If there was one temple in the world that attracts the most number of devotees and visitors it has to be the Venkateshwara Swamy Temple at Tirumala, Tirupati. Said to be the richest temple in the world, there is a sense of power and faith that permeates through the serpentine queues that give you a fleeting glimpse of the Lord. And there is more – but let’s get to that later. Tirupati however is home to many other temples and sights as well which must be on your itinerary the next time you are in this pilgrim town.
Sri Padmavathi Ammavari Temple
Also called the Alamelu Mangapuram temple this place is located 5 kilometres away from Tirupati and is dedicated to Goddess Padmavathi, the wife of Sri Venkateswara Swamy. It is widely believed that you must first visit this temple before you head to the temple atop Tirumala. Naturally this place is also extremely crowded and it is advisable that you get a special darshan ticket which will also include a small pooja and allow you some time near the sanctum sanctorum. The idol of the Goddess is magnificent, in the form of a bride. There are special poojas held during Dussehra in the days of the Navarathri Festival. Another important festival associated with this temple is the boat festival locally called Theppotsavam, which happens for five days during the month of Jyeshtha in June. According to legend, this Goddess is a manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi. It is said that once upon a time when Maharshi Bhrigu came to see Lord Vishnu at Vaikunth, he was asleep and this offended the Maharshi. He then avenged it by kicking the chest of Lord Vishnu who woke up and apologized and went on to appease him. Goddess Lakshmi also witnessed the entire episode as a silent spectator and unable to bear the insult to Lord Vishnu goes to the Earth and does rigorous penance. It is said that after 12 years she emerged from the golden lotus on the 13th year and was reincarnated as a Divine Child to King Akashraja who named her after the Lotus as Padmavathi. Later Lord Vishnu also came to the earth in search of Lakshmi and finds and marries Padmavathi. This is also the reason why the Kalyanotsava Seva (typically done post a Hindu wedding) is very popular with newly married couples.
Sri Govinda Raja Swamy Temple
The outer pinnacle called Gaali Gopuram of this temple complex is tall and its ornate structure is visible from a fairly long distance. It is believed that Saint Ramanujacharya laid foundation to the temple in 1130 AD. This is like a huge complex of temples and apart from Sri Govindaraja Swamy the main idol believed to be Lord Balaji’s elder brother, the temple complex also houses the shrines of Andal Ammavaru, Sri Krishna, Sri Ramanuja Thirumangai Alwar, Sri Vedanta Desika, Sri Lakshmi and Sri Manevala Mahamunlu. You will need to deposit all electronic items including cameras and mobiles at the locker. A key difference to the idol is that the celestial bath to the idol called Abishekam is not conducted to the presiding deity as the idol is made of clay. There is a bustling market place around this place that sells a whole bunch of souvenirs and memorabilia related to the presiding deity. If you are lucky, you can spot the two temple elephants that are brought out at specific times and will bless you in return for a coin! What is of particular interest is the Sri Venkateshwara Museum on Temple Art that is located in the adjoining building. This is a building with a well laid out garden and has a collection of pictures, sculptures, artefacts and musical instruments. The museum also has a huge collection of stone, wood and metal images, as well as pottery, coins, inscriptions and articles used for poojas. The Bramhotsavam of Govindaraja Swamy during the month of Vaisakha that typically falls in the months of May-June is an important event here.
Dating back to 1000 years, the Chandragiri Fort is about 15 km west of Tirupati and has connections with the Vijayanagar Empire. The palace has restored lawns and gardens, the Rani Mahal, the Raja Mahal now a museum of bronze and stone sculptures from Andhra Pradesh. The palace has three storeys and a durbar hall in the middle. The fort is a good representation of the Indo-Sarcen architecture from the Vijayanagar period. The crowning towers have Hindu architectural elements and the palace was constructed using stone, brick and lime mortar. The ornate pillars have intricate carvings on them. The upper part of the fort on the hillside is not open for visitors. If you are here in the evening, you can catch the sound and light show that showcases the rich history of Chandragiri. The fort is closed on Fridays.
Sri Kapileswara Swamy Temple
What makes this temple unique is that this is the only temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Tirupati. The temple structure is scenic thanks to the large temple tank where there is a water fall (called Kapila Teertham) whose source is said to be have its origin from the Tirumala hill above. In fact it is believed that this is the most sacred as the water is believed to flow from the right toe of the Lord above. It is customary that devotees take a dip in this temple tank before proceeding to Tirimala. The water is at its best in the monsoons and you will be disappointed to see the trickle in the other seasons. This is a cave temple and apart from the annual Brahmotsavam, festivals like Ganesh Chathurthi, Mahasivaratri and Skanda Shasti are important occasions. This temple complex also has the Sri Venugopalaswamy Temple, Shri Vinayakaswamy Temple and Sri Lakshminarayanaswamy temples as well and its history dates back to several centuries.
This is the highest water falls in Andhra Pradesh and the height of these falls are 270 feet. Located 30 km inside the Nalamala forest, you will need to trek close to two kilometers to approach the waterfalls. Naturally the views from here are stunning as the monsoons are when you can witness the falls in all its majesty. You can also take a boat ride here, swim or if you feel more adventurous, the 240-meter walk on the canopy rope would be a good option. Located in the vicinity is the Lord Siddheswara Swamy Temple.
If you are looking for a contemporary interpretation of religion, head to the ornate ISKON temple, a beautiful white and golden hued building. The idols of Lord Krishna are in pristine white and decked with silver coloured garments and jewellery to match which make for a dazzling sight. In fact there are a total of ten forms of the Lord in its pristine beauty and the white colour adds a sense of calm to this temple. The magnificently carved temple also has a restaurant called ‘Higher Taste’ and a guest house within its sprawling complex. They also sell Prasad Laddus here and there is free Prasad distributed as well. The temple also has a Goshala, designed to be part of reviving the culture of cow care incidentally a favourite of the presiding deity Lord Krishna lovingly called Govinda. There is also a garden of Tulsi pots called ‘Tulsivanam’ that has a variety of basil plants.
Sri Kanipakam Vinayaka Swamy Temple
Located about 60 kilometres from Tirupati, the Sri Kanipakam Vinayaka Swamy temple is renowned for its self manifested idol of Lord Ganesha. This is also amongst one of the rare temples of Lord Ganesha as the idol here is growing (yes you read that right). In fact as you are waiting to enter the temple there are actually three silvers coverings (or kavachas) that are of different sizes that show you how the Lord has grown! This is a 11th century temple built by Chola King Kullottunga and developed by the kings of Vijayanagar during 14th century. It is believed that worshipping the Lord will remove all obstacles and make your path to your goal smooth and clear. The annual Bramhostavam held over 20 days is when this little town is abuzz with activity and there are flowers, light and jubilation seen all around. This is the also the time when the miniature idol of the Lord is taken on a carriage procession. This is a big event in itself. Legend has it that the present day temple was located at small farm-place owned by three brothers who were mute, deaf and blind. Once the well used for farm irrigation had dried and one of the brothers jumped into the well with the intention of digging deeper. In this process when the axe hot one of the stones, blood started oozing out. The villagers nearby noticed that the brothers were cured of their deformities. Later they discovered that this was a self manifested idol of Lord Ganesh which was then consecrated.
This is a natural arch a kilometer north of the Tirumala hills and connects two vertical columns. While geologists say this is a natural formation due to the presence of quartzite’s here, there are mythological stories associated to this place as well as many people believe that the parts of the rock are manifestations of Lord Vishnu conch and wheel or chakra. Said to e a whopping 2500 million years old these rocks are 25 feet long and 10 feet high and are only of three natural rock arches across the world!
Sri Kalahasthi Temple
Located 40 km away from Tirupati, this temple has an interesting legend. Apparently three of Lord Shiva’s ardent devotees – spider (Sri), cobra (kaala) and elephant (hasthi) attained salvation here after killing each other. Here you see Lord Shiva in the form of Vaayu Linga on the banks of Swarnamukhi River. Said to be one of the Pancha Bootha Lingas (one of the manifestations of Shiva in the five elements of nature- land, water, air, sky, fire), the deity is called Sri Vaayulingeswara or Sri Kalahastheeswara. One of the oil lamps in the sanctum sanctorum is said to constantly flicker while other lamps remain motionless. This temple has been restored by both the Chola and Vijayanagar emperors. This temple is known for the special Raahu and Kethu pooja, the Sarpadosha Nivarana conducted daily
Sri Venkateswara Temple
Arguably the most famous and revered temples in India, is the Sri Venkateswara Temple on the seventh peak of Tirumala Hill. The massive temple is spread over an area of 2.2 acres of land and is located on the south of Swami Pushkarini River at a height of 3200 feet above sea level. It is really hard to describe this temple as it is really an experience like no other. The best way to get a glimpse of the Lord, you must book online on their website and be present at the correct gate, 15 minutes before the specified time. If you are lucky you will still take a minimum of two hours before you reach the sanctum sanctorum and get a fleeting glimpse of the Lord. While it might seem like an eternity before you get jostled and pushed at the temple, one look at the deity is sure to leave you filled with a sense of fulfillment. It really is a one of its kind experience.
This story first appeared in the Nov-Dec 2018 issue of Trujetter here: Tirupati