(Edited and annotated)
Tirumala: The Ultimate Destination of Pilgrims
October 10, 1997
वेङ्कतेष समो देवो न भूतो न भविष्यति!
So declares the Varaha Purana. Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateswara is the ultimate goal of all devotees from times immemorial.
The Puranas, the soul-stirring hymns of great savants like Tallapaka Annamacharya, the Alvars and the Haridasas unequivocally praise the supreme grandeur of this hallowed spot and the awesome majesty of the Lord who is the embodiment of lore and compassion.
In his mangala sloka in Sri Bhashya, the great Vaishnava acharya Sri Ramanuja declares in no uncertain terms the resplendent glory of Lord Venkateswara:
अखिल भुवन जन्म स्थेम भङ्गादि लीले
विनत विविध भुत व्रात रक्षैक दिक्षे |
श्रुति शिरसि विदीप्ते ब्रह्मणि श्रीनिवासे
भवतु मम परस्मिन् शेमुषि भक्ति रूपा ||
May my intellect assume the form of Bhakti in Srinivasa, the highest Reality, revealed in the Vedanta as the Lord who creates, protects and destroys the whole universe with sportive ease and who has taken a vow to protects all creatures who seek him.
Kamban, in his celebrated Ramayana makes an explicit reference to the Thiru Vengadam Hills and states that the truth enshrined in the four Vedas stands out as the eternal satya on the Vengada Hills. ‘Silappadikaram’, the great Tamil Classic calls the Holy Hills, ‘Nediyon Kunrams’. It was, however, the Alvars who brought forth the transcedental majesty of Lord Venkateswara through their poems of praise which are surcharged with undiluted devotion to the Lord. Nammalvar extols Lord Venkateswara as the veritable aushadam (medicine) for curing the disease of samsara in the areas of birth and death.
Saint Kulasekhara Alvar prays to the Lord Srinivasa to grant him even the lowest birth in the holy Tirumala Hills — as a fish in the sacred Swami Pushkarini, or as a tree, or as anything on the golden hills of Lord Venkateswara (emberumaan ponmalai mēl ēdhēnum avēnē).
Among the Alvars, Andal, a woman saint, yearned for union with the Lord in ‘Nacciyar Tirumozhi’. In this exquisite poetic work of rare beauty, she conveys her passionate love towards Lord Srinivasa and her desire to marry him through clouds as messengers.
Devotion to Lord Srinivasa finds its most eloquent expression in the Samkirthanas of Tallapaka Annamacharya. This fifteenth century Telugu Vaggeyakara composed over 32,000 hymns in praise of Lord Venkateswara. It is said that not a single day passed in his life without his composing at least one song in praise of the deity of Tirumala, Lord Venkateswara.
In one of his famous songs, Annamayya says thus: He who enjoys the unparalleled grace of Lord Sri Venkateswara is at once greater than a tapasvi who has knowledge and learning, but grows only in body and not in the spirit of divine worship.
It is evident from the inscriptions as well as the literary works that the temple of Lord Venkateswara is invested with great antiquity. One of the earliest inscriptions (614 A.D.) found in the Tirumala temple has reference to Samavai, a Pallava princess who presented costly jewels to Lord Venkateswara. She also arranged for the daily offering of a plate of cooked rice and holy abhisheka to the Lord.
There are also inscriptions belongings to the Chola period. A Chola queen offered to Sri Venkateswara, a pattam weighing 52 kalajas of gold and set with six rubies, four diamonds and 29 pearls. The Tirumala temple received generous patronage from the various royal families of the great Vijayanagar empire and the temple reached the pinnacle of unprecedented glory during the reign of the illustrious Vijayanagar emperor Krishnadevaraya.
Thus, the hoary antiquity, history and tradition combined with inspiring love and devotion of millions of devotees make the sacred shrine of Lord Venkateswara, the most refulgent arcavatara of Lord Sriman Narayana, stands out as the living symbol of India’s priceless spiritual heritage.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the annual Brahmotsavams celebrated on the sacred hills with great pomp and gaiety attracts millions of devout pilgrims from all parts of the country.
According to the Varaha and Brahmanda Puranas, Lord Brahma instituted this nine-day festival in honour of Lord Venkateswara. Sri Venkateswara Sahasranama indicates that the Lord is much pleased by the utsavams celebrated for Him by Brahma. That Brahma was regular and punctious in conducting the Brahmotsavam for the Lord of seven hills is reflected in one of the Ashtothara namavali expressions which reads as ‘Brahma Kliptotsavaya Sri Venkatesaya namah.’
Sri Venkatachala Itihasa Mala, a thirteenth century work dealing with the various aspects of Sri Ramanuja’s association with Tiruvengadam, describes in detail the conduct of the Brahmotsavam festival of Sri Venkatesa and how he enjoined Anantarya, his devout disciple to meticulously observe the ritualistic aspect of worship and performance of festivals to the Lord.
There is ample evidence both historical and in scriptures that the Brahmotsavam was conducted uninterruptedly for over 1000 years.
The Brahmotsavams conducted for nine days starts with Ankurarpanam every day. The festival deities are taken out in the morning and the evening on various richly decorated Vahanas amidst chanting of Vedic mantras and devotional music.
This spectacular festival reaches its climax with Garuda seva on the fifth day. It is on this day at night the Lord, seated on His favourite vehicle Garuda and decked with the rarest of the temple jewels, emerges out of the Vahana mandapam. Millions of devotees from across the country descent on the hills to witness the procession on this day.
Another highlight of the Brahmotsavam is the Rathotsavam on the eighth day. In the morning, Sri Malayappa Swami and His consorts mount the ratham (chariot) which is pulled along the four main streets of Tirumala by the devout pilgrims who throng in thousands for this occasion.
The festival draws to a close with the ceremonial bathing of the Sudarsana, in the holy tank Swami Pushkarini, called Chakrasnanam. Though everyday is sacred at the temple of Lord Venkateswara, the Brahmotsavam is doubly important and worth attending. The Puranas list out innumerable benefits for those who worship Lord Venkateswara on this occasion.
The festival unambiguously demonstrates that service to the Lord is the exclusive right of every individual and that His benign grace makes our lives more purposeful and joyful.
Elaborate arrangements are being made by the Devasthanams for the smooth conduct of the Brahmotsavams. TTD has also arranged various cultural programmes, including spiritual discourses and music concerts. Temporary shelters have been put up to accommodate more pilgrims.
Facilities are also being provided to telecast various processions and functions during the Brahmotsavam.
More than 25,000 pilgrims will be provided free meals, in addition to the distribution of food packets to 10,000 devotees in the queue complex on all the days of the festival.
The Brahmotsavam of Lord Venkateswara is undoubtedly celebrated for its oriental pomp and pageantry.
Worshipping the Lord on this occasion is devotional service, par excellence.