Most of us pray to God for wealth and prosperity. But have you heard of a deity who needs donations from his devotees to clear his debt? It’s none other than Vishnu! At the Tirumala Tirupati Venkateshwara temple in Andhra Pradesh, thousands of devotees donate money and gold so that the deity’s debt to Kubera can be cleared.
The Brahmanda and Bhavishyottara Puranas explain that “Venkata” means “destroyer of sins”. It comes from the Sanskrit words, ‘vem’ (sins) and ‘kata’ (power of immunity).
Another interpretation is that ‘Venkata’ combines two words: ‘ven’ (keeps away) and ‘kata’ (troubles). So, ‘Venkata’ means ‘one who keeps away troubles’ or ‘who takes away problems’.
The deity is believed to have manifested in Kali Yuga for saving human beings who have committed sins and are trapped in the delusions created by the material world. Venkateshwara is the supreme deity who destroys the sins of the people in this material world.
Vishnu transcends material energy and has no direct contact with material people. Hence, yogis have to perform severe penances to have a vision of his lotus feet.
In Kali Yuga, people have become very degenerate and sinful. They have lost their moral compass and values. They are surrounded by all kinds of negative forces. To protect the righteous from the evil, Vishnu incarnated as Venkateshwara.
It is said that Adi Sankaracharya visited Tirumala and placed Sri chakra at the lotus feet of Venkateshwara. He also sang the famous song “Bhaja Govindam”. So Venkateshwara is the supreme deity of Kali Yuga, which is the current Yuga.
Venkateshwara’s holy abode is in the Venkatam hills (the hills are often called ThiruVenkatam) near Tirupathi. So the main temple of Venkateshwara is the Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple.
The Tirumala temple is supposedly the richest of all the Hindu temples in the world. The temple is in Chittoor district, around 120 km from Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Due to the presence of seven hills, there were other names for the deity: Edu kondala vadu in Telugu and Elumalaiyan in Tamil. Both mean “Lord of the Seven Hills”.
Other names are Maal, ThiruMaal, Manivannan, Balaji, Srinivasa, Venkatesha, Venkatanatha, Thiruvengadam Udaiyaan, Tiruvengadattaan, etc. In Karnataka, traditional Shaivite worshippers refer to him as Tirupati Thimmappa.
Legend of Venkateshwara
The Sthala Purana of the Venkateshwara temple narrates the story of the deity’s Avatar (incarnation) and how he came to be in debt.
Once, Sage Bhrigu, who, as per the Vedas, had an extra eye in the sole of his foot, visited Vishnu. At the time of his arrival, Vishnu was with his consort, Goddess Lakshmi. So he did not receive or honor the sage promptly.
Feeling angry and humiliated, the sage kicked Vishnu in the chest. But Vishnu chose not to react and remained silent. Vishnu’s chest is believed to be the dwelling place of Lakshmi. So, the Goddess was very offended and insulted by the sage’s behavior as well as Vishnu’s failure to react. In a huff, she left Vaikunta, where she resided with Vishnu.
Vishnu tried to pacify the sage by holding his legs and pressing them gently. The sage found this very comforting. As he was doing so, Vishnu squished the extra eye in the sole of Bhrigu’s foot.
The extra eye symbolized the sage’s egotism. Realizing his grave mistake, Bhrigu apologized to Vishnu.
Next, Vishnu had to mollify Lakshmi and make her return to Vaikunta. So he took the form of Venkateshwara and came to earth in search of her. Meanwhile, Lakshmi was born as Princess Alamelu (Padmavati) in King Akasa Rajan’s palace. When Venkateshwara expressed his wish to marry Alamelu, the king agreed on the condition that he provided proof of his wealth.
Venkateshwara approached Kubera and took a huge loan. Kubera, who is a yaksha, is also the treasurer of the gods. Convinced of Venkateshwara’s affluence, the king solemnized the marriage of Padmavati and Venkateshwara.
Vishnu, as Venkateshwara, and Lakshmi enshrined themselves at Tirumala Tirupati for the welfare of mankind.
This phenomenon is called swayambhu, meaning ‘self-existent and established on earth of one’s own accord, with no external causes’.Venkateshwara’s temple is located atop the seven hills in Tirumala. Lakshmi’s temple is at the foot of the seven hills at Tirupati, in Tiruchanur town.
Story of Bala
There is also another legend that talks of a boy called Bala. He was wrongly accused as a thief one day and fled when people chased him.
Struck on the head by the mob, his head began to bleed profusely. The boy ran to Vishnu’s Tirupati temple and entered the main chamber where the deity’s idol was. When the mob reached the temple, they couldn’t find the boy anywhere. But they saw that the head of Vishnu’s idol was bleeding. They believed that Vishnu gave refuge to the boy and protected him. So the priests put a cloth on the idol’s head to stop the bleeding.
Even now, we can see a white covering on the idol in the temple, and the deity is called Balaji.