CONTROVERSY OVER LORD’S IDOL IN TIRUMALA
The Idol of Lord Srinivasa in Tirumala was self-manifested. He wasn’t carved by any sculptor, human or divine. Lord himself chose this most sacred place in the universe to bless us all from the miseries of Kaliyuga. Discovery of the deity Lord Venkateswara is an act of divine providence. It is believed that during the period of 10th Century A.D. to 12th Century A.D., the Lord was standing in the open sky for hundreds and thousands of years in the jungles of Venkatachala hills. A huge ant-hill was formed by the ants all over the Idol of Lord Venkateswara to protect the Lord from the sun, winds and rains. Being a hilly area with dense forests, it attracted only a few pedestrians to that place in those days.
One day a tribal man (erukodu) reached the place near the anthill in the process of his hunt. He was waiting for his prey; he heard a voice from the ant-hill craving for food and water. Astonished tribal hunter poured in some milk he had with him at the ant-hill. He again reached the anthill-next day to observe whether the incident repeats next day too. This time he heard an Akasa Vani (a divine voice from heavens) to feed the ants every day and he will be benefited all his life. He therefore, started pouring milk at the ant-hill to feed them every day. But one day, the ant-hill collapsed and a magnificent deity of Lord Venkateswara uncovered from it. Lucky tribal man couldn’t believe his eyes to have a darshan of the Almighty. The tribal man immediately rushed to the tribal king and informed the matter. All the tribal people reached the spot and offered prayers assuming the deity as Lord Siva as the tribal people usually worship Lord Siva as their main deity. Gradually the emergence of the deity from the ant-hill was spread all over and many devotees started to visit the deity. Shaiviks (followers of Lord Siva) worshipped the deity as Lord Siva, Vaishnaviks (followers of Lord Vishnu) worshipped the deity as Lord Maha Vishnu and a few north Indians worshipped the deity as shakti or Balaji (an incarnation of Goddess Durga) and the Buddhists worshipped as Gautham Buddha for many years.
Every one had their own reasons. Shaiviks claimed that the Lord’s Idol has flowing locks of hair like jatajut of Lord Maha Siva with curly hair resting on his shoulders. The arms have armlets which look like Nagaabharanam and a serpent is depicted as coiled around Lord’s right arm. More over plants of bilva leaves were found near the deity. All these are normally associated with Lord Siva. Another interesting aspect is the Lord is in the middle of garbha gruha (sanctum sanctorum) which is the case with the temples of Lord Siva. We usually find the establishment of Siva Lingas in the middle of the sanctum sanctorum where as, the Lord Vishnu’s Idol is established near the inner wall of this sanctum sanctorum.
On the other hand, the Vaishnaviks claimed many puranas provided reference of Lord Maha Vishnu’s Avatar in Kaliyuga to be presided in the hills of Venkatachala. The serpent as nagaabharana on the lord’s arm is none other than his ardent devotee Adi Sesha, the Serpent God. Since Goddess Lakshmi resides in the bilva patras, its obvious to find bilva plants near the Lord.
Those who were worshipping as Goddess Shakti, had their own reasons. The devotees called the Lord as Sri Balaji as being the name of Durga Maa or Goddess Shakti. If observed keenly, we can see the lions on all four sides of the temple. Lion is the vahan or vehicle of Goddess Durga Maa. Sandal paste used during the Lord’s worship further strengthens the argument that Lord is Shakti Swaroop. In Tirumala Lord’s Abhishekam is done on Friday which happens to be an auspicious day for mangal snan or holy bath for women.
Where as, the Vaishnaviks brushed aside all these arguments saying that they do not find any such name called Balaji in temple inscriptions. More over, they cited that the Friday Abhishekam is done to Maha Lakshmi who resides in the heart of the Lord. Since Maha Lakshmi’s image is an integral part of the Lord’s Idol, the abhishekam is performed to the whole Idol.
Many Buddhists claimed the Idol of the deity belonged to Gautham Buddha because of the kind of appearance it has and the posture it stands in closely associates to Buddha. Where as, Vaishnaviks brushed aside their claims saying that they do not see any such resemblances in the Idol. More over no Buddhist manuscripts were found in the temple regarding their claims.
In fact, there used to be frequent tussle among the devotees and sometimes no puja was performed to the Lord’s Idol. The tussle between the Shaiviks and Vaishnaviks were and more frequent and sometimes lead to serious consequences in those days.
All these arguments were put to rest by Sri Ramanujacharya a great saint and philosopher of those times, who declared the Idol was none other than the Lord Sri Maha Vishnu himself.
In those days, a Yadava King used to rule Chandragiri. Tirumala was under the jurisdiction of Chandragiri. The tussle between the devotees disturbed the law and order situation in the province of Chandragiri. The king was worried about the frequent tussle among devotees with the Idol of the Lord. He then called up on Sri Ramanujacharya, a great saint and philosopher of those times and requested him to solve the issue and put an end to the tussle among devotees. Ramanujacharya accepted the request and decided to put an end to the tussle for ever.
One day Sri Ramanujacharya called up on all the devotees on the hill and said, oh! My dear brothers! It’s really unfortunate that all of you argue over the Majestic idol instead of offering prayers. Be it Siva or Vishnu or Sakti offer your prayers accordingly. No matter what you visualize him, he is one. The prayer ultimately goes to the one. Therefore brothers! Stop quarrelling over the lord and offer prayers accordingly. But still some people raised concerns over the suggestion of Ramanujacharya. Observing that all of the devotees were not satisfied over his suggestion, he requested a day’s time to resolve the issue. Ramanujacharya was involved in deep thought all that day. Unable to find a valid solution to the issue, he decided to have some rest and lay on bed. Gradually he slept in to deep sleep. Lord Maha Vishnu appeared in his dreams and provided him the path to resolve the issue. The next morning, all the devotees gathered again for the meeting. Ramanujacharya said, my dear brothers! Before starting the proceedings let me ask you a question. Do all of you believe this God is powerful? The devotees unanimously answered yes! Last night, the Lord had appeared in my dreams and given me an idea to resolve the issue. Hope all of you agree to the decision of the Lord himself. So dear friends! When we close the temple doors tonight, we shall place a Damaruk, Trishul, Chakra and Shankha before the lord and lock the temple doors from outside and all of us stay here to see no one get inside the temple at night. If the God is powerful, If He really exists; He will definitely pick up the things related to him. If Trishul and Damaruk were picked up by the Lord, we consider the Idol as Lord Siva and if the Lord picks up Shankha and Chakra we consider Him as Lord Maha Vishnu. Ramanujacharya asked whether all the devotees agree to this proposal. All the devotees agreed unanimously to the proposal kept before them by Ramanujacharya.
As proposed, prayers were offered to the Lord all through the evening and the temple doors were closed and locked at night. All the devotees including Sri Ramanujacharya and the king were present at the temple all night so as to ensure no one gets in to the temple premises at night. All the people present there spent the night singing hymns and bhajans in praise of the Lord in their own style.
Every one present there was anxious to see what the Idol had picked up. Is it Lord Siva….? Or is it Lord Vishnu…..? Is the Idol powerful enough to pick up things? All these questions started to rise in the hearts of the devotees. The morning when the sun raised, the temple doors were opened in the presence of the Yadava King, Sri Ramanujacharya, Archakas, Temple Officials and all other devotees amidst the music of nadasvaram by the Asthana Vidhwans.
When the doors were opened amidst thousands of anxious hearts, the Idol of the Lord appeared with Shankha and Chakra in his hands with a divine and majestic appearance and all doubts over his origin were dispelled… the Idol was none other than the Supreme Lord Srimannarayana himself. All the devotees present there had no regrets what so ever and were bound with unlimited joy and pleasure of the miraculous darshan of the Lord. All disputes among the devotees were dispelled. Every one was in infinite joy and celebrated the miracle with wonderful flowers reciting daily vedic scriptures and divya prabhandhas.
Sri Ramanujacharya stayed on the hill for some time and initiated many pujas of the Lord Srinivasa. It is He who has set temple traditions and puja vidhanas (practices) which are still followed in Tirumala.
“Akaasaat Patitam Toyamyathaa Gacchati Saagaram!!
Sarvadeva Namaskaaraha Kesavam Prathi Gacchati!!”
This means, whoever the deity one worships that worship ultimately reaches only the Kesava, like the water that falls from the sky reaches the oceans ultimately.
Lord Srinivasa is the Parabrahma Murthy. All of us feel the divine presence of the Lord on the hills of Tirumala. You call Him by any name, Govinda…. Gopala… Balaji… Srinivasa… .Sridhara… .Sripathi…. .Venkatanadha… or any of his thousand names, He will answer your prayers instantly. In fact the names of all Gods are his names and all Gods are nothing but the different avatars or roopas of Lord Srimannarayana Himself. Oh Lord! You are the Embodiment of all the auspiciousness…. Bestow us all your divine grace…
Om… Namo Venkatesaaya….!! Om Namo Srinivasaaya…!! Om Namo Narayanaaya….!!