golds, silvers, and diamonds.
The Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala, is that holy place where over 433 auspicious festivals are commemorated throughout the year. Sri Venkateswara Brahmotsavams or Srivari Brahmotsavams, a festival celebrated with grandeur for nine days in October every year. In this festival, the processional deity(Malayappa Swamy or Utsava Beram-Malayappa) sided by his consorts Sri Devi and BhuDevi is sedentary on various Vahanams(vehicles) and taken in a procession in four Mada streets(The street where both sides are full of ‘Mada Maaligai or ‘Mada Maadam’). Here ‘Vahanams’ are appended with Dwajarohanam, Pedda Sesha Vahanam, Chinna Sesha Vahanam, Hangsa Vahanam, Singha Vahanam, Muthaypu pandiri Vahanam, Kalpavriksha Vahanam, Sarva Bhoopala Vahanam, Mohini Avataram, Swarna Rathotsavam(Golden Chariot), Garuda Vahanam, Hanumantha Vahanam, Gaja Vahanam, Rathotsavam(Chariot), Ashwa Vahanam and Chakra Snanam from early morning to evening. This celebration includes dance, music also. On this occasion, millions of devotees acquire the temple premises. Another auspicious festival, ‘Vaikunta Ekadasi’ which is the most important Vaishnavite festival of this temple.
On this occasion, it is believed that Vaikuntam Dwarams will open for the devotees. The crowd reaches its apex up to 1,50,000 to have a glimpse of the darshan(visiting) of Lord Venkateswara through a special entrance, ‘Vaikunta Dwaram’ by name. Ratha Saptami is a remarkable festival commemorated in February. Venkateswara’s processional deity is taken in a procession on seven different Vahanams(vehicles) from early morning to late night. Some other festivals of Rama Navami, Janmashtami, Ugadi, Sri Padmavati Parinayotsavams, and Vasanthotsavam(spring festival) are held in March and April.
Timings of Darshan(timings of visiting
Timings of visiting are classified into more or less five segments. They are General Visiting, VIP Visiting, Special Visiting for Senior Citizens and Infant Visiting, respectively.
General Visiting: This visit is different from one day to another of the week. Such as Monday/Tuesday/Saturday/Sunday: The visiting time for these days of each week starts from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it restarts from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Wednesday/Friday: The visiting time for these two days of each week starts from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and again starts from 8 p.m.to 1 a.m.
Thursday: The temple authority starts its visiting time for this day of each week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and recommences from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
VIP Visiting: This visiting means visiting within a short period. It charges Rs 300(£3 approx) per person for its entry fees. Pilgrims or devotees have an opportunity for booking on its official website address: www.ttdsevaonline.com. This visit starts from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
Special Visiting for Senior Citizens: Pilgrims of particular this segment may take their visiting in two-time slots of 10 a.m. 3 p.m. daily. But they have to submit the authentic proof of their ages positively to the authority.
Infant Visiting: TTD has arranged unique visits for parents or siblings(below 12 years) carrying infants of 1 year or under one year age.
Visiting cost is free. Visiting timings: from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and again from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.(except during other Seva timings such as Kalyanotsavam, Arijitha Brahmotsavams etc.)
Visiting Point: Supadham.
But you have to carry the authentic age proof for infants. No relatives are allowed except parents and siblings(below 12 years of age). For parents or siblings, it is mandatory to follow the dress code to get entrance from Supadham.
Entry Fees: for adults– Rs 20(sound and light show) , for children—Rs 10(sound and light show)
How to reach:
Exact Location: Srinivasa Nagar, NGO Colony, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh: 517507.
The Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala can be reached from all the main cities of India, having rail communication, air communication and bus communication. And the last few miles needs to e covered on feet. Now the elaboration of rail, air and bus communication follows below:
Rail communication: Surprisingly, there is no halt railway station at Tirumala. So, you have to stop your railway journey at Tirupati, away from Tirumala, with more and less 26 km. Tirupati railway station is well-dressed with five platforms and an escalator. It is also a railway station where all the trains from all over India halt.
Air communication: The nearest airport is located in Renigunta, situated 16 km away from Tirupati and 39 km away from ‘Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala’. Direct flights are available from most of the airports like New Delhi, Hyderabad Vishakhapatnam and Bengaluru. Renigunta airport has been upgraded to an international airport by the central government.
Bus communication: Bus services ply between Tirumala and Tirupati. It is available with frequently of every alternative of two minutes. There are some direct buses run from Chennai, Vishakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
As the Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala is sedentary at the top of a hill. Naturally, the pilgrims are eager to touch the temple by climbing the hill on their feet. It is an emotion to meet their wishes to the Almighty. To be influenced by their feelings, they have to cover the distances of 11 km stone footpath known as ‘Sopanamargas’ started from the base of the hill. Another stone footpath, length of 6 km starting from Chandragiri, is called ‘ Srivari Mettu’.
To make it comfortable for the pilgrims, TTD has adorned their temple with restrooms, security, toilets, canteens and overall with medical facilities etc. Free luggage transfer from the base of the hill to the top is available for the pilgrims on behalf of TTD. At last, we, the devotees, pilgrims, well-wishers, have a humble prayer to the Lord Vishnu to make his dwelling place more and more prosperous day by day.
Image courtesy: Nikhil