Temples of Andhra Pradesh - Sri Venkateswara Temple, Tirupathi

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Sri Venkateswara temple is an ancient and sacred temple located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala or Venkata Hill of the Tirupati Hill. It lies on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini.

The deity Venkateswara is also called as the Lord of the Seven Hills. This temple has a unique sanctity in India. Even the Sastras, Puranas, Sthala Mahatyams and Alwar hymns reveal that, the mukti or salvation in the Kali Yuga can be attained only by worshipping this lord.

The Rig Veda and Asthadasa Puranas have mentioned the benefits acquired by a piligrimage to Venkatachala. The epics also describe Sri Venkateswara as the great bestower of boons.

The legend of Sri Venkatachala Mahatmya is referred in several Puranas, of which the most important are the Varaha Purana and the Bhavishyottara Purana. The other Puranas which mention about Lord Venkateswara are the Padma Purana, the Garuda Purana, the Brahmanda Purana, the Markandeya Purana, the Harivamsa, the Vamana Purana, the Brahma Purana, the Brahmottara Purana, the Aditya Purana, the Skanda Purana and the Bhavishyottara Purana.

According to the Varaha Purana, Adi Varaha manifested himself on the western bank of the Swami Pushkarini, while Lord Vishnu in the form of Venkateswara came to reside on the southern bank of the Swami Pushkarini. One day, Rangadasa, a staunch devotee of Vishnu, in the course of his pilgrimage, joined Vaikhanasa Gopinatha, who was going up the Tirumala Hill for the daily worship of Lord Venkateswara. After bathing in the Swami Pushkarini, he saw the lotus-eyed and blue-bodied Lord Vishnu beneath a tamarind tree.

The lord was exposed to the sun, wind and rain and was only protected by the extended wings of Garuda. Rangadasa astounded by the wonderful sight raised a rough wall of stones around the deity, and started supplying flowers faithfully to Gopinatha everyday for Vishnu's worship. One day, Rangadasa distracted by a Gandharva king and his ladies forgets to supply flowers to Gopinatha for Vishnu's worship.

The Lord then revealed himself before Rangadasa and says that he had been testing the latter's continence. Even though Rangadasa had not been steadfast, the Lord accepted and appreciated Rangadasa's devoted service to him. He blessed Rangadasa to be reborn as an affluent ruler of a province and would enjoy the earthly pleasures. He would continue to serve the Lord, construct a beautiful temple with a Vimana and high surrounding walls, and thereby earn eternal glory. Later, Rangadasa was reborn as Tondaman, the son of the royal couple, Suvira and Nandini.

Tondaman enjoyed a pleasurable life as a young man. One day, he saw Vishnu under the tamarind tree and was deeply affected by the sight of Vishnu. Later, when he inherited his father's kingdom, as per the directions of Adi Varaha, Tondaman constructed a Prakaram and a Dvara Gopuram. He also arranged for the regular worship of the Lord. In Kali Yuga, when Akasaraja became the ruler of Tondamandalam, his daughter Padmavathi was married to Venkateswara. Their marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendour. It was also attended by many other gods including Brahma and Shiva.

The temple of Lord Sri Venkateswara has a great history. The rulers of great dynasties of the southern peninsula have paid homage to Lord Sri Venkateswara in this ancient shrine. The Pallavas of Kancheepuram, the Cholas of Thanjavur, the Pandyas of Madurai, and the kings and chieftains of Vijayanagar were all the devotees of the Lord. The contributions to the temple increased during the rule of the Vijayanagar dynasty.

Sri Krishnadevaraya installed statues of himself and many of his consorts at the portals of the temple. The Maratha general, Raghoji Bhonsle, visited the temple and set up a permanent endowment for the conduct of worship in the temple. He also presented valuable jewels to the Lord, including a large emerald which is still preserved in a box named after the General.

The rulers of Mysore and Gadwal also visited this temple and given contributions. During the British rule, the administration of the shrine of Sri Venkateswara and a number of estates were entrusted to Sri Seva Dossji of the Hatiramji Mutt at Tirumala, and the temple remained under the administration of the Mahants for nearly a century, till 1933 AD.

In 1933, the Madras Legislature passed a special act, which empowered the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) Committee to control and administer a fixed group of temples in the Tirumala-Tirupati area, through a Commissioner appointed by the Government of Madras.

In 1951, the Act of 1933 was replaced by an enactment whereby the administration of TTD was entrusted to a Board of Trustees, and an Executive Officer was appointed by the Government.

Darshan at Sri Venkateswara Temple

TTD has organised efficient systems to ensure the smooth movement of pilgrims as lakhs of pilgrims have been visiting the Sri Venkateswara Temple every day.

Sarvadarsanam - The Sarvadarsanam meaning the darshan for all has the timings which are different on different days of the week. On normal days, about 18 hours are allocated for the Sarvadarsanam and on peak days 20 hours are allocated.

Special Darshan - The Special Darshan has shorter queue and waiting time. The entrance for Special Darshan is through the PPC (Queue Complex). The queue merges with the Sarvadarsanam queue at Bangaruvakili. There are two categories of special darshan with the same timings of the Sarvadarsanam.

Sudarsanam Token System - The Sudarsanam token system was introduced to minimise the waiting time for Sarvadarsanam, Special Darshan and other paid Darshans and Sevas. It has some features which are as follows.

There are free tokens available at the First Choultry (opposite the TiruRailway Station), Second Choultry (behind the Railway Station), Alipiri Bus Stand, Tirupati, Vaikuntam Queue Complex, Pilgrim Amenities Centre (Near CRO) and near the Rambagicha Guest House in Tirumala.

The Darshan timing is fixed and indicated on the tokens.

The Pilgrims are supposed to enter the Vaikuntam Queue Complex at Tirumala at the time indicated on the tokens.

The Darshan can be had within two hours of entering the Queue Complex.

This system saves a lot of waiting time and provides pilgrims with enough time to visit temples in the vicinity like Sri Govindarajaswami Temple and Kapila Teertham at Tirupati, Sri Padmavathi Ammavari Temple at Tiruchanur and Sri Kalyana Venkateswara Swami Temple at Srinivasa Mangapuram.

The system issues one token per head and there are no collective tokens. This helps to keep track of the number of visitors to the temple.

Special Darshan for the Physically Disabled and the Aged - There is a Special Darshan facility available for the physically disabled and the aged through a separate gate at the Maha Dwaram, the main temple entrance. If required, such pilgrims can be accompanied by one attendant.

Brahmotsavam Celebrations - Brahmotsavam is the biggest fair of Lord Venkateswara. Its beginning is marked by the Dhwajarohana which involves the hoisting of the Garudadhwaja (flag with the emblem of a black garuda), near the Srivari Alaya Dhwajasthambham.

A spectacular procession of Lord Venkateswara on the Pedda Seshavahana is taken around the four streets of the main temple from 2200 hrs till midnight. The meaning of Sesha is ‘to serve’. Adi Sesha is a thousand-headed serpent, on whom Lord Sri Maha Vishnu rests in his abode, Vaikuntam.

Tirumala Hills, the abode of Lord Sri Venkateswara, is believed to be the manifestation of Adisesha. In commemoration of this event, the Lord is carried in a procession around the streets of Tirumala on the Seshavahana (vehicle shaped like Adisesha) during the first two days of Brahmotsavam (Pedda Seshavahana and Chinna Seshavahana). The other activities of Brahmotsavam involve the following.

Aalaya Suddhi - The temple of Lord Sri Venkateswara is cleaned before beginning the Brahmotsavam, according to the guidelines given in the religious texts. The temple premises and its surroundings are decorated with flowers and mango leaves. This process is called Aalaya Suddhi and Alankaram (decoration).

Mritsangrahanam - The Mritsangrahanam or the process of collecting earth is carried out on the day prior to the first day of Brahmotsavam. The temple priests and officials pray to deities like Vishvaksena, Anantha, Sudarshana and Garuda. They also pray to Mother Earth and collect a small quantity of earth, with which the Ankurarpanam ritual is conducted. In Ankurarpanam, the earth is spread in a room and nine kinds of cereals are sown in it.

Dwajarohanam and Devatavanam - The Dwajarohanam or the hoisting the flag or the garudadhwaja signals the beginning of the Brahmotsavam. It is carried out at the Dwajasthambham, near the Nadimi Padi Kavili inside the temple complex. The temple officials hoist the flag with a picture of Garuda on it to the chanting of Vedic mantras by the temple priests. It is believed that Garuda goes to the Devalokam to invite Gods like Brahma, Indra, Yama, Agni, Kubera and Vayudeva and sages like Vasistha and Vishwamitra.

Vahana Seva - The Lord Venkateswara is taken in a procession around the streets of Tirumala on different Vahanas or vehicles. Each Vahana has its own significance, and conveys the Lord’s message in its own way.

Srivari Koluvu - After being taken around in a procession during Brahmotsavam, the Lord holds court in the main temple. The Naivedyam is offered by the temple priests during this time.

Snapanam - The Snapanam which is also called as the Utsavananthara Snapanam, is the process of bathing the Lord with herbal water after the procession. It is believed that the strain which the Lord had undergone during the procession will be relieved through the herbal water bathing.

Choornabhishekam - The Choornabhishekam involves bathing the lord and his consorts after immersing them with sandalwood powder. Usually, this is performed on the morning of the ninth day of the Brahmotsavam. Again the Lord is taken in a procession around the streets of Tirumala. The temple priests distribute the sandalwood powder used for the Lord to devotees. It is believed that the sandalwood powder has the power of clearing obstacles from one's path.

Chakrasnanam - The Chakrasnanam ritual is similar to the bathing ritual and this is performed after the performance of a yagna. On the morning of the last day of Brahmotsavam, the Lord, his consorts and Sri Sudarshanachakram are bathed in the Swami Pushkarini. The devotees can also take bathe in the Swami Pushkarini, along with Sri Sudarshanachakram. As it is considered to be a very sacred ritual, severeal devotees participate in this ritual, irrespective of religion, caste or creed.


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