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|Mrudangam||Mannarkudi A Easwaran|
|Violin||R K Shriram Kumar|
When I chant this mantra, I chant all mantras for I have been given the Venkatesha Mantra.
Thus sang Annamacharya, the poet of Tirupati. In two lines he condensed the powers of temple in the world. The most pictorially depicted icon among Hindus, the most frequented pilgrim centre in India. That is Tirumala in Tirupati, referred to as Tirupati in short. Situated in Chittor District of Andhra Pradesh state, the temple is located near the peak of a series of seven hills the Sapta Giri (Seven Hills), The entire range is a part of the Eastern Chats and is called Seshachalam after the peak on which the principal temple of Venkateswara stands.
The Rishis had assembled to perform a sacrifice, when Narada arraived and asked them as to whom the fruits of the sacrifice were to be dedicated. The sages were in a quandary and deputed Bhrigu, the senior Rishi to identify the most deserving deity. Bhrigu visited Brahma and Siva. Who were not very welcoming to him. In a rage, the sage arrived in Vaikuntham, where finding Vishnu in yoga nidra (meditative trance) he kicked him on the chest. Lord Vishnu sprang up and clutching the foot of the sage. Begged his forgiveness. Hoping that his chest, hardened by many a battle with Rakshasa, had not hurt him. The sage, mollified, lfet for the sacrificial site, convinced that Vishnu alone was the deserving deity.
Sage Bhrigu in kicking Vishnu on the chest, the abode of Lakshmi, had hurt her too. Upset at Lord Vishnu begging the pardon of a sage who had insulted her, the Goddess left Vaikuntham and proceeded to the Earth, where she engaged in meditation at Karavirapura. Vishnu, desolate at the loss of his wife,followed suit and arriving at the Tiruvengadam hill, worshipped at the shrine of Bhuvaraha Swami. His own earlier incarnation. This temple is close to the Swami Pushkarini Tank and it is customary to have darshan of this deity before worshipping Lord Venkateswara till date.
The lord then settled under a tamarind tree and engaged in meditation. Ad and hill soon covered him up. The Gods, worried at the penance of the Lord, approached Goddess Lakshmi. She bade Brahma and Shiva to take the forms of cow and calf respectively and herself taking the guise of a milk maiden, they proceeded to the court of the Chola king under whose rule the Tiruvenkadam hill fell. The cow and calf were sold to the royal cowshed every day, the cowherd would take the cows in the palace to the hill. The divine cow, would empty its udders into the anthill, thereby providing Vishnu with nourishment. Consequently it would have no milk when it returned to the palace. This worried the cowherd. Who one day kept watch on the cow. Enraged on seeing it?s milk flow into the ant hill, he flung his axe at the cow. The axe fell on the anthill and causing it to crumble, hit the Lord on his forehead. The cowherd fell dead in fright and the cow and calf rushed back to the palace in great distress. The king arrived and was cursed by the Lord to wander as a spirit till his rebirth as Akasa Raja who would rule the land. He also blessed him that he would have a daughter called Padmavati, whom one day the Lord would marry. The Lord continued to live at the hills looked after by a lady called Vakulamalika, who was the reincarnation of Yasoda.
In time, Akasa Raja ruled over the kingdom. Childless, he performed a sacrifice for getting progeny. As the land for the site was being tilled, the plough brought forth a casket from the ground. On opening it, the king found a baby girl nestling in a lotus. She was given the name Padmavati. This child was the reincarnation of Vedavati, a mainden who in her previous birth had prayed to be married to Lord Vishnu, Ravana, had tried to molest her and she shad jumped into a sacrificial fire, cursing him that one day she would destroy his race. In the Rama Avatara, Vedavati had taken the place of Sita when Ravana abducted her and bad given Sita to Agni, the fire God for safe keeping. When Ravana was killed by Rama. Vedavati entered the fire and returned the original Sita. The lord, highly pleased had promised to marry her in another birth.
Padmavati grew into a lovely maiden and one day, the Lord swa hre and desired her hand in marriage. Padmavati too yearned for being married to him. The Lord, taking the disguise of a gypsy woman, came to the palace claiming to be a soothsayer. He predicted the marriage of Padmavati to Srinivasa and also said that an old woman would soon come by to ask for Padmavati?s hand in marriage to Srinivasa. The Lord then sent Vakulamalika on this mission and the alliance was fixed. Al the deities arrived to celebrate the occasion. Kubera loaned money to Vishnu (who in the absence of Lakshmi was impoverished). But the Lord was distressed at Lakshmi?s continued absence. The other deities intervened and soon effected reconciliation. Lakshmi returned and took her position on the right side of the Lord?s chest. Padmavati was enshrined on the left. The Lord then asked Akasha Raja and his brother Tondaiman to build him a temple. He then took residence in it, promising to bless devotees for all time to come. Padmavati as Alamelumanga was enshrined at Tiruchanur, a temple a few miles away.
Historical References : The earliest record of this temple, is in the Tamizh compilation, the ahanAnUru. The Silapathikaram of Ilango (circa 2nd century AD) refers to the Tiruvenkadam hill. It also describes the Pulangi seva of Thursday afternoon, when the Lord is decorated only with flowers. Queen Samavai?s offerings comprise the first record in the temple. Over 1180 historical inscriptions of donations and offering have been compiled by the temple authorities in a series of books. Among the most munificent was King Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar (ruled 1509 ? 29 AD), who visited the temple seven times during his reign. He and his queens made many gifts of land, vessels and hewelry. During British times, Sir Thomas Munroe, Governor of Madras Presidency (1820 27 AD) made donations to the temple on being cured of an illness.
The roads leading to and form the peak are exceedingly picturesque and many pilgrims prefer to trek the distance of about seven miles, the ascent or descent taking about four hours. The initial climb is the toughest, till one crosses an empty tower, called the Gall Gopuram, built in 1626, by a chieftain of Cuddappah. This is at a height of 3000 feet, from which a panoramic view of the neighboring country can be obtained. Pilgrims an be seen in groups, chanting the name of the Lord, as they trek this arduous portion. The next difficult phase called the Muzhangal Mudicchu (knee breaker) is associated with Saint Ramanuja. A mantapam here is said to be the place where he obtained his initiation from his uncle, Tirumalai Nambi. This shrine is called the Bhashyakara Sannidhi. Close by is the Ghanta Mantapam, where once a bell hung. This would be rung once the principal offering or neivedyam was offered to the deity. Without this signal King Ragunatha Ydahavaraya of Chandragiri (1336-56) would never ? partake of his meal.
Arriving at the summit, one is engulfed in an atmosphere of piety and religious fervor. Every day in Tirumala is a celebration, a festival. The whole town has but one focus ? the temple. Surrounding the temple and the town, are numerous holy tanks and lakes, of which the most important are the Akasha Ganga, a few miles from the temple. The waters of the Akasha Gana are used everyday for anointing the deity.
The outer gopuram is of five stories many of the historical benefactors of the temple are commemorated in statue form in this tower and in the surrounding areas. One crosses status of King Venkatapathiraya, kind Achyutaraya and his wife Vradarajammani, King Krishnadevaraya and his two wives Tirumala and Chinna Devis and finally, Raja Todarmal, his mother Mohana Dai and his wife Oreeta Bibi. Close by is the Ranganayakalu Mantapa, where between the years 1320 and 1360, lord Ranganatha of Srirangam was enshrined to escape from the Mohammedans.
The outer path of circumambulation is called the Sampangi Pradakshinam as it was once a grove of Sampangi trees. On one side is the Poola Bavi, a well into which used flowers were once deposited, but which is now closed. The Dhwajasthamba Mantapam is next, which houses the flagstaff of the temple. One enters the inner gopuram of the temple next and arrives at the next path for circumambulation called the Vimana Pradakshina. This is the area where anga pradakshina is performed. Devotes roll along this path, in circumambulation, ensuring that every part of their body touches the ground. This corridor houses the Varadaraja Mantapam, where Lord Varadaraja of Kanchipuram was enshrined during Muslim invasions. This corridor also houses the Bangaru Bavi, the golden well, from which water is drawn for copking the temple offerings.
The great canopy, Ananda Nilayam is visible from here. This is the tower under which the principal deity Lord Venkateswara is enshrined. The vimana is covered in sheets of gold. First gilded in circa 1200 AD, it has been repeated by various monarchs and was last done in 1958 by the temple authorities. On this tower is the statue of Vimana Venkateswara, a replica of the Lord in the sanctum. Devotees pause here to have a darshan of this idol. A shrine for Saint Ramanuja is also in this corridor. The corridon opens into the Tirumamani Mantapam which houses the Garuda shrine and the giant Hundi, the offertory bag into which devotees drop their cash and jewel offierings. The great bells of the temple, said to chime the words ?Govinda Govinda? are also here. One crosses this mantapam and enters the Bangaru Vakili, the gateway of gold, famed for its carvings of the ten incarnations and twelve manifestations of Vishnu. From here it is a straight path to the sanctum, crossing the deities of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, Sugriva and Angada. In between, we cross the Snapana Mantapam and the Sayana Mantapam. The lst step, separating us from the sanctum sanctorum is called the Kulashekhara Padi, named after Kulashekhara Azhwar.
The moolavar, or the dhruva bera, is tall and captivates us for the few moments that we are allowed to be there. Said to have originated by itself, it shows Lord Srinivasa in a standing posture. The eyes are mostly covered by the Vaishnavite Tirunamam and only on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings are they visible to devotees. This is called the ?nEtra darshanam?. The Lord sports a grown gifted by his father in law, Akasha Raja. The chin of the Lord bears a scar, said to have occurred when Anantazhwan, the Lord?s devotee who tended the temple gardens, flung a plough at the Lord, mistaking him to be an interloper into the gardens. The scar is treated everyday with camphor, which accounts for its white colour. On the shoulder, it is said there is a scar, indicating the place where he wore the bow in the Ram Avatra. The chest has Lakshmi on the right hand side, who is worshipped deparately. On the left side is Goddess Padmavathi, added as a separate medallion by Ramanuja. The right hand of the Lord is in the posture of giving boons. The left hand rests on the left thigh and is parallel to the waist. It indicates that the ocean of worldliness is only knee deep to the devotees of the Lord. The other two arms are usually hidden by garlands, but prominently visible are the conch and discus held by them. These are detachable and were added by Ramajuja. On his waist, the Lord wears the Dasavatara belt which also encloses a small dagger. The feet of the Lord are always covered with a gold kavaca except late at night and during the abhishekams conducted on Fridays.
It is but natural that one overlooks the other deities in the sanctum, while admiring the main idol. There are seven more idols. The first is that of Lord Krishna in dancing pose, with Rukmini by his side. This idol is worshipped only in the month of Margazhi (Dec/Jan). when it becomes the main Utsava Murthy. Next comes the Bhoga Srinivasamurthy, a replica of the main idol, in silver, that receives the daily abhishekams and also most of the daily worship. It was consecrated in 966 AD, at the behest of Samavai, a Pallava pricess, who also donated land for dunding regular worshop. The ugra Srinivasamurthy is alos present here. This represents the Lrod in an angry nood and is never exposed to sunlight. It leaves the temple on three occasions, and returns before surise. The main Utsava murthy, Malayappa Swami, with his two consorts, is the one which participates in all the processions and daily Kalyana Utsavams. The Koluvu Srinivasa, is a unique idol. Dating from British times, Darbar or Koluvu is a daily ritual at the temple. This idol is seated on a silver chair, with an umbrella over it and daily accounts and the almance are read out to it. We also have the Chakrattalvar (Sudarshana) in the sanctum and Rama with Seetha, Lakshmana and Hanuman.
Thoughout the day, special offerings and worship are carried out for the deities. The day begins before dawn with Suprabhatam, the act of waking up the Lord. This is followed by Pujas. The next important seva is the Tomala (corrupted from Togutta mala in Tamizh) when garland of flowers are strung and offered. The Koluvu follows next. There are two archanas that follow with another Tomala. In between these special rituals, the devotees continuously queue up for darshan. The last act is the Ekanta, when the Bhoga Srinivasamurthy (except in Margazhi when it is Lord Krishna) is placed in a silver cradle in the Sayana mantapa and gently rocked to sleep to the strains of Annamacharya?s songs sung by his descendents. Articles of worship are prepared and left in the sanctum before the lights belived that Lord Brahma visits in the night and worships the deity.
Every year, the Brahmotsava or the annual festival is celebrated for nine days in the month of Purattasi (Sep/Oct). The Malayappa Swami is taken out in procession on all nince days in the morning and evening, in various outfits and on different mounts. Continuous chanting of the Vedas and sacrifices mark this celebration. The event draws huge crowds.
Saints and Savants:
Of the Azhawars, ten have done mangalasasanam at this temple. Sri Ramanuja not only stayed here but also laid down the rules of worship. His disciple Anatazhwan tended the gradens and also supplied garlands. Adi Sankara is also believed to have visited the shrine.
Talapakka Annamacharya (1408 ? 1503 AD) the great composer can be called the poet laureate of this temple. He composed over 32000 songs on the deity and his consort, alla of which were engraved on copper plates and kept in a sealed chamber. Some 12000 were unearthed in 1922 after which they have become an intergral part of Carnatic music repertoire. Purandaradasa (1485 ? 1565), the father of Carnatic Music visited the shrine and me Annamacharya also. He too composed on the deities.
Among the Trinity, both Tyagaraja (1767 ? 1847 AD) and muttuswamy Dikshitar (1775 ? 1835AD) composed at this temple. It is said that Dikshita?s younger brother Chinnaswami regained his eyesight after their father Ramaswamy Dikshitar worshipped at this temple. Syama Sastry?s son Subburaya Sastry (1800-62 AD) visited the temple and composed vEnkaTashaila vihAra in hamir kalayni here.
In Hinduism it is believed tht a temple is mad great by the saints and savants who visit it. In the case of Tirumala, it is unquestionable the common devotees too, who think nothing of climbing the hill, standing in long queues and then having a fleeting glimpse of the deity. In that one moment, they experience a bliss that cannot be defined. They leave, determined to return again, to renew their faith and their contact with Godhead.