HISTORY OF TIRUMALA VENKATESWARA TEMPLE
After knowing the story of Lord Srinivasa (refer episodes 1-16 from my previous posts), it’s now the time to know the history and origin of Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple in Tirumala Tirupati.
The ancient and sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara is located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the Tirupati Hill, and lies on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini. It is by the Lord’s presidency over Venkatachala, that He has received the appellation, Venkateswara (Lord of the Venkata Hill). He is also called the Lord of the Seven Hills.
The temple of Sri Venkateswara has acquired unique sanctity in Indian religious lore. The Sastras, Puranas, Sthala Mahatyams and Alwar hymns unequivocally declare that, in the Kali Yuga, one can attain mukti, only by worshipping Venkata Nayaka or Sri Venkateswara.
There is ample literary and epigraphic testimony to the antiquity of the temple of Lord Sri Venkateswara. Sri Venkatachala Mahatyam is the most accepted legend with respect to Tirumala and provides the history of the temple across the various Yugas. The temple has its origin from various yugas which we discuss in our coming post “Origin of Tirumala Temple”.
Thondaiman, a Pallava king (capital: Mahabalipuram, just south of modern day Chennai), is believed to have first built the temple after visualizing Lord Vishnu in his dream. He built the Gopuram and the Prakhara, and arranged for regular prayers to be conducted in the temple.
The Sangam Literature of Tamil such as that of Silapadikaram and Satanar Manimekali dated between 500BC and 300AD, mentions Thiruvengadam (now named Tirupati) as the northernmost frontier of the Tamil kingdoms. The site was actually established during the 5th century A.D., and the Alvars (Vaishnava saints) belonging to the Bhakti movement in Tamilnadu sung in praise of Venkateswara. Its significance in Southern Vaishnavite tradition was at the time next only to that of Srirangam.
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 all of us 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 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 (a Goddess called Balaji) and the Buddhists worshipped as Gautham Buddha for many years.
All these arguments were put to rest by Sri Ramanujacharya a great saint and philosopher of those times, who confirmed the Idol was none other than the Lord Sri Maha Vishnu himself.
Later, all the great dynasties of rulers of the southern peninsula have paid homage to Lord Sri Venkateswara in this ancient shrine. The Pallavas of Kancheepuram (9th century AD), the Cholas of Thanjavur (a century later), the Pandyas of Madurai, and the kings and chieftains of Vijayanagar (14th Century A.D. to 15th Century A.D.) were devotees of the Lord and they competed with one another in endowing the temple with rich offerings and contributions.
It was during the rule of the Vijayanagar dynasty that the contributions to the temple increased. Sri Krishnadevaraya had statues of himself and his consorts installed at the portals of the temple, and these statues can be seen to this day. There is also a statue of Venkatapati Raya in the main temple.
After the decline of the Vijayanagar dynasty, nobles and chieftains from all parts of the country continued to pay their homage and offer gifts to the temple. The Maratha general, Raghoji Bhonsle, visited the temple and set up a permanent endowment for the conduct of worship in the temple. He also presented valuable jewels to the Lord, including a large emerald which is still preserved in a box named after the General. Among the later rulers who have endowed large amounts are the rulers of Mysore and Gadwal.
After the fall of the Hindu kingdoms, the Muslim rulers of Karnataka and then the Britishers took over, and many of the temples came under their supervisory and protective control.
In 1843 A.D., the East India Company divested itself of the direct management of non-Christian places of worship and native religious institutions. The administration of the shrine of Sri Venkateswara and a number of estates were then entrusted to Sri Seva Dossji of the Hatiramji Mutt at Tirumala, and the temple remained under the administration of the Mahants for nearly a century, till 1933 AD.
In 1933, the Madras Legislature passed a special act, which empowered the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Committee to control and administer a fixed group of temples in the Tirumala-Tirupati area, through a Commissioner appointed by the Government of Madras.
In 1951, the Act of 1933 was replaced by an enactment whereby the administration of TTD was entrusted to a Board of Trustees, and an Executive Officer was appointed by the Government.
The provisions of the Act of 1951 were retained by Charitable and Religious Endowments Act, 1966.