THE MOST popular destination for Hindu pilgrims in India, Tirupati is the site of the Shri Venkateshvara Temple, situated in the Tirumala Hills, 700 m (2,297 ft) above the town. The seven “sacred hills” of Tirumala are believed to symbolize the seven-headed serpent god Adiseshs , on whose coils Vishnu sleeps. The temple dates to the 9th century, although it has often been expanded and renovated from the 15th century onwards.
The aura that surrounds Lord Venkateshvara (a form of Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Balaji) as the “Bestower of Boons” has made his temple the most visited and the richest in India. It eclipses Jerusalem and Rome in the number of pilgrims it attracts – around 25,000 a day, and up to 100,000 on festival days. The gold vimana and flagpole, and the gold-plated doorway into the inner sanctum, proclaim the temple’s wealth. The jet-black stone image, 2-m (7-ft) high, stands on a lotus and is adorned with rubies, diamonds and gold. The deity also wears a diamond crown, believed to be the singlemost precious ornament in the world. He is flanked by his consorts, Sridevi and Bhudevi. The entrance portico has superb life-size images of the Vijayanagara king and queens , who worshipped Venkateshvara as their protective deity.
The entire complex is built to accommodate the huge influx of pilgrims, who come to seek favours from Lord Venkateslavara . This is one of the few temples in South India where non- Hindus are allowed into the inner sanctum. Devotees wait patiently in long queues for a special darshan, and make offerings of money, gold and jewellery that net the temple an annual income of nearly 1.5 billion rupees. The Tirumala Tirupati Deva-sthanans (TTD), which runs the temple, employs a staff of 6,000 to see to the pilgrims’ needs and maintain the temple premises.
The temple complex includes a ritual bathing tank, and a small Art Museum with images of deities, musical instruments and votive objects. Surrounding it are green valleys and the Akash Ganga waterfall, which is the source of the holy water used for bathing the deity.
A unique feature at Tirupati is that many devotees offer their hair to the deity, and there are separate enclosures for this purpose. It is believed that since hair enhances a person’s appearance, shaving it off sheds vanity as well. This offering is usually made after the fulfilment of a wish, The hair-offerings are later exported to the United States and Japan where they are made into wigs.
Most pilgrims stop at the small Ganesha shrine in the foothills, and at the Govinda rajaswamy Temple in Tirupati town, before driving up the hill to the Tirumala shrine. This temple, which dates to the 16th-17th century, is dedicated to both Krishna and Vishnu. Built by the Nayakas, the successors to o the Vijayanagar rulers, it is approached through a massive, grey outer gopura that dominates Tirupati’s skyline, and is carved with scenes from the Ramayana. An exquisite pavilion in the inner courtyard has carved granite pillars, an ornate wooden roof, and impressive sculptures of crouching lions. The temple has a magnificent image of the reclining Vishnu, called Ranganatha, coated with bronze armour. A short distance north of the temple is the Venkateshvara Museum of Temple Arts, with temple models, photographs and ritual objects.
daily. Darshan: 6-1 lam. Extra charges to join the shorter queue for special darshan of the deity