Lord Venkateswara Temple :
Tirumala-Tirupati, one of the richest temples in the country,
is the most venerated Vaishnavite shrine of Lord Venkateswara.
It was patronised by the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas and
the Vijayanagar kings. 130 kms from the city of Madras (Chennai),
this temple is located in the southern Chittoor district of Andhra
Pradesh. Tiru' in Tamil means `Sri'. Hence Tirupati translates
to Sripati or Sri Maha Vishnu. According to the Puranas, the range
of Tirumala hills represent the body of the serpent Adisesha,
on which Lord Vishnu, the protector of the world, rests. The seven
hills represent the seven heads of the serpent. Perched on the
860 m high peak of the Tirumala hills, the temple is a Dravidian
masterpiece. The splendid Viman or 'Ananda Nilayam' rising protectively
over the sanctum is the most arresting feature in the temple complex.
It is plated with gold, as is the Dwajasthambam, or the temple
flagpost. The innermost enclosure of the three 'prakarams', opened
once annually, enshrines the two-metre high majestic black idol
of Lord Venkateswara, bedecked with priceless glittering jewels,
most striking of which is the diamond crown said to be the costliest
in the world. Some people believe that the idol of Sri Venkateswara
has the attributes of Vishnu and Shiva, the preserving and the
destroying aspects of the Hindu Trinity. This conception is a
happy compromise appealing at once to the Vaishnavites and Shaivites.
The idol has four arms, two in the rear, one carrying the Shankha
or the conch, and the other the Chakra or the discus, and two
in the front, one in the Abhaya pose and the other resting on
the hip. On both the front arms, the Bhujanga Valaya, or the girdle
of the serpent, an emblem of Shiva can be seen. People from the
Northern parts of India, worship Lord Venkateswara, as Balaji.
It is praised by poets as `Bhuloka Vaikuntha'. The two very important
customs followed in the temple are anointing the body of the Lord
with camphor (Karpoora), saffron and musk, and offering the tonsure
of hair as a sacrifice to the Lord. The Varahaswami temple, situated
near the Venkateswara temple, on the banks of Swami Pushkarani
tank, is said to be even more ancient. This shrine is dedicated
to Lord Vishnu in the form of Varahaswami. It is said that the
Adi Sesha himself forms the seven hills on which the temple of
the Lord is located.