Tirupati Balaji is perhaps the greatest ‘pilgrimage phenomenon in the world, Not solely because of the millions who visit it, but because of the immense bhav (inner sentiments) with which pilgrims venerate the deity. Devotees readily donate not just cash, but whatever jewellery they may be wearing, in addition to their hair! Yes, pilgrims readily have their heads shaved to offer their hair. Even married women! Otherwise in India’s tradition, only widows may have their heads shaved. This means that thousands of barbers are needed and tons of hair is produced every month.
This tirth is located in the Chittur district of Andhra Pradesh, 10 km from Renigunta station on the Mumbai-Chennai railway. ‘Tiru’ in Telugu means Shri (Lakshmi). ‘Pati’ means husband. Hence Tirupati is Shri’s consort, Vishnu. The Venkateshwar Mandir, in which Tirupati is consecrated, is located between seven hills, on a saucer–shaped plateau called Venkatachalam or Venkatadri.
Bhagwan Venkateshwar came down from Narayanadri to Venkatadri. On Narayanadri, which is 3,629 feet high, there is Narayanpad mandir. Here, Bhagwan Venkateshwar’s lotus feet are sculpted in stone.
The Purans mention that Mount Meru was situated here. However it shattered in the dual between Adishesh and Vayu devas. The mountain represents Sheshnag and is also called Sheshachal.
After the hair are removed, it is an important ritual to bathe in the Pushkarini Sarovar. Varahswami’s mandir lies west of this lake. It is said that Garudji brought Pushkarini from Vaikunth for Varahswami to bathe in. It is an important ritual to first have the darshan of Varahswami and then Balaji’s.
Shri Balaji’s (Venkateshwar) seven feet high murti has a shankh (conch), chakra (disc), gada (mace) and padma (lotus). The murti is adorned with valuable ornaments. On either side are the murtis of Shridevi and Bhudevi, as in Muktanath. Balaji’s small utsav (mobile) murti is made of gold.
Camphor is used to print the tilak on the murti. The sanctified camphor is then distributed to devotees. There is a scar on this murti. It is said that to please a bhakta, Bhagwan assumed a human form and started drinking milk from a bowl offered to Him. Mistaking Him for a thief, somebody thumped Him with a stick! Medicinal herbs are applied on this scar everyday, as a form of bhakti.
To allow every pilgrim darshan of Bhagwan, the mandir has to be kept open virtually 24 hours.