Tirumala, a small hill town in Andhra Pradesh is home to the magnificent Sri Venkateshwara or Balaji temple. With more than 35 million pilgrims visiting the temple every year, Tirumala is one of the most popular Hindu pilgrimage sites in the country.
In the Tamil language, Tirumala translates as Holy Mountains (Tiru means ‘holy’ and Mala means ‘mountains’ or ‘hills’). There are seven peaks in Tirumala and the Venkateshwara temple is situated on the seventh peak called as Venkatadri.
Highly Revered Lord Venkateshwara
As per Hindu scriptures, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Sri Venkateshwara for the salvation and upliftment of humanity. The name Venkateshwara means Lord of the Venkata Hill. Referred to as the supreme lord who destroys sins, Venkateshwara is also known as the Lord of Seven Hills.
It is believed that Kubera, Lord of Wealth lent him money for his marriage with goddess Padmavati (incarnation of goddess Lakshmi). In remembrance of this, even today the devotees donate money and gold at the temple so that Lord Venkateshwara can repay Lord Kubera. These donations have made this temple the richest temple in the world.
Inside the Balaji Temple
Balaji or Lord Venkateshwara’s statue stands under a golden dome, wearing a golden crown, embedded with diamonds and a large emerald (supposed to be the largest in the world).
Customs and celebrations
It has been declared by the shastras, Puranas, and other religious scriptures that one can attain enlightenment just by worshipping Lord Venkateshwara. You can see thousands of devotees waiting in long lines (sometimes ten or more hours) just to see the deity for less than two seconds. Many devotees also get their heads shaved off as an offering to Lord Venkateshwara.
Vishnu or Vaishnava festivals are celebrated in the town with great pomp. One of the most important festivals is Brahmotsavam which is celebrated every year during the month of September. Other important festivals are Vasanthotsavam or Spring festival (celebrated in March-April) and Rathasapthami (celebrated in February). During Rathasapthami, the Lord Venkateshwara’s statue is taken on a procession around the temple chariots.