Hailed as the richest temple in Hindudom, Sri Venkaeswara temple, in Tirumala, is also as the biggest draw on the pilgrimage circuit. With an average 50,000 devotees flocking the temple-town on an ordinary day the figure shooting past the 100,000 mark on festive occasions Tirupati is said to have overtaken the Vaticanas the most visited religious place on the planet. Some go on to claim that Tirupati has surpassed the Vatican in terms of revenue as well. But this is clearly an exaggeration. The Vatican is as good as any sovereign, independent nation, and is run like a multi-national corporation. The pope is the CEO, overseeing the temporal as well as the regigious affairs of his fiefdom. Tirupati, on the other hand, is run by a trust board, with an IAS appointee as its Executive Officer, overseeing about 18,000 unionized employees, in state-guaranteed jobs. The TTD runs universities, hospitals, funds marriages, and has a television channel of its own:SVBC.
This ancient temple lies on the peak of the seventh hill, Venkatachalam, from whence comes the Lord's name, Venkaeswara (Lord of Venkata Hills). The seven hills are known as Seshachala, as they resemble the hood of Sesha, the Lord's snake couch. Tirumala is the name of the sacred hill, while Tirupati is the tow below. The hills are at an altitude of nearly 1,000 metres. The alwars, the Puranas, and the sthala puranas all sig in praise of the Lord as the only One who can bestow salvation in Kali Yuga. The shrine finds mention in several Puranas, the Varaha Purana and the Bhavishyottara Purana, being the two important ones. The most popular legend concerning the Lord of Seven Hills is that He came on earth as Srinivasa and became the adopted son of Bahula Devi. Bajula Devi is said to have been Yashoda n her previous life. In course of time, Srinivasa Meets Padmavathy, who is an incarnation of Bhudevi, and the daughter of Akasa Raja, the local king. They fall in love and get married. All this while His consort, Sridevi, is engaged in penance, waiting for Him. The trio then meet on Venkata Hill. As the ladies argue over who He rightly belongs to, the Lord turns into stone His work on earth accomplished. Sri Padmavathy return to Her abode in Alamelumangapuram or Tiruchanur, while Sridevi, according to one school,is Sri Mahalakshmi of ancient Karveer region, now indentified as Kolhapur in Maharashtra.
All great dynasties that ruled South India contributed magnificently towards the Temple's upkeep. Epigraphical and literary evidences show that the Pallavas, the Imperial Cholas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar emperors and their Nayak successors outdid one another in endowing the temple with rich offerings. It was, however, the Vijayanagar monarch, Sri Krishnadeva Raya, who vastly increased the endowment to the temple. Later, the Maratha rulers and Mysore Kings created large endowments and gifted huge amounts of jewellery which are still in the temple's preserve.
Thondaman, an ancient ruler of Thondaimandalam (the Vellore region of present Tamil Nadu), chanced to ee, during a hunting expedition, the blue-bodied Vishnu idol, with only a tamarind tree protecting the Lord from the elements. He then built a prakara (enclosure) and a gopuram at the entrance. That, now, constitutes the sanctum sanctorum around which the temple complex has come up. As you enterhe Mahadwaram (great entrance), you encounter the Sri Krishnadeva Raya Mandapam, so called because it contains the life-size bronzes of the emperor with his two queens. The Mndapam has many sculptures, including stone statues of Achyuta Raya (1529-42)and Venkatapathi Raya, who ruled from Chandragiri over the remnants of the Vijayanagar Empire, after its annihilation in 1565.
Tremendous changes have taken place in Tirumala over the years. The encroachments along the path to the temple have been removed, and the shopkeepers have been relocated some distance away, near the bus stand. The previously encroached stretch is now a wide open area. At some distance from the temple, on elevated ground, is the place earmarked for devotees to burn incense and camphor. You no longer need to get a token for a free meal. You can just walk into the massive Annadhana hall any time of the day for the meal. The TTD has built up an enormous corpus for the purpose. The place is hyginic and the food tasty. It normally takes six to eight hours to get near the sanctum, but, on some days, ten to twelve hours.
There are several modes of transport for travel to Tirumala hills, the abode of Lord Venkateswara. The cheapest option, the APSRTC bus, is specially designed to negotiate the ghat roads. There are buses every few minutes from the Tirupati bus terminal. It takes about 45 minutes to cover the 12km distance between Tirupati and Tirumala.
How to reach Tirumala
Getting there is the easy part. Darshan is in a different category altogether.
Rooms are now restricted to 24 hours. They range from the vast number of free choultries to the stylish guest houses, all owned by the TTD. Reservation is a must, during holidays and the Brahmostsavam (twice a year). Check with the TTD Information Centre in your city.