Tirumala is where the Venkateswara (Sri Balaji) Temple is located. Tirumala is located on Vyenkata Hill at an altitude of 840m (2,800 ft). Vyenkateswara means “the Lord of Vyenkatachala.” Vyenkatachala is a chain of hills. The temple is situated on the top of seven adjoining hills, also called Seshachalam Hills, which are said to be an incarnation of Ananta Sesa.
Once Vayu and Sesa entered into a disagreement over who was stronger. Sesa wrapped his long body around Mount Meru and challenged Vayu to move it. Vayu tried but failed. Vayu pretended to be exhausted and stopped blowing. Then Sesa opened his mouth to breathe. At that moment, Vayu blew off part of the hill. After the hill had traveled a great distance, Mount Meru asked Vayu to leave it there. Ashamed of his defeat, Sesa did penance, meditating on Lord Vishnu. When Lord Vishnu appeared and offered a boon, Sesa assumed the shape of the hill and requested the Lord to stay on his head. This hill is called Sesachalam. It is said that when Ramanuja visited here, he walked up the hill on his knees to avoid stepping on Sesa Naga.
The Lord’s appearance in Tirumala is mentioned in about 12 different Puranas. According to the Brahma Purana, Lord Vishnu wanted a change from Vaikuntha, so he inquired from Narada Muni about a place on earth for diversion and sport. Narada suggested Sesachalam (the head of Ananta Sesa).
All the property at the top of the hill at Tirumala belongs to the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which is recycles much of its wealth to such humanitarian works as schools, orphanages and hospitals.
Tirumala is an unusual place for India in that the streets are totally clean of trash.
Sri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple
This temple is one of the most important Vishnu temples in India and is also the richest. It is the most visited temple in India and is one of the most visited religious places in the world. This magnificent temple is located 20km up a hill from Tirupati. It is a very peaceful place and coming to this temple is a very awe-inspiring and devotional experience. On a spiritual tour of South India it is an absolute must.
On an average over 25,000 people visit daily, and on festival days over 100,000 visit. In 1989, over eleven and a half million people made their pilgrimage here.
As you enter the inner sanctum the chanting becomes more and more intense—“Om Namo Venkateswara, Om Namo Venkateswara.” On special days when the Deity is in “full dress” his entire outfit spreads from one end of the altar room to the other and all the jewels of the dress are real—gold coins, emeralds, diamonds and platinum.
It is said that at Tirumala, Lord Vishnu grants the wish of anyone who offers him their weight in something, be it gold, fruit, cloth, or whatever. Pilgrims who make such an offering and ask a boon or blessing generally return (after achieving their desire) and make another offering to the Lord, acknowledging his kindness.
The worship in the temple is performed by Sri-sampradaya Vaishnava Brahmins, in the line of Ramanujacharya.
The Venkateswara temple is 126.5m (414 ft) long, 80m (263 ft) wide, and covers an area of 2.2 acres. What is particularly stunning is the vimana (dome), called Ananda Nilayam, above the Deity’s main room. It is covered in hammered solid gold. The flag-pole (dwajasthamba) is gold-plated, and the gates that guard the inner sanctum are also covered with gold.
Every day 100,000 luglus (fruit and nuts sweets) are made. The demand is much more, but the tradition is that all the luglus must be cooked in the temple kitchens. The cooks receive 52 luglus for every 1000 they make, as payment for their services.
The average income of the temple is $25,000 (10 lakhs rupees) a day. It has an annual income of 5 billion rupees (125 million dollars) a year. The TTD banks Rs 40 to 50 crores (12 million dollars) yearly. The Hundi (Deity box) collection is over 5 million dollars yearly. It is not unusual when they open this box at the end of the day to find gold and platinum coins and bricks inside.
The Deity’s gold and silver palanquins and other sacred paraphernalia are on display. There is a temple staff of over 6,000.
It is said that Sankaracharya established the Dhanakarshana Yantra at this temple to attract people to visit the temple. Sri Chaitanya came here on his tour of South India.
Sri Venkateswara (Sri Balaji)
Lord Venkateswara is a self-manifested 2m (6 ft) high Deity made of a jet-black stone. The Deity is known as Venkateswara, Srinivasa, Govinda, Perumal, or Balaji. His diamond crown, made in Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, is said to be the single most valuable piece of jewelry in the world.
His two upper arms hold a conch-shell (sankha) and disk (cakra). The palm of his lower right hand is turned outward offering benediction (varada), while his lower left hand is turned inward (katyavalambita). Alarmelmangai-Nachchiyar (Lakshmi), seated on a lotus, is carved on the right side of Sri Venkateswara’s chest. Lord Rama’s marks are found on Venkateswara near the armpits: the bow and quiver (arrows).
The Lord’s eyes are covered by a large tilak like “V” made of camphor. For it is said that Lord Venkateswara’s lotus-like eyes are so beautiful that if they were uncovered, then pilgrims would not want to leave. This form of the Lord is known for fulfilling any desire a devotee may express to him. It is also said that his eyes are covered because His gaze would scorch the entire world.
The Deity wears very precious jewelry. He wears a garland of big solid-gold coins. His two hands, opened in benediction, are covered first with silver and then diamonds and rubies. He wears different big crowns made of solid gold covered in diamonds, rubies and other precious gems. The Lord wears a big emerald called “Meru Pacha,” which is 3 inches in diameter and is considered to be the biggest emerald in the world. All the jewelry is real gold. The Lord possesses over 250 crores (70 million dollars) worth of gems and 640 kgs of gold.
At 3 am is suprabhatam, the awakening prayers. Between 3 am and 5 am is thomala-seva, or the renewal of flowers for the Lord, which can be attended by purchasing a ticket. From 6 to 11 am is sarva-darshan, or general darshan (viewing) of the Lord.
There is an hour break between 11 am and noon for cleaning and worship, and at that time there is no darshan. There is darshan from 12 noon till 7 pm and then again from 8 to 10 pm. At 10.30 pm is ekanta-seva, or putting the Lord in a cradle. The Lord takes rest for just two hours a day, from 1 to 3 am.
The padmaradhana, or worship with 108 golden lotus flowers, is a popular abhishek done every Tuesday. Tickets are booked a year in advance. Abhisheka, or the bathing of Sri Venkateswara, is done every Friday morning between 4.30 and 5.30 am.
At 5 pm, there is an interesting ceremony outside with lamps.
Other Deities in the Temple
Immediately to the left of the second gopuram entrance is a small temple dedicated to Sri Varadaraja Swami. You will be led past this deity to get to the inner altar, and it is traditional to offer worship to Varadaraja first.
As you come into the second gopuram (entrance), to your right is a Deity of Lord Narasimha in his form of Yoga Narasimha. He is sitting in a cross-legged yogic position, with his two lower hands resting on his knees.
Facing west near Lord Narasimha is a deity of Sri Ramanuja, the Sri Vaishnava acharya. A part of the prasada offered to Sri Venkateswara is offered to Sri Ramanuja. On certain festival days special honors are shown to Sri Ramanuja, because he established the day-to-day procedure of worship in this temple.
Deities on Main Altar (Sanctum)
Bhoga Srinivasa, who is a silver replica of the mula-vigraha of Lord Sri Venkateswara, is always near Sri Venkateswara and connected to the main Deity by a silk cord. This Deity receives the daily abhisheka (bathing ceremonies), whereas the main Deity is only bathed on Friday.
Sri Malai Kuniya Nenran Perumal (Sri Malayappan) is the 1m (3 ft) tall processional Deity (utsava-murti). Sridevi is to the right of this Deity and Bhudevi is also near by.
Ugra Srinivasa, who is about half a metre (1½ ft) tall, is the previous processional Deity. Ugra means angry. The Deity is holding a chakra in a slightly tilted way, as if it could be used immediately. It is said that if the rays of the sun would ever touch this Deity it would do incalculable harm to the world, therefore he is provided with jewel-encrusted umbrellas.
Koluvu Srinivasa is brought daily after the morning thomala-seva (worship) and seated on a silver chair. He is the guardian Deity and supervises the temple affairs. The calendar of the day (panchangam) and the accounts of the temple are read to him every day.
There is also a set of Rukmini-Krishna Deities and Deities of Sita, Rama, Laksman, and Sugriva.
There is also a deity of Chakra Alwar (Sudarshan cakra), the disc of the Lord, who always proceeds the utsava-murti (processional Deity) during processions.
You enter the temple through the eastern entrance. To your right as you enter (southeast corner) is the Ranga-mandapa, where different festival events are held. To the west of this hall are the Annaunjal Hall and Tiurmalaraya Hall, which are also used for different festival events. In the north part of the courtyard is a hall called Aina-mahal (mirror hall).
The second enclosure area is called Sampangi Prakara. It contains the altars of Sri Varadaraja, Sri Narasimha and Ramanujacharya.
On either side of the entrance to the inner sanctum are the two dwarapalas (guards), Jaya and Vijaya. The Mukkoti Pradakshina is a path that encircles the inner sanctum. It is normally closed and is open only on Vaikuntha Ekadasi. One who goes through the special gate that circumambulates the inner sanctum of Sri Venkateswara is considered to gain liberation from this material world upon leaving this body.
No cameras are allowed, but if you have one, there is a good chance you will be allowed to bring it in as long as you do not use it. There are free cloak and shoe rooms outside the temple where you can leave your things.
The inner shrines of the temple are not officially open to non-Hindus. Foreigners may be asked to sign a paper saying they believe in Hinduism. If they sign the paper, they can enter the temple.
Every pilgrim is entitled to free food, accommodation (very basic), and medical treatment.
You can use your Rs 30 “special darshan” ticket to go to a special booth, to your right as you leave the temple, to purchase a large prasadam luglu. The normal luglu queue (line) may take an hour or more and this special line is almost immediate. The luglus are fantastic.
Mondays and Tuesdays are not very crowded days. At 7 am on Monday it may only be an hour waiting time in the “special darshan” line. Weekends and festivals days are the most crowded days to come.
You can pay for hotel TTD accommodations or gives donations by using a credit card. The TTD web site is www.tirupati.org. Accommodations can be arranged through the web site.
How to Get in the Temple
There is a new system of entry to the temple called Su-darshanam. You now report to any Su-darshanam counter in either Tirumala or Tirupati. You then receive a bar-coded band that states the approximate time that you can have darshan. You then return for darshan at the stated time and the average time you have to wait around is around an hour to view the Deities, if you have a special darshan ticket. This can reduce the waiting time by several hours. You are then free to walk around while you are waiting.
You can get a small booklet here that is published by the TTD. In the booklet they suggest that before entering the temple that one bathes in Pushkarini Lake and worships at the Varaha Swami Temple. They also suggest that one chants “OM Sri Venkatesaya Namah” inside the temple and that one bathes in the Papavinasanam and Akasa Ganga Tirthams near Tirumala.
There is no darshan between 10 am and noon.
There are two queues available to the public for viewing the Deity. One is a free sarva-darshan line, which has a number of good-sized auditoriums with marble steps to sit on. When the auditorium next to yours empties you move to the next one and the gates are locked behind you.
For a Rs 30 fee, you enter the “special darshan” line that cuts your waiting time by 75%.
Once inside the Deity room the movement of the line picks up speed as there are officials on either side of the Deity pushing the pilgrims to move on. It is set up like a “U” turn, where you enter on the right side of the Deity, pass in front of Balaji, and exit out the left. If you keep to the extreme right when you enter, you may be able to stay in the corner and get a few extra seconds darshan. The average viewing time is five seconds, but if you are a foreigner sometimes the pujaris may give you a few extra minutes or seconds.
Once your darshan is finished, you continue to follow the queue outside the premises. Outside the temple you can purchase delicious round luglus made of dried fruits and nuts to take home, as they keep for long periods. Demand for these sweets are high. If you have a “special darshan” ticket you can purchase a large luglu from the booth to your right as you leave the temple. This booth is up some stairs in a building across from the temple. You are limited to just one luglu per “special darshan” ticket in this line.
Around the Temple
There is a large water tank next to this temple called Swami Pushkarini tank, where pilgrims take bath before their dar-shan. The Varaha Purana says Swami Pushkarini was a pond used by Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha for recreation. Tradition says that Garuda put this tank here.
Next to the tank is the Varaha Swami Temple. It is stated in the Puranas that Lord Varaha was on Sesachala before Sri Venkateswara, and he granted space to Venkateswara to live on Sesachala Hill. It is a tradition to visit this temple before going into the main temple.
There is a small museum called the Hall of Antiquities (opened daily from 8 am to 8 pm; admission Rs 5), which is located opposite the temple entrance.
Akasa Ganga is a sacred waterfall, 5km south of the temple. Water is brought from here for Lord Venkateswara’s abhiseka (bathing). On the way to Akasa Ganga is Papavinasha Tirtha.
Tirumala is more like a city than a temple, and one could easily spend a whole day just walking around. There are sacred water tanks and smaller temples that house various paraphernalia, such as the chariot that carries the small processional Deities (utsava Deity) during festivals.
You can visit the huge head-shaving center, which looks something like a South Indian temple. Devotees offer their hair in expectation of pleasing the Lord. Head shaving (tonsuring) is done by many people (many of them women). The hair is sold for wig making, and these proceeds are used for increasing the prosperity of the Deities and the upkeep of the town, etc. Three or four crore rupees (over a million dollars) is raised from this process each year.
Brahmotsavam (Aug/Sept), which lasts for 11 days, is the main festival. According to the Bhavishottara and Varaha Puranas, this festival has the name Brahmotsavam because Lord Brahma came to earth with all the gods to perform utsavam, or worship of the Lord.
The main day of Brahmotsavam is the cart procession (Rathotsava) on the eighth day. The processional Deity is led around the four streets surrounding the temple on a beautifully decorated cart. The Makarakanti ornament and the Laksmiharam (of the main Deity) are used to decorate the processional Deity on this day. This is the only day that these valuable ornaments are allowed to leave the temple. The fifth and eleventh days are also important. On the eleventh day the processional Deity is taken to Swami Pushkarini, the tank by the temple.
The Tiruppaliodam Tirunal (Float Festival) is usually five days.
There is a major festival in reference to the Swami Pushkarini tank (Dec/Jan). A million sacred bathing places are said to flow into the tank at this time. The Chakra of Lord Vishnu (Chakara Alvar) is taken in procession through the streets and then bathed in the tank. This is considered to be an especially auspicious time to bathe in this tank.
It is said that Kubera, the god of wealth, lent Sri Balaji some money. Each year there is a ceremony, in which the descendants of Kubera seek to collect the loan. The Deity is put behind gold bars. On that day the offerings to the Deity are colossal, as people rush to bail out Balaji.
Pushpayagam is when flower worship is performed to Lord Sri Venkateswara to save the world from natural calamities like floods and droughts. More than 30 types of flowers weighting over two tons (2,000 kilos) are offered to the feet of the utsava-murti.
Walking Up the Hill
Many pilgrims walk the 16km (24km by bus) up the hill. The path begins at the bottom of the hill. You can’t miss the beginning, as there is a huge gopuram (tower) with bright lights and a big statue of Hanuman. It is best to go in the early morning to beat the sun and crowds. Almost the entire way there is an overhead shelter with lights so you can walk at night or in the rain.
You pass nice forests, gardens and a zoo. There are refreshment stands on the way. On the way up the hill is a small temple dedicated to Ramanujacharya.
The walk up the hill is about 4,000 steps, which takes two to four hours of steady climbing and is hard work. If you walk up the hill and want to stay over-night in Tirumala, you can leave your luggage at the baggage stand at the toll gate at the bottom of the hill. It will be transported up the hill free of charge, and you pick it up at the cloak-room near the Central Reception Office at the top of the hill.