SAPTHAGIRI - December 2002
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K. Srinivasulu Setty

The holy shrine of Tirumala is a celebrated one from times immemorial. It has been attract ing large number of pilgrims from all parts of India. Its earliest mention is found in the Tamil literature of the Sangam age. It was known as Vada Vengadam, which was at that time on the border land between the Tamil country and that of the Vadugar (Andhras). 

This Temple bears on its walls several inscriptions which are of historical, cultural and linguistic importance. The number of inscriptions on the Hill Temple and in the temples of Lower Tirupati and Tiruchanur exceed one thousand and they furnish a continuous and authentic record of the transactions of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams for over seven or eight centuries. We have evidence to believe that many early inscriptions on the walls of the temples have disappeared beyond recovery due to restorations and renovations undertaken from time to time. 

As many as 1060 inscriptions are found engraved on the walls of the temples under the management of the Devasthanam. They are published by the T.T, Devasthanams and are classified as follows: 

    Sri Venkateswara's Temple, Tirumala : 

    No. of inscriptions. 640 

    Sri Govindaraja's Temple, Tirupati : 

    No. of inscriptions. 340 Other Temples : 

    No. of inscriptions. 80 

The earliest stone record of the temple goes back to the 51st year of the reign of Ko-Vijaya-Danti Vikram Varma of the Pallava Dynasty (830 A.C.) (No.219 G.T.) when a certain 'Ulagapperumanar of So1anur in Sola-Nadu instituted the service of a lamp, nanda-vilakku, i.e., burning a lamp. The last one belongs to Kilaka (1909 A.C.) (No. 242-T:T.) when the gilded kalasam was fixed over the Vimanam of Sri Venkateswara's shrine during the regime of Sri Mahant Prayagdasji. Even though these records cover roughly a period of 11 centuries, the dynasties that ruled South India are not fully represented. Inscriptions belonging to the Vijayanagar period are large in number, while those of earlier dynasties are only a few: Raja Raja Chola is the earliest king, whose name is associated with the main temple at Tirumala in a Tamil inscription issued in the 16th year of his rule (No. 17-T.T.). 

Excepting a few, almost all the epigraphs of the Tirupati Temples are in Tamil language and in alphabet interspersed with Grantha characters. About 50 inscriptions are in Telugu and Kannada. Earlier to Sri Krishna- devaraya (16th century) there is only one Telugu inscription of Saluva Mangideva Maharaya dated saka 1281 (No.237 T.T.) and two Kannada inscriptions, one of Vira Pratapa-Devaraya Maharaya dated saka 351 (No. 188 T.T.) and one of Saluva Narasimha dated saka 1389 (No.8 G.T.). All the gifts of Sri Krishnadevaraya and his two queens and one of Achyutaraya are recorded in the three languages, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil in their respective alphabets. After Achyutaraya there is a conspicuous absence of both Telugu and Kannada inscriptions with the exception of one Telugu Inscription of the local chief Matli Anantarajayya (No.269 G. T.) of the saka year 1550 and one in Kannada of saka 1606 (No.263 T.T.). 

The inscriptions clearly indicate that the temple of Sri Venkateswara at Tirumala and that of Sri Govindaraja at Tirupati enjoyed the patronage of sovereigns and 'chiefs who richly endowed them. Among the early royal benefactors the following stand out most prominently; 

    1. The queen of Paranthaka II ; Sundara Chola, , the king who slept at the Golden -Hall' and daughter of Cheraman, presented to the Lord of Seven Hills a Pattam (diadem) for the forehead set with precious stones, in the 16th year of the reign of Raja Raja I (101 A.C.) (No. 17 T.T.). 

    2. Samavai, a Pallava queen, presented a Kiritam (crown), a necklace of four strings and other ornaments for the hands, waist and feet of Lord Srinivasa and consecrated a silver image meant for processions, and endowed the Temple with lands in Tiruchukanur" (Tiruchanur). (Nos. 18 and 19 T. T.). 

    3. Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I (1250 to 1275 A.C.) placed a gilded kalasam over the vimanam of Sri Venkateswara's shrine. 

Nitya-Dipam (Daily Lamp-Iighting), Nitya Naivedyam (Daily food offerings), Abhishekam (Holy bath) and various Utsavams (Tirunal, festivals), Vahanams (Vehicles) are mentioned widely in various inscriptions. 

The Pallava inscription No.219 G.T. dated in the 51st year of the reign of Ko- Vijaya-Danti Vikrama Varman (830 A.C.) is the earliest in the collection, which records an arrangement made for keeping a lamp burning before a processional image installed in the shrine of Tiruvenkatattu-Emperumanadigal. 

The Chola records register donations and gifts intended for nanda-vilakku (lamp-lighting). We find that ghee alone was used for all lamps inside the temple and this practice still continues at Tirumala Temple. 

During the Vijayanagara period food offerings took precedence over lamp lighting. Sometimes gifting of cows was preferred to offerings of gold. The cows, besides yielding ghee for the lamps, served the additional purpose of offering the dairy products to the deities. In addition to this large quantity of holy food offered each day, certain worshippers had offered occasionally big heaps of cooked rice measuring about 200 marakkals, known as Tiruppavadai (Nos. 54, 197 & 253 T.T. and 151 G.T.). 

A few records mention a daily Tirumanjanam or Abhishekam for Sri Venkateswara at Tirumala and also for Sri Govindaraja at Tirupati (No.4 & 163 T.T.). 

Sri Krishnadevaraya paid seven visits to the temple of Sri Venkateswara (From 1513 A.C. to 1524 A.C.). He presented diadems and ornaments set with precious stones, gold and silver vessels to his patron God, and also endowed the temple with villages in the districts of Chandragiri, Udayagiri and Penugonda. His two queens Tirumaladevi and Chinnadevi were present with him during almost all his visits to Tirumala and they shared with him the credit for the gifts and grants made by him. At the inner right side to the entrance of the temple of Sri Venkateswara at Tirumala we find the bronze images of Sri Krishnadevaraya with his two consorts on either side. 

Matli Kumara-Anantarajayya is the last in the line of great royal benefactors. A long Telugu stanza consisting of 41 lines in the Sisamalika metre engraved separately in Telugu and Tamil is found on the walls of a small shrine dedicated to Sri Venkateswara at the foot of the hill. It refers to the Sopana Marga, (flight of stone-steps) forming the pathway commencing from the foot of the hill usually called 'Alipiri' (i.e., Adipadi, the bottom or the lowest step) and extending on the side of the hill in a zig zag course upto the small tower commonly known as the Gali- gopuram, which stands on the summit of the front hill prominently visible on the plain country for a distance of about 8 to 10 miles. 

Under the patronage of almost all important dynasties of South India, this sacred Temple of Tirumala enjoyed the full benefits and glories. The Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas, Kadavarayas, Yadavarayas, Telugu Cholas, Telugu Pallavas, Vijayanagara kings (Sangama, Saluva and Tuluva lines) have left the marks of their patronage and endowments on the walls of the Temples of Tirumala and Tirupati. 

In addition to the epigraphical lore of the temple we have a unique collection of about 3000 copper plates on which the Telugu Sankirtanas of Tallapaka Annamacharya and his descendants are inscribed. This collection forms a valuable source of material for a historical linguist in Telugu, apart from its importance to musicologists. 

TTD has brought out the inscriptions in six volumes under the title, TTD epigraphical series. These volumes are a fund of authentic information on the history of the temples, the rites and rituals observed over a period of time, the various offerings made by the devotees including kings, chieftains, temple servants and others. They specify the name of the donor, the year when the donation was made and the manner in which the donation is to be utilised and the manner in which prasadams are to be distributed.

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