Tirupati happens to be one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the country. Venkateswara, Balaji, Srinivasa or Govinda as the Lord of the Seven Hills is called, is much sought after for a darshan. Devotees stand in queue, sometimes for as long as 36 hours, to see their deity.
A few decades ago, when the crowds became unmanageable, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam created enclosures for the devotees to wait, while they regulated the darshan and entry into the temple. This system, refined through time, had be improved and improvised to reduce waiting time. Even then, on festivals and days special to the Lord, the crowds surge and waiting times increase.
So what is special about Tirupati? The story goes back to the time of Hiranyaksa, the rakshasa, due to whose acts, Bhoomadevi or the earth sank to the bottom of the ocean. In order to kill the rakshasa and rescue her, Lord Vishnu took the form of the Varaha or the boar, to bring her back to float on the top of the ocean called Garbhodaka as the earth always did. Now Bhoomadevi is believed to be Lakshmi incarnate, Lakshmi who is the consort of Lord Vishnu. Thus rescued by him, she was happy to be united with her Lord. All this took place in Satya Yuga.
Life on earth revived and Lord Varaha decided to settle on it with his consort. So he asked the divine serpent Adishesha to come down on earth. He also asked his vahana, Garuda, to bring the Tirumala hill down from his divine abode, Vaikunta. Adishesha coiled into one of the seven hills which came to be called Seshagiri, and Tirumala, brought down from Vaikunta, also became one of the seven, together called the Seshadri, part of the Seshachalam range of hills. The place at that time, began to be called the Varaha Kshetram or the abode of Varaha.
Fast forward to Kali Yuga. A time when man’s goodness is at an all-time low.
In Vaikuntha, Goddess Lakshmi sees her husband insulted by Sage Brughu, who delivers a kick to Lord Vishnu on the chest. Unable to bear watching her husband so humiliated, the Goddess left Vaikunta and went down to earth. It is believed that she descended to Kolhapur, where the very famous temple to Mahalakshmi now is.
Unable to bear the separation from his beloved, Lord Vishnu came down to earth as well, as Srinivasa. Here, in a series of events, Lord Srinivasa was wed to Padmavati, a reincarnation of Goddess Lakshmi herself. Their wedding was funded by Lord Kubera. Lord Srinivasa was wed to Goddess Lakshmi as well. They settled at Venkatadri, another name for Tirumala-Tirupati. The wedding is even now celebrated as the Kalyana Utsavam.
Lord Srinivasa is said to have come to earth to help devotees during Kali Yuga, a time when goodness would be at an all-time low. During this period, prayers to him would be fulfilled. He would also support his devotees through good times and bad. Devotees always visit Goddess Padmavati, who is at the foothills first, before going up for a darshan of Srinivasa.
Historically too, what was once a small temple that was hidden and worshipped by forest dwellers, has been built upon and expanded by various kings and dynasties. King Tondaman is said to have built the first structure for what has now become a giant temple complex.
Another was Princess Samavai of the Pallavas, who not just offered jewellery, but also established the practice of giving offerings to the Lord. This has been gleaned from some of the early inscriptions (614 AD) on the temple itself. The Cholas too contributed to the temple in many ways.
Today, Tirumala continues to be a favoured pilgrim spot. The call of the Lord Srinivasa, say devotees, brings them there. Despite the heat and dust of the crowds, the long queues and hours spent in wait, one glimpse of Venkateswara or Srinivasa, satisfies the devotee.
Tirupati only grows in popularity as belief always gives the individual a path of hope.
- Over 1 crore people visited Tirupati in 2021
- Andhra Pradesh tops as a domestic tourist destination in 2022, thanks to Tirupati
- Every day, an average of 50,000 to 1,00,000 visitors throng the temple
- On New Year 2023, the Tirupati hundi received a donation of Rs.7.6 crores
- Devotees give donations in cash, jewellery and gold