Location: Tirupati is a town in the Chittoor district of the Southern portion of Andhra Pradesh and is at a convenient train journey away from Chennai (formerly Madras) in Tamilnadu. Tirumalai, on the last of the seven Hills, is home to this temple and is connected by a well maintained and picturesque mountain road constructed by the Tirumala Tirupati Devastanam.
Significance: Tirupati/Tirumala is a pilgrimage center of great significance and is visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims throughout the year.Venkateswara, or Srinivasa or Balaji as the presiding deity Vishnu is known, is enshrined in this temple, located on a range of the Eastern Ghats, called the Seven Hills.It is an ancient temple and its glory has been sung by the saints of the yesteryears.
Said to be the richest temple in India, this temple is a vibrant cultural and philanthropic institution with a grand history spanning several centuries. It attracts pilgrims from all over the country and it is not unusual for pilgrims to stand in line for hours together to obtain a glimpse of the presiding deity for a few fleeting seconds.
TTD, or Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam manages the affairs of the temple, the well being of the pilgrims, the upkeep of the environs in and around the Tirumala hills and sponsors several undertakings that are religious, charitable, social and educational in nature.
References to Tiruvenkatam abound in early Tamil literature(Tolkappiam and Silappadikaram) . Explicit reference to the Lord of Tiruvenkatam is found in the works of the early Tamil Saint Poets Poigai Alwar, Bhuthathu Alwar and Pay Alwar as well as in the poems of the later Alwars. The great religious leader Ramanuja Acharya is said to have visited here in the 11th – 12th century AD.
References to Venkatachalam are also found in several of the Puranas. Tirumalai constitutes one of the 108 Sri Vaishnava Divya Desams – sacred shrines in the Sri Vaishnavite tradition. Krishna Deva Raya of the Vijayanagar Empire is said to have visited this temple 7 times. An image of his is also found in the temple. The Venkatesa Itihasa Mala and the Varaha Purana contain several legends connected with Tirumalai.
The temple of Lord Venkateswara is built on top of Seshachala hill, one of the seven hills known as the Thirumalai hills. The temple covers an area of about two acres. It consists of three ‘praharam’ (circumambulatory path). The Kalyana Mandapam located in the second praharam dates back to the 16th century. In front of the sanctum is the Tirumani Mandapam, a hall with a door made of gold. The innermost praharam is opened only once a year on Vaikuntha Ekathasi day. The sanctum is 12 feet square housing the image of the Lord. It is topped with a golden vimanam called the Ananda Nilaya Vimanam. This three-tiered tower is about 38 feet high. The entrance Gopuram is about 50 feet high and faces east.
The deity is worshipped as Sri Venkateswarar or Venkatachalapathy and the image is in a standing posture on a pedestal of lotus flower. The image is adorned with ornaments studded with precious stones and gems. There are also images of Krishna, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana in the sanctum. Sri Devi and Boodevy both adorn the Lord’s chest in the form of two images sculptured in gold.
Sri Venkatachala Mahatmya is referred to in several Puranas, of which the most important are the Varaha Purana and the Bhavishyottara Purana.
According to the Varaha Purana, Adi Varaha manifested Himself on the western bank of the Swami Pushkarini, while 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 beheld the lotus-eyed and blue-bodied Vishnu beneath a tamarind tree. Vishnu was exposed to the sun, wind and rain and was only protected by the extended wings of Garuda.
Rangadasa was astounded by the wonderful sight. He raised a rough wall of stones around the deity, and started supplying flowers faithfully to Gopinatha everyday for Vishnu’s worship.
One day, Rangadasa was distracted by a Gandharva king and his ladies. Consequently, he forgot to supply flowers to Gopinatha for Vishnu’s worship. The Lord then revealed Himself and told Rangadasa that He had been testing the latter’s continence, but Rangadasa had not been steadfast and had succumbed to temptation.
However, the Lord accepted and appreciated Rangadasa’s devoted service to Him till then, and blessed Rangadasa that he would 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.
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 set out on a hunting expedition on the Tirumala Hill, and with the help of a forester, saw Vishnu under the tamarind tree. Tondaman returned home, deeply affected by the vision of Vishnu.
Tondaman later inherited his father’s kingdom, Tondamandalam. In accordance with the directions given by Adi Varaha to a forester, Tondaman constructed a prakaram and dvara gopura, and arranged for regular worship of the Lord (according to Vaikhanasa Agama).
In the Kali Yuga, Akasaraja came to rule over Tondamandalam. His daughter Padmavathi was married to Venkateswara. The marriage, officiated by Brahma, was celebrated with great pomp and splendour.
Festivals and Opening Hours
The temple opens for ‘Subrapatham’ in the early morning at 2.30 am and closes after 10.30 pm after the last ‘seva’ of the day, the ‘Ekantha seva’. Devotees throng to this temple every day, but there are four grand festivals when the devotees swell to thousands. The grandest of them all is the festival in September/October that runs for ten days when the idols are taken out in procession.
Vaikuntam Queue Complex
The entrance for darshan is through the Vaikuntam Queue Complex. The complex is a series of inter-connected halls that leads to the main temple. An efficient queue system ensures that pilgrims move in an orderly fashion through the Queue Complex, towards the main temple. The halls in the Queue Complex are clean, spacious and airy.TTD provides a wide range of facilities in the Queue Complex:
Sarvadarsanam means ‘darshan for all’. The timings for Sarvadarsanam are different on different days of the week. Please refer the weekly temple programme for the timings. On normal days, about 18 hours are allotted for Sarvadarsanam and on peak days, it is open for 20 hours. Around 50,000 pilgrims visit the main temple every day.
The entrance for Special Darshan is through the PPC (Queue Complex). The queue merges with the Sarvadarsanam queue at Bangaruvakili. Pilgrims who use this queue will have a shorter waiting time. There are two categories of special darshan, with tickets costing Rs. 300 per head. The darshan timings are the same as that for Sarvadarsanam.
Sudarsanam Token System
The Sudarsanam token system was introduced to minimise the waiting time for Sarvadarsanam, Special Darshan and other paid darshan/sevas. Some of its features:
The tokens are available free of cost 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 time of darshan is indicated on the tokens. Pilgrims can enter the Vaikuntam Queue Complex at Tirumala at the time indicated on the tokens They can have darshan within two hours of entering the Queue Complex. As this system saves on waiting time, it 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. To help TTD keep a track of the number of pilgrims and ensure their smooth flow, one token is issued per head. Collective tokens for groups are not issued. Some precautions for you to take:
Collect your Sudarsanam token only from TTD-run counters. Tokens issued by others are not valid. Keep the token tied to your wrist till you finish darshan. Do not exchange tokens. Do not trust touts.
There is a Darshan for the Physically Disabled and the Aged This special darshan is arranged for the physically disabled and the aged through a separate gate at the Maha Dwaram,the main temple entrance. If necessary, such pilgrims can be accompanied by an attendant.
Other places to visit
The Govindaraja Perumal in Thirupathy and the Pathmavathy temple in Thiruchanoor are two other temples in the area well worth a visit.