Lord Venkateshwara or Balaji is the all-pervading Lord of the Universe and is considered to be an incarnation of the Hindu Lord Vishnu. Venkateshwara means the Lord who destroys the sins of the people. According to the Hindu scriptures, lord Vishnu out of love towards his devotees, incarnated as Venkateshwara and appeared for the salvation and upliftment of humanity in this Kali Yuga and is considered the supreme form of lord Vishnu in this age.
The ancient and sacred temple of lord Venkateshwara is located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the Tirupati Hill, and lies on the southern banks of Shri Swami Pushkarini. Venkateshwara (Lord of the Venkata Hill) is also called the Lord of the Seven Hills. A large number of devotees approximately 30,000 visit the sacred temple of Lord Venkateshwara to pay their homage to the Lord. The temple of lord Venkateshwara has acquired unique sanctity in Indian religions. According to the Shastras and the Puranas, in the present age, one can attain salvation (mukti) only by worshipping lord Venkateshwara.
The temple town of Tirupati is situated at the foot of Tirumala hills in the Chandragiri Taluka of the Chittor district in Andhra Pradesh. The sacred spot on the hill about 2,800 feet above sea level is known as Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara.
The Legend of Lord Venkateshwara :
According to the Puranas, the legend of Venkateshwara’s incarnation is as follows. Once upon a time, some sages under the guidance of sage Kasyapa began to perform a sacrifice on the bank of the river Ganga. Sage Narada visited them and asked them why they were performing the sacrifice and who would be pleased by it. The sages did not answer and they approached sage Bhrigu for the answer. To search the answer of the question, sage Bhrigu first went to the abode of Lord Brahma there he found, Lord Brahma, reciting the four Vedas in praise of Lord Vishnu. Lord Brahma did not take notice of Bhrigu.
Concluding that Lord Brahma was unfit for worship, Bhrigu went to the abode of Lord Shiva, there he found Lord Shiva with goddess Parvati, not noticing his presence. Therefore, he went to the Vaikunta, the abode of lord Vishnu, there he found that lord Vishnu was sleeping on the Sheshnaga with goddess Lakshmi in service at his feet. In the Vaikunta also, he did not get respect and he kicked the Lord on his chest, the place where goddess Lakshmi resides. Lord Vishnu, in an attempt to pacify the sage, got hold of legs of the sage and started to press them gently in a way that was comforting to the sage.
The sage then realized his mistake and apologized to lord Vishnu. Thereupon, the sage concluded that Lord Vishnu is the most supreme of the Trimurti (Trinity) and told the sages the same. Goddess Lakshmi became angry by the action of the lord, so she left the Vaikunta and came down to the earth. After the departure of Lakshmi, a forlorn Lord Vishnu also left Vaikunta and took abode in an ant-hill under a tamarind tree, beside a pushkarini on the Venkata Hill, meditating for the return of Lakshmi, without food or sleep.
Taking pity on Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma and Shiva decided to assume the forms of a cow and its calf to serve him. Surya (the Sun god) informed and requested Lakshmi to assume the form of a cowherd girl and sell both, the cow and calf, to the king of the Chola country. The king of the Chola country bought the cow and its calf and sent them to graze on the Venkata Hill along with his herd of cattle. Discovering Lord Vishnu on the ant-hill, the cow gave its milk; thus the cow fed the Lord Vishnu. Therefore, the cow did not give milk, so the Chola Queen punished the cowherd severely.
In order to find out the cause of lack of milk, the cowherd followed the cow, hid himself behind a bush and discovered that the cow emptying her udder over the ant-hill. Due to this conduct of the cow, the cowherd aimed a blow with his axe on the head of the cow. Lord Vishnu rose from the ant-hill to receive the blow and thus the cow was saved. When the cowherd saw the Lord bleed at the blow of his axe, he fell down and died of shock.
The cow returned to the Chola King, with blood stains all over her body. In order to find out the cause of the cow’s terror, the King followed her and found the cowherd lying dead on the ground near the ant-hill. Lord Vishnu rose from the ant-hill and cursed the King saying that he would become a demon (asura) due to the fault of his servant. The King prayed Lord Vishnu, so the Lord blessed him and said that he will be reborn as Akasa Raja and that the curse would end when the Lord will be adorned with a crown presented by Akasa Raja at the time of his marriage with Padmavati. With these words Lord turned into stone form. Thereafter, Lord Vishnu in the name of Srinivasa, decided to stay in Varaha Kshetra and requested Varahaswami to grant him a site for his residence. His request was granted. Lord Vishnu built a hermitage (ashram) and lived there, where he was looked after by Vakuladevi like a mother.
Sometime later, the King Akasa Raja was ruling over Thondamandalam. The king had no heirs, and therefore, he wanted to perform a sacrifice. So, when he was cultivating his field his plough turned up a lotus in the ground. On examining the lotus, the King found a girl in it. The king became happy and handed over the girl to his wife. The king named her Padmavati, because she was found in a lotus. She grew up as a princess into a beautiful maiden and was attended by a host of maids.
One day, Lord Srinivasa was chasing a wild elephant in the forests. Chasing the elephant, the Lord came into a garden, where Princess Padmavati with her maids was picking flowers. Padmavati and her maids frightened seeing the elephant. Lord Srinivasa saw the frightened maidens. Lord informed Vakuladevi that he wanted to marry the princess Padmavati in any condition. Lord Srinivasa then told the story of Padmavati’s previous birth and his promise to marry her. After listening the story, Vakuladevi realized that Srinivasa would not be happy unless he married her. Therefore, she went to the king Akasa Raja for the marriage.
She learnt from Padmavati’s maids that Padmavati was also pining for Srinivasa. Vakuladevi went along with the maid servants to the Queen. Meanwhile, Akasa Raja and his Queen Dharanidevi learnt about Padmavathi’s love for Srinivasa of Venkata Hill. Akasa Raja consulted Brihaspati about the marriage and was informed that the marriage was good for both the parties. Kubera, the god of wealth, lent money to Lord Srinivasa to meet the expenses of the marriage. Thus Lord Srinivasa, married Princess Padmavati and blessed Akasa Raja.
Everyday at Tirupati temple, a kalyana utsavam celebrates the divine union in a celebration that stretches to eternity. The benefits acquired by a pilgrimage to Venkatachala are mentioned in the Rig Veda and Puranas. In these epics, lord Venkateshwara is described as the great bestower of boons. The temple has its origins in Vaishnavism, an ancient sect which advocates the principles of equality and love and prohibits animal sacrifice.