A visit to Tirupati these days is usually a hurried one, people rushing to the main temple, making their way through the never ending queues just for a glimpse of the Lord, and then rushing back again to their normal lives. This time, when I decided to make a leisurely trip, one of the things I had in mind was to visit all the temples there in the order in which they were to be visited. Yes, there are more temples around, and each one is traditionally visited in a particular order.
To understand the reason for this apparent hierarchy in the temples, it is necessary to first understand the story of this temple. For those of who have the patience, you can read the entire story which I have posted earlier on this blog. Here is the link to the first part.
Each post is linked to the next part in the series, and is a complete and detailed account of the story. For those of you who either don’t have the patience to read through the entire story, or are pressed for time, here is an abridged version.
The story begins with an argument between Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, which results in the goddess leaving Vaikuntam and taking up residence on earth, at Kolhapur, and plunging into a long period of deep meditation. Deprived of his consort, the Lord is disconsolate, and also descends on earth to meditate. With the passage of time, Lord Vishnu becomes weaker, since he no longer is blessed by the goddess of prosperity, and he is covered by anthills. In such a state, the other Gods come to his aid, and plead with Lakshmi on his behalf, who agrees to help. Taking the form of a cowherd, she goes to the king of that area, and gifts him a cow and a calf (really Brahma and Shiva in disguise). The king’s cowherd gets suspicious when the cow doesn’t provide enough milk. He follows the cow and calf to discover that the cow empties its udders on an ant hill. Spurred on by the king, the cowherd breaks the ant hill, only to find blood flowing out. When they clear the anthill, they find Lord Vishnu with a deep gash on his forehead. Disturbed from his meditation, and unable to remain there, Lord Vishnu wanders around the forests, looking for herbs to cure his wound. He meets a huntress and her son, who adopt him and take care of him till he grows stronger. He starts hunting to help out his family, taking permission from Varaha (Vishnu himself in the form of a wild boar), who owns the area, to live there. One day, he saves a princess from a rogue elephant and falls in love with her. She is Padmavati, a form of Bhudevi (the goddess of earth) born to the king of a nearby kingdom. Padmavati too falls in love with him, but is too shy to express her feelings to anybody. Vishnu confides in his adopted mother, Vakula Devi, who sets out to ask the king for the princess’ hand in marriage to her son. Meanwhile, the Lord takes the form of a gypsy and enters the palace, and informs the queen and the princess of the hunter’s identity, encouraging them to assent to the marriage. The gods too are aware of the developments, and Narada arrives to inform the king of his good fortune. Vakula Devi is welcomed into the palace, and the king agrees to the marriage without a demur. The lord, however, realizes that he is a pauper, and does not want to embarrass the king by arriving for the marriage like one. He therefore takes a loan from Kubera, the god of wealth, for the purpose, and the marriage is solemnized with all pomp and splendor. Once the marriage is over, the Lord is faced with two major issues – one is the Goddess Lakshmi, who arrives from Kolhapur, and the second is the loan from Kubera, which he has to repay at the end of the Kali Yuga. He explains to Lakshmi, the necessity of his marriage to Padmavati, who is Bhudevi, and gives them both a place in his heart – Sridevi (Lakshmi) on his left, and Bhudevi on his right. Moreover, he decides to take his abode at Tirumala (on the hill), while Padmavati remains at Tiruchanur, and pledges all the offerings from his devotees towards payment of the loan. Sridevi’s presence by his side there ensures not just his prosperity, but also her blessings to all those who arrive there to pray to him. He also asks his older brother (the son of Vakula Devi) to ensure that the regular payment of interest to Kubera is made.
This then is the story of Sri Venkateswara, with all the characters who play prominent roles in the divine drama.
Accordingly, when we visit Tirupati, we first visit Govindaraja Perumal – the older brother of Lord Venkateswara, who resides on the foothills. It is said that he was so tired of measuring the offerings, that he decided to lie down with his head on the measure itself! So, this is the form in which we see the Lord at the Govindarajaswamy Temple. We visit him first because he is the Lord’s older brother, and it is the Indian tradition to visit the oldest people in the family first.
Here is the temple gopuram as seen from our room - since cameras had to be given up right at the entry, I had no chance of taking even a single pic of this temple... and yes, if you visit this temple, make sure you wear a saree, or if you are wearing a salwar kameez or even jeans, carry a dupatta or a stole along! I didnt have one, so they refused me entry! I had to buy one for Rs.60 at the entrance. Yes, thats another option too!
Once we climb up the hill, we are first supposed to visit the temple of Varahaswamy – the Lord in the form of Varaha, a wild boar. According to legend, the entire mountain range of Tirupati, or Sheshachala, is said to be the property of Varaha, who brought up the earth from the bowels of the ocean. Lord Venkateswara is said to have taken permission to reside here from Lord Varaha. The land itself is still believed to belong to Varahaswamy, and Lord Venkateswara is said to have leased this particular area from him. Since the Lord then had no money to pay for the lease, he is said to have asked his devotees to first visit Varahaswamy and make their offerings to him before visiting the main temple. This temple, then, is the second port of call when we visit Tirupati.
|Image of Varaha Swamy in the temple.|
Image courtesy: Internet
Next in line is the main temple itself, about which, nothing needs to be said.
Within the temple itself, in the left corridor of the main shrine, is the erstwhile kitchen, where we see a figure of the Lord’s mother – Vakula Devi. She is said to stay next to her son, to ensure that her son is properly taken care of, and she is the one we are supposed to see immediately after having darshan of the Lord.
Next in line is the figure of Lord Venkateswara on the gopuram – Vimana Venkateswara Swamy – who is an exact replica of the figure in the sanctum. These days there is huge crowd waiting in line to see this figure from the vantage points, but I think the reason for its importance is simply that it is easier to see the Lord here than inside the sanctum!
There is also an image of Lakshmi on the right side of the sanctum, next to the place where the Hundi (Box of offerings) is kept. Interestingly, I have noticed this figure only on my recent visits – and this time, another Hundi had appeared here too! There are also other deities inside the temple, but considering the crowd, it is practically impossible to see all of them, so let’s move on!
Once we finish with the temples on the hill, the first temple we are supposed to visit is that of Padmavati at Tiruchanur. As consort of the lord, she occupies a place of prime importance, and her shrine is these days as crowded as that of her husband. A visit to Tirupati is said to be incomplete without a visit to Tiruchanur.
Going off topic for a while, here is something for all those of you who visit South Indian temples. In most temples I have visited, the gopuram has an image of the deity inside, and stories related to the deity. At the most, the gopuram might have images of deities related to the main one! Now, I have no chance of getting a closer look at the main temple gopuram - if you linger around, even for a minute, a security guard comes to shoo you off! But if you notice the gopuram of the Varahaswamy temple, it has an image of Lakshmi on it! and the gopuram of the Tiruchanur Padmavati temple is covered with images of Narasimha! Any ideas why????
A visit to Tiruchanur usually concludes a visit to Tirupati. However, in a broader sense, the visit is incomplete without a visit to Kolhapur, which is still considered to be the abode of Lakshmi. While I have visited Kolhapur before, I have not yet combined the two pilgrimages, though these days it is quite easy, with the Indian Railways running trains from Tirupati to Kolhapur! We even met a family on the train who does the entire circuit every year, from Tirupati to Kolhapur.
A visit to Tirupati is not all that difficult these days. It is possible to book sevas and accommodation online through the TTD website. TTD rooms are available at various rates, but the demand is high, and rooms are not always available, so you need to plan your trip well in advance. Another disadvantage with TTD is that rooms are never given to single travelers, and even for families, only one room is given. Besides, rooms are allotted only for one day (24 hours) and extension is not all that easy! However, accommodation is the least of the problems, since there are plenty of options, and you can easily book hotels in Tirupati online. These provide better options for stay! For a quick trip, I would advise booking a seva online, and a room at Tirupati (on the foothills), and making the journey up and down the hill by car at the time of the seva. Staying on the hill presents its own problems, such as road restrictions and crowd.
Incidentally, these are just the few main temples at Tirupati. There are a lot more coming up!