The most-visited place of worship in the world is none other than our own Tirumala-Tirupati in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The abode of Lord Venkateshwara (also known as Lord Balaji) is Tirumala, the hill town which is 26 kilometres north of Tirupati.
All the way for just few seconds of seeing the Lord:
The Lord Venkateshwara Temple in Tirumala has over 30 million people visiting it on an average daily basis. On special occasions like Brahmotsavam, Vaikunta Ekadasi, the Temple sees nothing less than 5 lakhs of pilgrims queuing up for a darshan (glimpse) of the Lord Venkateshwara idol. The darshan time is hardly a few seconds, 20 seconds if one is really lucky, and yet millions of pilgrims keep coming here from all parts of the country.
A number of devotees offer their hair to the Lord. The hair collected is sold to foreign countries which brings in crores of revenue to the temple. Devotees offer money, ornaments in the Sri Vari Hundi which accounts to crores of revenue every month. All the revenue that is collected is used to provide amenities to the pilgrims and the development and maintenance of the Temple town. Every day, lakhs of devotees are offered free bhojan (meals) by the Temple administration.
Legend of Lord Venkateshwara Temple:
Lord Venkateshwara is one of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Goddess Laxmi hurt after Rishi (Sage) Bhrugu’s kicking of Lord Vishnu on his chest and the subsequent apology from her husband, left Vaikuntha (heaven) to go down to earth. Lord Vishnu incarnated himself as ‘Venkateshwara’ to come down to earth in search of Laxmi Devi.
It was on a hill called Venkata that the Lord set his foot on, and resided at the Varaha Kshetra (house of boar) as Srinivasa. Following Lord Varaha’s agreement, Lord Venkateshwara granted him a boon that every devotee who comes here will pay a darshan first to the Varaha swami.
It was in his incarnation as Lord Venkateshwara or Srinivasa that Lord Vishnu married Padmavathi, a princess. Srinivasa took loan from Kubera to meet the expenses of marrying Padmavathi. Devotees today offer money and ornaments to the temple’s hundi thinking that they are helping Lord Venkateshwara repay Kubera’s loan. This is the reason why Lord Venkateshwara is fondly called in Telugu language as ‘Vaddi Kaasula Vaadu’. Lord Venkateshwara is also known as ‘Edu Kondalavaadu’ which translates to Lord of Seven Hills.
Brief History of the Lord Venkateshwara Temple:
This Vedic temple built in Dravidian architecture style dates back to atleast 300 BC. History has seen the Pallavas, Cholas and the Vijayanagara Kings develop the temple. It was under the famous Vijayanagara King Sri Krishna Deva Raya, that the temple’s glory was at its best.
In recent history, the administration of the Lord Venkateshwara Temple has been entrusted to the TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam) from 1932. TTD has built hundreds of cottages for the accommodation of pilgrims – which are either free or come at very nominal rental rates. The accommodation is given for mainly 24 hours but can be extended.
How to reach Tirumala:
First we have to arrive in Tirupati. Trains are there from every corner of the country to Tirupati. Flights are available to Renigunta airport which is near Tirupati. Public and private buses and vehicles are also available.
From Tirupati, devotees can either get into the free TTD buses to reach up hill at Tirumala. They can also engage vehicles which costs around Rs 500 for one-way travel. Thousands of devotees prefer to climb up the stairs to reach Tirumala which can take around 4-5 hours! There are two footpath routes for devotees – one is Alipiri Mettu (from Alipiri, a 11-kilometer path which passes through the scenic TTD deer park) and the other is Srivari Mettu (from Srinivasa Mangapuram, a 2.1 kilometer path but 15 kms from Tirupati).
On Tirumala, one has to walk around or take the free TTD buses to shuttle from any two spots.
There is enough scope for shopping anything in Tirumala. There are also small tiffin stalls and a few scattered canteens on Tirumala that should be good enough to satisfy your hunger. An important note is try to avoid meals in the nightime as the same items served during lunch are generally repeated which goes down in quality!
Where to stay in Tirumala/Tirupati:
Lots of pilgrims also stay below the hill in Tirupati where they have several options unlike Tirumala which comes strictly under the TTD. In Tirupati, there are several budget hotels and there are also huge TTD complexes like the Vishnu Nivas. For accommodation in TTD controlled guest houses etc, prior booking is recommended which can be done online through their official website or by visiting the regional TTD offices.
The darshan of Lord Venkateshwara can easily take anything from two hours to even 48 hours! Free Darshan is available but it takes several hours. The TTD has come up with ‘Sheegra Darshan’ which costs Rs. 300 per head and this type of darshan as the name suggests takes lesser hours. There are special darshan services for senior citizens (65 years above), for handicapped, and for parents with infants. The criticism of the TTD over the years is their preferential treatment to VIPs. Sadly that continues despite all the flak much to the inconvenience of the common worshiper. So if you came for the Lord’s darshan, hope that there aren’t many VIPs coming at the same time.
Rules to follow in Tirumala:
There are some rules to be followed when you are in Tirumala. For instance, the TTD suggests the devotees to come for the darshan in traditional Indian wear like Dhotis or kurta, pyjama for men, sarees or chudidar for girls and women.
Jeans and other fashion wear are to be strictly avoided. Cooking or eating non-veg, consuming alcohol on Tirumala is a crime. Women are suggested not to wear flowers and all the devotees have to leave their footwear while going for darshan. Cell phones, Camera and other electronic devices, knives and any potentially harmful objects are to be strictly avoided.
A request to the devotees is to be friendly to the co-devotees and be patient enough to have your darshan. Do not get impatient or be in a hurry to complete your darshan as there could be a stampede in the massive queues!