Among the galaxy of most important and ancient shrines of India, the Hill temple of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala occupies the unique place. The Srivari Temple dated back to 1200 BC sprawls over an area of few acres, is a huge shrine with 415 feet long and263 feet wide. It has three prakaras or enclosures encircling the holy sanctum of Lord Venkateswara. The metal sealing is as old as 1000 years. It also houses separate chambers for keeping his ornaments, holy silks, fresh garlands, sandal wood grinder all along his temple. Besides a Potu (kitchen) to make Laddu prasadam for devotees, there is also a special kitchen where the daily food (naivedyam) of Lord is prepared on a clock orange basis throughout the day.
The Padi Kavali Maha Dwara or Outer Gopuram stands on a quadrangular base 38 feet towards south to north and 32 feet towards east to West. The doorway in the gopurams is 11 feet .The door frames, door jams, sills are all made of thick cut stone. Built during the late Chola period the Mahagopuram is 50 feet tall it has (almost five storied) and each level has number of mini shrines. The inscriptions on the gopuram belong to 13th century. There are a number of stucco figures of Vaishnava gods like Hanuman, Kevale Narasimha and Lakshmi Narasimha on the gopuram. The gold plated Ananda Nilayam Vimanam which stands as a unique structure in the temple houses the image of silver coated “Vimana Venkateswara Swamy” who is often considered to be the replica of the main deity. There are about 64 deities engraved in this golden gopuram. Legends speak about the saint Anantalwr crow bar which dug the first soil pit also visible on the door frame in the Mahadwaram. The inscriptions on the gopuram belong to 13th century. There are a number of stucco figures of Vaishnava gods like Hanuman, Kevale Narasimha and Lakshmi Narasimha on the gopuram.Swamy Pushkarini is the holy temple located on the North Eastern side of the temple. And it is considered to be the composition of all divine teerthams.
The path for circumambulating the temple is called a Prakarams (pathways). The Srivari temple has three pradakshinams. Between the outermost and inside prakarams is the second pathway known as the Sampangi Prakaram of which one side is completely closed to pilgrims. The prakaram is now used as a major store room inside the temple where behind the cast iron grills. Commodities are stored after they are transported via an escalator from South Mada Street. Legends say that the prakaram was used earlier to conduct processions of the deities during rainy and trouble some days. The Sampangi Pradakshinam contains several interesting mandapams like the Pratima Mandapam, Ranga Mandapam, Tirumala Raya Mandapam, Saluva Narasimha Mandapam, Aina Mahal and Dhvajasthambha Mandapam. Most of these additions to the temple were made during the Vijayanagara rulers Saluva Narasimha Raya and Sri Krishnadeva Raya others.
After passing through the Padi Kavali Mahadwaram you will land in an open mandapam called the Krishna Deva Raya Mandapam or Pratima Mandapam. This mandapam gets its name from the pratimas or bronze portrait icons of the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadevaraya and his two consorts, Tirumaladevi and Chinnadevi. It also hosts a statue of Venkatapathi Raya and Achyutha Raya, who succeeded Krishna Deva Raya to the throne, and his wife Varadajiamma. The Mandapam has beautiful wall pictures of the Vijayanagara period like, Sri Rama breaking the bow, Sri Rama Pattabhishekam and Krishna Leela. Sri Vaishnava symbols or the Urdhvapundras flanked by a conch and disc were carved at the top of the two main pillars of the Mandapam.
Ranganayaka Mandapam or Ranga Mandapam or Ranganayakula Mandapam is located in the south-eastern corner of the Sampangi Prakaram or Pradakshinam. The shrine got this name since it housed the utsava murti of Lord Ranganadha of Srirangam, when Srirangam was occupied by Muslim ruler Malik Kafur in 14 th century. Now the mandapam is used for holding Snapana Thirumanjanams during Brahmotsavam period and other festivals.
Tirumala Raya Mandapam adjoining the Ranga Mandapam on the western side and facing the Dhvajasthambha Mandapam is a spacious complex of pavilions known as the Tirumala Raya Mandapam or Anna Unjal Mandapam. It consists of two different levels, the front at a lower level and the rear at a higher carved in black granite stone with period architecture of vines, yalis and stucco features. It is in this Mandapam, that the utsava murthi Sri Malayappa holds His annual darbar or Anivari Asthanam during the hoisting of the Garudadhwaja on Dhwajastambham to mark the commencement of Brahmotsavams. Incidentally, the prasadam distributed on this occasion is still called Tirumalaraya Pongal. It is also called Anna-Vuyala utsavam (a typical unjal seva). The Mandapam has a typical complex of pillars in the Vijayanagara style with rearing horses. The bronze statues of Todermallu, his mother Matha Mohana Devi and wife Pitha Bibi are kept in a corner of the Mandapam.
The Aina Mahal or the Mirror hall is on the northern side of the Tirumala Raya Mandapam spread over 42 square feet each two chambers. It consists of two parts - an open mandapam in the front consisting of six rows comprising six pillars each, and a shrine behind it consisting of an Antarala and Garbhagriha. It has large mirrors which reflect beauty and fiery of the idols infinitely from all angles when the unjal seva is performed. The arjitha seva which is performed in the middle of the room every day with Lord and His consorts seated on the golden unjal is called “Dolotsavam”.
Dhwajasthambha Mandapam houses the Dhwajastambha (a wooden flagpole encased in gold plate) and the Bali Peetha (seat for food offering). A peculiar feature of the Mandapam is that its ceiling is covered to facilitate the conduction of the rituals in all weather conditions. The pillars mandapam have the idols of Yoga Narasimha, Matsya, Hanuman, Krishna killing Bakasura, Srinivasa Kalyanam scenes etc. On the Dwajasthambham itself there are statues of Krishna fighting Kaliya serpent etc. The relative positions of the Dhwajasthambha and the Bali Peetha are in accordance with Vaikhanasa Agamic traditions.
The inner Gopuram – the Nadimi Padi Kavali or Inner Gopuram is the inner entrance to the temple, which is reached through the Dhvajasthambha Mandapam. Its wooden doors are covered with silver plates, and therefore it is also referred to as the Vendi Vakili. The doors are smaller than that of the Outer Gopuram. The gopuram is 30 feet tall and the outer face of the walls of this gopuram contains inscriptions of 15 th and 16th century.There are numerous inscriptions on the inside walls, the earliest relating to the Pandyan monarch, Jata Varma Sundarapandya, who became king in 1251 AD.
The Vimana Pradakshinam or Prakaram is the commonly-used circumambulatory pathway around the central shrine. The vimana over the sanctum can be seen from this pathway. Pilgrims who have taken a vow of performing Angapradakshinam perform it in the Vimana Pradakshinam. However on an average 750 pilgrims are permitted to conduct Anga Pradakshinam only inside the Sampangi prakaram every day except on Fridays. The corridor around this prakaram accommodates the “Deepala Gadi” (Room of lights), Gammikar Gadi (workers room), and kaikolos room amd pallaki room. It has a Sankeertana Bhandaram (a treasure of valuable devotional songs) containing hundreds of the compositions of Saint Composer Annamacharya inscripted on copper plates by his elder son Tirumalacharya.
A shrine of Sri Varadarajaswami is an independent shrine located on the eastern side of the vimana. The shrine is located to the right of the entrance to sanctum of Srivari temple which is 20 feet in length and15 feet in width. The idol of Sri Varadarajaswami faces the West and is in a standing posture, with a disc and conch in the upper right and left hands respectively.The lower right hand is in the Abhaya pose and the lower left, in the Katyavalambika pose.The name Varadaraja is given to this form of Sri Maha Vishnu as he is believed to be the “Bestower of Boons”.
The Potu or main kitchen is the place where the food-offerings for the Srivari temple are prepared. It is located to the south of the Varadarajaswami shrine. Inside the Potu, there is a small shrine dedicated to Sri Maha Lakshmi, who is also called Potu Amma (lady of the kitchen) or Madapuli Nachiyar. She is also identified with Vakulamalika, who was, according to the Puranas, sent by Varahaswami to be the house-keeper of Sri Venkateswara, when he resided on the hill. Vakulamalika is said to have arranged Lord Sri Venkateswara's marriage with Padmavathi. Various types of rice prasadams are prepared in the inner Potu and served to the deity every day at scheduled breaks thrice a day.
The main shrine includes the sanctum and the three successive halls in front of it up to the Bangaru Vakili. It consists of several other mini halls viz.
1. Snapana Mandapam, a square hall
2. Ramar Meda, a rectangular hall
3. Sayana Mandapam, also rectangular in shape, where the Ekanta Seva is Performed.
4. Sanctum or Garba Griha, in which the idol of Lord Sri Venkateswara stands.
In between the sanctum and the Sayana Mandapam, is the celebrated threshold, called the Kulasekhara-padi. The main idol of Lord Venkateswara stands on gold plated lotus pedestal to a height of 18 feet and the sanctum is 12 feet and 9 inches raidus. The entire east face of the sanctum is gold plated with a gold plated door – bangaru vakili. The gopurams of the main shrine inside is also gold plated. Srivari temple is unique for having the only one idol of Vishnu (described as Eka murti temple) in the entire world as all other Vishnu temples have their consorts and sub deities also.
Adjoining the porch of Bhashyakara Sannidhi on its western side of the Vimana Pralkaram in a small chamber called Talapakamara or Sankeertana Bhandara. It houses the collections of sankeertanas composed by the Talapaka poets Talapaka Annamacharya, his son Pedda Tirumalacharya and grandson Chinna Tirumalacharya, engraved on Copper Plates.Annamacharya, a senior contemporary of Purandara Dasa and his Keertans can be classified into three groups - Adhyatama Sankeertanam, Sringara Sankeertanam and Srungara Manjari.
In front of the Potu is a well called the Bangaru Bavi. The well provides water needs of the Potu through stone pipes laid way back hudreds of years ago. In the Agamas the well is described as holy and sacred and was built with the unique engineering efficiency of the Vijayanagara architects. The water supply system in the water is a replica of the Hampi city of the Krishnadeva Raya period.
After crossing the Bangaru Vakili one enters a semi dark chamber ahead of the Sanctum of Lord Venkateswara. This is the Snapana Mandapam which has four central pillars, bearing images of Bala Krishna, Yoga Narasimha and Kaliayamardhana and that of Sri Maha Vishnu in the seated pose with four arms flanked by His consorts in Sukhasana on either side
Ramar Meda, which means 'the elevated platform for Rama', used to house the icons of Rama, Sita and Laxmana. These icons were moved to the sanctum to accompany the majestic statue of Lord Venkateswara. Ramar Meda was the junction of the first pradakshina path – i.e mukkoti Pradakshina. But it was closed in 1262-1265AD and is now a closed room. It has two platforms exhibiting the statues of Angada, Hanuman, Sugriva and Vali in bronze and also hosted the sub shrines of Vishvaksena and Garuda who are the utsava murthis of their respective sub-shrines.
The Sayana Mandapam, also called the Ardha Mandapam, is directly in front of the sanctum (in accordance with the Agamas). This is as close to the sanctum that the pilgrims can get. The Mandapam is connected to the sanctum by the threshold called Kulasekhara-padi, named after an Alwar who wished to be reborn as the threshold to the Lord's shrine. The main function of this Mandapam is to facilitate the performance of rituals that cannot be accommodated in the sanctum. The Mandapam is so called because it is here that the representative icon of the Lord (Bhoga Srinivasa) is ceremoniously put to bed as the last sequence (Sayanotsava or Ekanta Seva) of daily worship. The 18x6 feet room is the final resting place of the Lord Venkateswara every day after the daily Ekanta Seva ritual.
The Garbha Gruha or sanctum is where the main idol of Lord Sri Venkateswara resides. The idol stands majestically in the sanctum directly beneath a gilt and gold plated gopuram called the Ananda Nilaya Divya Vimana. It is a 12 x12 feet square structure and its walls were built in 8 th or 9 thcentury with huge cut granite stones.The main idol is believed to be self-manifested and no human being is known to have installed it in the shrine. The idol is decorated with gold and diamond ornaments.The Lord has a thick double patch of upwrought namam drawn with refined camphor, which screens his eyes with a kasturitilakam. The jewelry, apparel and the daily decorations are feast for eyes of the devotees and a special team of priests and temple staff undertake the exercise with pious and devotion. The lotus feet of Lord are covered with gold frames and decked with clinging gold anklets. A strong curved belt of gold encompasses his legs. The Ananda Nilaya Divya Vimana was covered with gilt copper plates and surmounted with a golden vase.
Kalyanotsavam or marriage festival is celebrated in the Kalyana Mandapam. The Kalyana Mandapam is architecturally similar to the Tirumala Raya Mandapam. At its western end, is a small mandapam carried on slender cut-stone pillars and surmounted by a vimana. This mandapam is regularly used for conducting daily Kalyanotsavams and comprises of richly decorated pillars, architecture of the Chola and he Vijayanagara periods.
Adjacent to the Sangeeta Bhandara in the northern corridor of the Vimana Pradakshinam is the shrine of Sri Ramanuja and is also called the Bhashyakara Sannidhi. Ramanuja was the architect of Tirupati and the father figure of the Sri Vaishnava community. He lay down the worship procedures and rituals besides the Agama concept for the maintenance of the Sri Venkateswara temple.
Special worship is conducted in this shrine during Gandhapodi Utsavam and Bhashyakara Utsavam when the utsava murthi of Ramanuja is taken in a grand procession to meet Malayappa near the Padi Kavali.
Sri Narasimhaswami Shrine is located to the left of the front pavilion of the Ramanuja shrine. It houses an idol of Sri Yoga Narasimha Built in the 15th century. This shrine is surrounded by a polished mandapam. Artistic dance poses of the period are depicted in the sculptured pillars. The shrine has history, found in inscriptions dating back to 1469 and the deity is popularly known as “Alagiyasingar” (Gorgeous Narasimha).
The Tirumamani Mandapam built by Mallanna or Madhavadasa Chief of Chandragiri is supported by sixteen carved pillars, which introduce a natural division of the area into three aisles. There are two massive, inscribed bells, known as Tirumani or Tirumahamani, which give the Mandapam its name and used during the Naivedyam in the sanctum. The Mandapam serves as an Asthana Mandapam, where Koluvu Srinivasa holds court after the Thomala Seva in the sanctum, listens to the reading of the almanac, and presides over the giving of daily rations of rice. The recitation of Suprabhatam also takes place here.
When you enter the Tirumamani Mandapam, you walk through the Bangaru Vakili to reach the inner sanctum sanctorum. There are two tall copper images of the dwarapalakas Jaya and Vijaya on either side of the door. The thick wooden door is covered with gilt plates depicting the dasavataram of Sri Maha Vishnu. Suprabhatam is sung in front of this door every day for waking up the deity in early hours.
Mukkoti Pradakshinam is an enclosed pathway for circumambulation that runs around the sanctum and the porch in front of it. Mukkoti Pradakshinam is opened to pilgrims only twice a year during Mukkoti Ekadasi and Mukkoti Dvadasi. The doors are opened on the night of the eleventh day morning (early hours) after Thiruppavai and closed on the night of the twelfth day (called Margali-tiru-dvadasi).
Sri Vishvaksena Temple is located at the northern side of the main temple, in the Mukkoti Pradakshinam. Sri Vishwaksena occupies an important place in the Vaikhanasa Agama. In Vaishnavite functions and temple rituals, Sri Vishwaksena is worshipped first. Vishwaksena is said to be the chief of the army (of the Lord) and is believed to protect the function or ritual from evil. The idol of Vishwaksena and its worship are strictly in accordance with the Vaikhanasa Agama. During the daily worship of Lord Venkateswara, the garlands and flowers (called nirmalya) from the Lord's idol are removed and Vishwaksena is worshipped with them. Before commencement of the annual Brahmotsavam, the Senadhipathi or Vishvaksena Utsava is performed followed by Ankurarpana. His idol is also taken out in a procession during the Adhyayanotsavam.
The sub-temple for Sri Yoga Narasimhaswami, facing the west, is located in a mandapam in the north-eastern corner of the first prakaram. The temple attracts devotees for its well sculpted idol and also the rituals held throughout the year.
The tour of Srivari temple complex completes with the temple of Garuda (also called Garudalwar) located directly opposite the presiding deity in the Sri Venkateswara temple. Being the Lord's mount he is shown with outstretched wings, ever ready to carry His Master. You will find Garuda's image not only in the shrine but also at the corners of the prakarams, mandapams and vimanas. At the commencement of the annual Brahmotsavam of Lord Sri Venkateswara, a flag with the image of Garuda is hoisted on the Dhwajasthamba marking the commencement of the grand festival.