Tirupati Balaji Temple
Tirupati is situated in Chittoor District in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Tirupati is one of the important pilgrim centers in India. The ancient and sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara is located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the Tirupati Hill. This historic shrine of Sri Venkateswara is famous all over the country and attracts pilgrims from all over the country who stand in line for hours together to obtain a glimpse of the presiding deity for a few fleeting seconds.
The shrine is located on a hill at Tirumala, a cluster of seven hills known as Seshachalam or Venkatachalam with an elevation of 853m (2,800ft.) above the sea level. It is said to be the second richest temple in the world. This temple is a vibrant cultural and philanthropic institution with a grand history spanning several centuries.
All the great dynasties of rulers of the southern peninsula paid homage to Lord Sri Venkateswara in this ancient shrine. The Pallavas of Kancheepuram (9th century AD),the Cholas of Thanjavur (a century later),the Pandyas of Madurai, and the kings and chieftains of Vijayanagar (14th – 15th century AD) were devotees of the Lord.
Tirupati is a fine example of Dravidian temple architecture. The ‘gopuram’ or tower of the Tirupati Temple shows a characteristic feature of Dravidian architecture. The ‘Vimana’ or Cupola over the sanctum sanctorum is covered entirely with gold plate and is known as “The Ananda Nilayam”. The Shrine consists of three ‘Prakarams’ or enclosures. The outermost enclosure contains the ‘Dhvajastambha’ or the banner post and, among others, the statues of Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya and his consorts, and of Todarmal, the minister of Akbar.
The idol of the deity, the full figure of Lord Venkateswara or ‘Venkataramana’ or ‘Srinivasa’ or ‘Balaji’ has the attributes of both Vishnu and Shiva, preserving and destroying aspects of the Hindu Trinity.
Padi Kavali Maha Dwara:
The Padi Kavali Maha Dwara or Outer Gopuram stands on a quadrangular base. Its architecture is that of the later Chola period. The inscriptions on the gopuram belong to 13th century. There are a number of stucco figures of Vaishnava gods like Hanuman, Kevale Narasimha and Lakshmi Narasimha on the gopuram.
The path for circumnavigating the temple is called a Pradakshinam. The main temple has three Prakarams. Between the outermost and middle Prakarams is the second pathway for circumambulation known as the Sampangi Pradakshinam. Currently, this pathway is closed to pilgrims. The Sampangi Pradakshinam contains several interesting mandapams like the Pratima Mandapam, Ranga Mandapam, Tirumala Raya Mandapam, Saluva Narasimha Mandapam, Aina Mahal and Dhvajastambha Mandapam.
Ranga Mandapam, also called the Ranganayakula Mandapam, is located in the south-eastern corner of the Sampangi Pradakshinam. The shrine within it is believed to be the place where the utsava murti of Lord Ranganadha of Srirangam was kept during the 14th century, when Srirangam was occupied by Muslim rulers. It is said to have been constructed between 1320 and 1360 AD by the Yadava ruler Sri Ranganadha Yadava Raya. It is constructed according to the Vijayanagara style of architecture.
Tirumala Raya Mandapam :
Adjoining the Ranga Mandapam on the western side, and facing the Dhvajastambha Mandapam is a spacious complex of pavilions known as the Tirumala Raya Mandapam or Anna Unjal Mandapam.
It consists of two different levels, the front at a lower level and the rear at a higher. The southern or inner portion of this Mandapam was constructed by Saluva Narasimha in 1473 AD to celebrate a festival for Sri Venkateswara called Anna Unjal Tirunal. This structure was extended to its present size by Araviti Bukkaraya Ramaraja, Sriranga Raja and Tirumala Raja.
It is in this Mandapam, that the utsava murthi Malayappan, holds His annual darbar or Asthanam during the hoisting of the Garudadhwaja on Dhwajastambham to mark the commencement of Brahmotsavam. Incidentally, the prasadam distributed on this occasion is still called Tirumalarayan Pongal.
Tirumala Raya Mandapam:
The Mandapam has a typical complex of pillars in the Vijayanagara style, with a central pillar surrounded by smaller pillars, some of which emit musical notes when struck with a stone. The main pillars have rearing horses with warriors mounted on them. Some of the best sculptures of the temple are found in bold relief in the Mandapam. The bronze statues of Todermallu, his mother Matha Mohana Devi and wife Pitha Bibi are kept in a corner of the Mandapam.
The Aina Mahal:
The Aina Mahal is on the northern side of the Tirumala Raya Mandapam. It consists of two parts – an open Mandapam in the front consisting of six rows comprising six pillars each, and a shrine behind it consisting of an Antarala and Garbhagriha. It has large mirrors which reflect images in an infinite series. There is an Unjal in the middle of the room in which the Lord is seated and festivals conducted.
Saint Ramanujacharya prescribed all the elaborate rituals and mode of worship in the temple that are still followed by the priests and devotees. Anointing the idol with camphor, and the offering by pilgrims of the hair on their heads by getting themselves shaved by licensed barbers are the important customs in vogue at Tirupati Temple.
The most famous is the annual festival called ‘Brahmotsavam’, which is celebrated on grand scale for nine days in September, attracting pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the country. The fifth and ninth days of the festival are especially significant in as much as Garudostavam and Rathotavam takes place on those days.