This brass statue, gold-like in lustre and an exact imitation of the image enshrining the Tirupati Balaji temple, is the most worshipped deity icon in India. If the number of visitors, their composition – not just the Indians and India RNIs but a large part of them foreigners and not just Hindus but followers of all sects, and the offering made to the deity which is annually in multi-crores, Tirupati Balaji is the most visited and as regards its assets and belongings richest, shrine in India, and one of a few across the world. The visitor stands in hours’ long queue, without food and water and half clad, and sometime also shaven-headed, with children and aged parents, for a few seconds’ ‘darshan’ – vision, of the deity.
Donations worth millions of rupees from the devotees whose wishes had been accomplished after their visit to the shrine are the prime source of temple's income. Millions find opportunity to visit the shrine but a far greater number is that of those who find satisfaction for their spiritual ambition and the accomplishment of the ‘desired’ just in lighting an incense stick before a calendar image of the deity. Not ultimate, even in such devotion a devotee finds fulfillment of one’s spiritual desire and even worldly ambition.
Unlike any of his manifestations enshrining a temple anywhere, in India or abroad, this image represents Lord Vishnu rendered broadly in South Indian art idiom specific to Tirupati temple-deity known across the world as Venkatesvara, or Venkatachalapati, popularly known as Balaji or Tirupati Balaji. The Venkatesvara temple is revered as one of the holiest shrines in India. Mythically, Shesh-sayi – reclining on the coils of the great serpent Shesh, is one of the two most usual forms of the images of Lord Vishnu. Tirupati temple-image represents him as standing, the other usual posture of his image. However, Tirupati Balaji also synthesizes elements of Lord Vishnu’s other form and hence the shrine’s sanctity is doubled. It seems the sires of ancient days who built the Venkatesvara temple had not selected the site for the temple at random. The selection was well considered. The undulating Eastern Ghats around Tirupati resemble the great serpent Shesh, or Adishesh, the seven hills corresponding to its seven hoods giving to Tirumala yet another name : Sheshachala, or the abode of Adishesh. This unique situation of the temple – in the midst of the hill top at Tirumala mountain range of Eastern Ghats, some 849 meter above the sea level, combines with the visible image also the invisible element of Shesh-sayi form. At the foot of the temple hill is situated the town of Tirupati.
A myth in the Padma Purana explains how Lord Vishnu transformed in South as Venkatesvara or Balaji. During a yajna performed by Manu there emerged a dispute as to who among the Great Trinity was supreme and was entitled for 'agrapuja'. One of the performing priests the great sage Bhragu was requested to decide the issue. Before he reached a conclusion he decided to talk to all three gods. He could find passage into Shiva’s abode but busy with his consort Parvati, Shiva did not pay heed to him. Brahma was only rude not showing even the courtesy to receive him. However, the sage lost his temper when on visiting Vishnu he found him sleeping. The enraged sage kicked him on his chest. Vishnu got up but instead of reacting angrily he was apologetic for untimely sleeping. He also declared that he shall maintain on his chest Bhragu's foot-mark as 'Shri-vatsa' for reminding him of his duty towards saints and his subjects. However, Lakshmi, who was with him, felt insulted. She hence immediately deserted him and re-emerged in South as Padmavati. Unable to bear separation Vishnu also left Baikuntha and came to Sheshachala. Long after it was reported to the king that milk from udders of all cows was stolen when in the course of grazing they passed across a spot. When the king’s men could not find the thief the king himself went after them. To his utter surprise he saw that the milk flowed from their udders when they passed a particular spot. The place was dug and to his great delight there emerged from under the earth a stone image of Srinivasa. He built on the spot a temple and installed the deity image in the temple now known as Venkatesvara or Balaji. As is evident from various inscriptions Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and kings of Vijayanagara dynasty offered worship at the temple. This affirms temple's existence at least as early as at least the 9th century.
An excellent work of art this brass image has been cast in exact pursuance of the norms of modeling as reveal in the image of the four-armed Lord Venkatesvara enshrining the Balaji temple at Tirupati. The deity’s upper hands are not discernible though the attributes carried in them – lotus on the right side, and conch on the left, have been elaborately cast. The normal right hand is held in ‘varad’ while the normal left, is held back. A figure with moderate height, neck, almost merged with the torso, the deity-image has been cast with a towering crown – the characteristic South Indian form of a Vaishnava headgear, and Vaishnava ‘tilaka’ mark reaching the very tip of the nose, typical of Balaji icon. The large size garland, stretching almost a ‘prabhavali’ – fire-arch, like, on sides and over the head, and entire ornamentation, especially multi-laced semi-circular girdle suspending over the waist and large ‘kundalas’ designed like large flowers, are also typical of Balaji imagery. The deity image has been raised over a circular lotus podium, an inverted larger lotus, towards the bottom, and a smaller one on the top.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet.
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