The Tirupati Temple is the richest Hindu temple in India. It is said to be among the wealthiest religious institution in the world only second to the Vatican (Sinopoli 165). The temple is located in the seven hills of Tirumala; this is primarily why the deity that resides on this hill, Sri Venkatesvara, is nicknamed “the God of Seven Hills.” The seven hills are believed to be a symbol of the seven hoods of the serpent deity, Adisesa. The Tirupati temple is said to be the most sacred place for all Hindus, and attracts the largest number of visitors of any temple in India (Harinarayana 76). Around the hills there are four streamlets that are believed to be sacred waters. These waters form a reservoir and provide for the needs of those who live in Tirumala. Early on, the Tirupati Temple was relatively difficult to visit. The location was not made for easy mobility being nestled in the middle of abundant forest at an elevation of approximately 1000m above sea level (Narayanan 2018). The forest was much denser a century ago than it is today. This is because of the poor care and inhabitants of the village making room for living space. It was not until later development that integrated paths and other facilities were built that allowed for ease to travelers. Hundreds of buses, cars and a variety of other motor vehicles travel these roads each day. In a given day, approximately 50,000 to 100,000 people enter the temple grounds to achieve a glimpse of the glory of the temple and experience the God of the Seven Hills (Reddy 20).
Tirumala was most famous for its glory in a period of 200 years between the fourteenth and sixteenth century. Many pilgrims from South India traveled long distances to worship the deity. Between 1940 and 1975, there was a boom in infrastructure around the Tirupati Temple. People began to build hotels, housing, shops and bus stations to accommodate the pilgrims. There is a queue system that has been implemented and that is consistently being improved at the Tirupati Temple to make worship easier for the many devotees that travel to the location in the far-away hills (Reddy 24).
Venkatesvara is said to be a manifestation of Visnu that resides in the temple. Temples dedicated to this deity have also been built in many other countries including the United States, Canada and Australia. Venkatesvara is very distinctive in his representation. Statues in temples are always depicted in standing posture, at roughly 5 to 7 feet tall, which is contrast to Visnu who is most often portrayed in a seated position. He carries a conch on his left shoulder and on his right he carries a wheel, similar to many other representations of Visnu. He may also be seen with his left arm pointed straight down with his left hand curving slightly inward. This is a hand gesture (mudra) intended to summon his devotees to come and follow him. The right hand is shown by a flattened palm, facing the devotee with fingers pointing to the ground. This gesture is known to be “favor giving” and is called varadamudra. The intention behind this mudra is to indicate the desire to provide his devotees with anything and all that they yearn for.
Venkatesvara can also often be seen with a thick white forehead marking called “namam” in the shape of a V. This marking is said to cover his eyes to shield those from the intensity and strength of his gaze. Many devotees travel to Tirupati just to see and be seen by this mysterious and powerful gaze. While Venkatesvara is connected to Visnu, he also carries presence of Laksmi as well. This is symbolized by two garlands of flowers that hang around his chest with her image placed on the inside on top of his heart. Her name is also encrypted on the right side of his chest.
Because of the growth in belief of Sri Venkatesvara throughout history, the temple began to earn more abundant offerings given by the devotees. These usually were offered in the forms of cash and gold (Harinarayana 76). Beginning around the 10th century there are recorded donations of land and jewelry as well to the lord of the hills. Another popular gift given to the god of the hills is that of hair (mundana). This stems from a well-known tale about Sri Venkatesvara, that tells about his experience “falling into a debt trap in order to make a dowry for his marriage with a local girl named Padmavati in Tirupati” (Kumar 235). Many devotees believe that he continues to pay this dowry in interest, and in the donation of their hair they help to pay for some of that interest on his behalf. Because of this, he has been nicknamed “a deity who lives on the interest paid by devotees.”
The ways of prayer that are practiced in Hindu temples ordinarily include offerings of flowers, coconuts, cash, or gold. These items are offered to the gods so that one may stand before them to worship for a few seconds or minutes depending on the crowd. In the Tirupati Temple there are 5 sacred performances practiced to honor Sri Venkatesvara: the Nityotsavams, the Vaarotsavams, the Maasotsavams, the Pakshotsavams, and the Samvatsarotsavams. All together these are named Utsavams. These religious performances are all distinguished by the increments in which they are performed. Nityotsavams are performed daily, Pakshotsavams are once in a fortnite, Maasotsavams are once a month, Samvatsarotsavams are once a year, and the Vaarotsavams are performed only on specific days of the week (Reddy 105). There are also rules and regulations in which each ritual must be performed, these are known as agamas. All sacred performances done to worship lord Venkatesvara must align with the rules specified by the Vaikhanasa Agama.
Daily morning practice at the Tirupati Temple begins with worship at 2 am, when the deity is woken with offerings of sugar, milk and butter. Within an hour following this, the cleaning and bathing ritual (tomala seva) is performed and is concluded with koluvu, which translates to “holding the court”. While verses from Sanskrit and Telugu hymns are performed and read, it is important for the pilgrims to inform the deity of his many incomes. There are three types of daily worship that Sri Venkatesvara receives. These include, reciting the 1,000 names (sahasranama arcana) and two separate types of praise (archana). Only the priest carries out the duty of reciting Venkatesvara’s 1000 names, followed by the second archana that includes the reciting of 108 names of Venkatesvara from the Vardha Puran. This is concluded with worship participated in by the devotees and Sri Venkatesvara is put to rest in the evening with a ritual called ekanta seva (Kumar 237).
While the week is already hectic with the many consistent daily rituals (nityotsavams) that are practiced, there is also other sacred practices throughout the week that takes place. Special worship is held on Mondays, 108 golden lotuses worship on Tuesdays and the bathing of Venketvara with the pouring of thousands of pots of water is on Wednesday. On Thursdays food and flowers are generally offered, and on Fridays new clothes and baths are given. While each of these rituals take place, there is a reciting of Tamil and Sanskrit verses in the inner walls of the temple. Outside the temple walls Telugu verses of Annamayya are read instead.
A large portion of the political and social identity of the Tirupati Temple can be tied back to craft producers during the Vijayanagara period. There are detailed inscriptions found in Tirupati on the temple walls that are directly related to these craft producers. Much of the wealth also comes from the abundance of royal and elite patronage that is prominent in the history of the temple (Sinopoli 165). The crafts people referred to are often land-owners, temple donors, officials, poets and bards. These groups likely were tied to royal households and inherited considerable amounts of wealth. Inscriptions prove that large amounts of gold coins were often donated to the temple treasury and intended to fund temple festivals (Sinopoli 167).
Often temple offerings were also distributed to local artisans, to ensure the growth and prosperity of the people. As the status and importance of the temple began to rise, rulers began to provide endowments to support these rural activities. The support of agriculture became much more important with the rise in pilgrims visiting the temple and wishing to provide offerings of food and requiring accommodation for their stay. The state had a major hand in the distribution of funds and prioritized the wealth to increase irrigation works which in turn allowed for a growth of villages in the surrounding area. Much of these villages were also declared tax free by the state, in lieu of the provision of food offers specified for particular festivals (Stein 180).
Currently, technological advancements continue to open up
opportunities and advancement in the Tirupati Temple. It was not until recently
that temples have begun to utilize the use of technology to ensure simplicity
in administration and meet the needs of pilgrims (Venkatesh and Pushkala 39). The Tirupati Temple normally operates for approximately 20 hours
a day, and reduces hours for certain rituals. Because Tirupati sees as many as
100,000 people within a day, organization of the crowds is imperative to the
safety and satisfaction of pilgrims. To ensure these things, Tirumala Tirupati
Devasathanam (TTD) introduced new IT solutions such as the installation of over
700 CCTV cameras and the implementation of biometrics for queue management in
order to reduce wait times by allocating time slots for pilgrims. By
introducing key technological features Tirupati has emerged as a role model for
other municipalities in the country (Venkatesh and Pushkala 41). Though there have been many
changes and advancements to the Tirupati Temple throughout the years, the
richness of the culture and celebration of the history will always remain
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Harinarayana, T. (2014) “Efficient way of Darshan of the Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati/Tirupati Balaji Temple.” Journal of Business Management & Social Sciences Research 3, no. 2 p. 76-81.
Kumar, P. Pratap (2013) Contemporary Hinduism. Durham: Acumen.
Narayanan, Vasudha (2018) “Venkatesvara” in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online
Reddy, Vembuluru Narayana (1987)“Sacred Complex of Tirumala Tirupati – An Anthropological Study.” Sri Venkateswara University p. 20-105.
Sinopoli, Carla (2008) “Identity and Social Action among South Indian Craft Producers of the Vijayanagara Period.” Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association. Volume 8, Issue 1, p.161-171.
Stein, Burton (1984) “The State, the Temple and Agricultural Development.” All the Kings Mana: Papers in medieval South Indian History, Madras p.179-181.
Venkatesh, K. A., & Pushkala, N. (2018) “Digital entrepreneurship: the technology deployment in internationalization speed in the digital entrepreneurship era and opportunities-Tirumala Tirupati Devasathanam (TTD).” International Journal on Recent Trends in Business and Tourism, 2(4), p.39-42.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYP4oH8hnuM (Film Documentary)
Article written by: Grace Krause (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.