Venkateshwara (Telugu: वेंकटेश्वर) also known as Venkatachalapathy, Srinivasa and Balaji, is a form of the Hindu god Vishnu in India. Venkateshwara means the Lord who destroys the sins of the people. According the Hindu scriptures, Vishnu, out of love towards his devotees, incarnated as Venkateshwara and appeared for the salvation and upliftment of humanity in this Kali Yuga and is considered the supreme form of Vishnu in this age.
Etymology and other names
The name Venkateshwara can be split into multiple parts in Sanskrit: Ven (sins), kata (destroyer), and ishwara (Supreme Lord). Using this etymology, Venkateshwara refers to the Supreme Lord who destroys sins.
The ancient Vishnu kautuvam describes him as Souryarayan, the one who destroys the evil and who comforts us. He is fondly called as Venkanna in the folklore of Andhra Pradesh. He is also known as Srinivasa, Tirumalesa, Venkatachalapathi, Sripathi, ThiruMaal, Balaji (though this is a more recent name), Venkateshwer, Venkatesa, Venkatapathi, Venkatanatha, Sri Varu, Thiruvengadam Udaiyaan, Maal, Manivannan, Tiruvengadattaan Tirupati Thimmappa, and by many other names.
He is also worshipped with the name Tirupati Thimmappa all over Karnataka by traditionally Shiva-worshipping communities. The presence of seven hills in the area influenced alternate names for the deity: such as Edukondalavadu in Telugu and as Ezhumalaiyan in Tamil, both of which mean “Lord of the Seven Hills”. Lord Venkateswara is also known as Maha Ketarie and Maha Parmasree.
Legend of Tirumala
According to the scripture Sthala Purana, the legend of Venkateshwara’s Avatara (incarnation) is as follows:–
Once some rishis headed by Kasyapa began to perform a sacrifice on the banks of the Ganges. Sage Narada visited them and asked them why they were performing the sacrifice and who would be pleased by it. Not being able to answer the question, the rishis approached Sage Bhrugu, who according to Vedas is believed to have an extra eye in the sole of his foot. To reach a solution after a direct ascertainment of reality, Sage Bhrigu first went to Satyaloka, the abode of Lord Brahma. At Satyaloka, he found Lord Brahma, reciting the four Vedas in praise of Lord Narayana, with each of his four heads, and attended upon by Saraswati. Lord Brahma did not take notice of Bhrigu offering obeisance. Concluding that Lord Brahma was unfit for worship, Bhrigu left Satyaloka for Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva. At Kailasa, Bhrigu found Lord Siva spending his time pleasantly with Parvati and not noticing his presence. Parvati drew the attention of Shiva to the presence of the sage. Lord Shiva was furious at Bhrigu’s intrusion and tried to destroy him. The sage cursed Lord Siva and left for Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu.
At Vaikunta, Lord Vishnu was reposing on Adisesha with Sri Mahalakshmi in service at His feet. Finding that Lord Vishnu also did not notice him, the sage was infuriated and kicked the Lord on His chest, the place where Mahalakshmi resides. Vishnu, in an attempt to pacify the sage, got hold of legs of the sage and started to press them gently in a way that was comforting to the sage. During this act, he squeezed the extra eye that was present in the sole of Bhrigu’s foot. The extra eye is believed to represent the sage’s egotism. The sage then realised his grave mistake and apologized to Vishnu. Thereupon, the sage concluded that Lord Vishnu was the most supreme of the trimurthis and told the rishis the same.
Sri Mahalakshmi was angered by the action of her Lord in apologising to Bhrigu who committed an offence. Out of anger and anguish she left Vaikuntha and resided in Karavirapur now known as Kolhapur. After the departure of Mahalakshmi, a forlorn Lord Vishnu left Vaikunta and took abode in an ant-hill under a tamarind tree, beside a pushkarini on the Venkata Hill, meditating for the return of Lakshmi, without food or sleep. This was the place where Lord took the form of Varaha to rescue Mother Earth form the deep ocean.
Taking pity on Lord Vishnu, Brahma and Maheshwara decided to assume the forms of a cow and its calf to serve Him. Surya, the Sun God informed Mahalakshmi of this and requested her to assume the form of a cow herdess and sell the cow and calf to the king of the Chola country. The king of the Chola country bought the cow and its calf and sent them to graze on the Venkata Hill along with his herd of cattle. Discovering Lord Vishnu on the ant-hill, the cow provided its milk, and thus fed the Lord. Meanwhile, at the palace, the cow was not yielding any milk, for which the Chola Queen chastised the cowherd severely. To find out the cause of lack of milk, the cowherd followed the cow, hid himself behind a bush and discovered the cow emptying her udder over the ant-hill. Incensed over the conduct of the cow, the cowherd aimed a blow with his axe on the head of the cow. However, Lord Vishnu rose from the ant-hill to receive the blow and save the cow. When the cowherd saw the Lord bleed at the blow of his axe, he fell down and died of shock.
The cow returned to the Chola King, bellowing in fright and with blood stains all over her body. To find out the cause of the cow’s terror, the King followed her to the scene of the incident.
The King found the cowherd lying dead on the ground near the ant-hill. While he stood wondering how it had happened, Lord Vishnu rose from the ant-hill and cursed the King saying that he would become an Asura because of the fault of his servant. The King pleaded innocence, and the Lord blessed him by saying that he will be reborn as Akasa Raja and that the curse would end when the Lord will be adorned with a crown presented by Akasa Raja at the time of His marriage with Padmavati. With these words Lord turned into stone form.
Thereafter, Lord Vishnu in the name of Srinivasa, decided to stay in Varaha Kshetra and requested Sri Varahaswami to grant Him a site for His stay. His request being readily granted, Srinivasa ordained that a pilgrimage to His shrine would not be complete unless it is preceded by a bath in the Pushkarini and darshan of Sri Varahaswami and that puja and naivedyam should be offered to Sri Varaha swami first. Vishnu built a hermitage and lived there, attended to by Vakuladevi who looked after him like a mother.
Sometime later, a King named Akasa Raja who belonged to the Lunar race was ruling over Thondamandalam. Akasa Raja had no heirs, and therefore, he wanted to perform a sacrifice. As part of the sacrifice, he was ploughing the fields when his plough turned up a lotus in the ground. On examining the lotus, the King found a female child in it. The king was happy to find a child even before he performed a sacrifice and carried it to his place and gave it to his Queen to tend to it. At that time he heard an aerial voice which said “O King, tend it as your child and fortune will befall you”. As she was found in a lotus, the king named her Padmavati. Princess Padmavati grew up into a beautiful maiden and was attended by a host of maids.
One day, Lord Srinivasa, who was hunting, chased a wild elephant in the forests surrounding the hills. In the elephant’s pursuit, the Lord was led into a garden, where Princess Padmavati and her maids were picking flowers. The sight of the elephant frightened the Princess and her maids. But the elephant immediately turned around, saluted the Lord and disappeared into the forest. Lord Srinivasa, who was following on horse back, and saw the frightened maidens. However, He was repulsed with stones thrown at Him by the maids. He returned to the hills in haste, leaving His horse behind. Vakuladevi found him lying on his bed, not interested in anything. The Lord informed her that unless he married Princess Padmavati he would not be calmed.
The Lord then narrated the story of Padmavati’s previous birth and his promise to marry her. After listening to Srinivasa’s story of how he had promised to marry Vedavati in her next birth as Padmavati, Vakuladevi realised that Srinivasa would not be happy unless he married Padmavati. She offered to go to Akasa Raja and his Queen and arrange for the marriage. On the way she met the maids of Padmavati returning from a Shiva Temple. She learnt from them that Padmavati was also pining for Srinivasa. Vakuladevi went along with the maid servants to the Queen.
Meanwhile, Akasa Raja and his Queen Dharanidevi were anxious about the health of their daughter, Padmavati. They learnt about Padmavathi’s love for Srinivasa of Venkata Hill. Akasa Raja consulted Brihaspati about the marriage and was informed that the marriage was in the best interest of both the parties. Kubera lent money to Lord Srinivasa to meet the expenses of the marriage. Lord Srinivasa, along with Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva started the journey to the residence of Akasa Raja on his vahana Garuda. At the palace entrance, Lord Srinivasa was received by Akasa Raja with full honours and taken in procession on a mounted elephant to the palace for the marriage. In the presence of all the Devas, Lord Srinivasa married Princess Padmavati, thus blessing Akasa Raja.
Together, they lived for all eternity while Goddess Lakshmi, understanding the commitments of Lord Vishnu, chose to live in his heart forever.
Venkateshwara’s temple, today is located at the top of the Seven hills in Tirumala. It stands as a special place, commemorating the marriage between the two. Everyday, a kalyana utsavam celebrates the divine union in a celebration that stretches to eternity. Even today, during the Brahmotsavam at the temple, turmeric, kumkum and a sari are sent from the temple to Tiruchanur, the abode of Padmavati. In fact Tirupati is rarely visited without paying a visit to Tiruchanur.
In the light of this background, it has become the favored destination of many newly wed couples who pray for a happy wedding – a wedding like that of Srinivasa and Padmavati.
A tale associated with the temple goes thus: A helper boy called Bala was once falsely accused of being a thief. When people started chasing him he had to run for his life. He was hit on the head by the mob and his head started bleeding profusely. He ran to the Tirupati Temple of Lord Vishnu and ran to the main door of the temple. When the people entered the temple, they couldn’t find the boy but saw the head of God’s idol bleeding. It was considered that the boy was sheltered and protected by Vishnu himself, and the priests put cloth on the idol’s head to control the bleeding.
Location of main shrine
Venkateshwara’s abode is in the Venkatam hills (the hills are more often referred to as ThiruVenkatam) near Tirupathi. Thus, the main temple of Venkateshwara is the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple. The Tirumala temple is believed to be the richest of all the temples in the world. The temple is located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, a state in Southern India. It is around 150 km away from Chennai and 250 km away from Bangalore.
Many saints have visited the shrine and worshipped Venkateswara. Notable among them is the foremost Jagadguru Adi Sankaracharya, who came to Tirumala and placed the Sri Chakra at the feet of Venkateshwara and sang the song “Sri Vishnu Paadadi Keshanta Sloka”, in which the Jagadguru describes the beauty of the Lord from the crown to the toes. It is also believed that when the Jagadguru reached Tirupati hills, he found that it looked like Saligrama and so decided against climbing the hills on foot as by doing that he would be disrespecting the Supreme. Noting this the Lord sent down his mount Garuda to bring the acharya and his disciples atop the mountain to have the Lord’s darshanam. Ramanujacharya installed chakra and conch on the deity after a dispute.
The Venkateswara Suprabhatam, being the morning recital of prayers and songs of awakening, is believed to have been written and sung by one of Ramanujacharya’s disciples who visited the temple with his Guru. Sri Vadirajatirtha, most prominent
 among the Madhva saints, is believed to have climbed the Tirumala hill on his knees, and is said to have given a garland of shaligram to the Lord.
When the famous Smartha saint Appayya Dikshitar(Appayya Dikshita) visited the holy temple, he was refused Darshnam by the main priests of the Lord as he was a Smartha. The next morning when the doors of the sanctum were opened, the Lord had taken the form of Lord Shiva. Realising their mistake, the priests welcomed Appayya Dikshitar for darshanam and begged for forgiveness. After this the Lord reverted to his original form.
There is also a Govindaraya(Vishnu) temple in the Tirupati town down below the hills that has Vishnu in Yoga Nidra with Sri devi and Bhudevi next to him. Traditionally, Kurubas is said to have built the temples on top of the mountains for the worship of Vishnu
It is said that the largest donation ever made was 1100 crore rupees (US$240 million approx) which was secretly dropped in 50 gold bricks in front of Tirupati Balaji Temple. The gold came in at night in a airplane which landed near the UP airport. The person was unknown but it was said to have been an American Indian businessman named Vijay Chopra who was in Fortune magazine for gaining $15 billion in 60 Days and saying that he would like to give back to God. When he was asked he said that “Its between him and his balaji”. Tirupati is the largest religious place to maintain a neutral status on its donors.