Benign benefactor

Print edition : September 21, 2007

An overview of the Venkateswara temple in Tirumala, with the three-tiered Ananda Nilayam, the gold-plated vimana, in the foreground.-D. KRISHNAN

The Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams has been successfully managing the Venkateswara temple and the township since 1932.

An overview of

THE Venkateswara temple, situated at Tirumala at an altitude of about 950 metres, has a unique history and position in the Hindu tradition. One can find a plethora of references to the temple in ancient texts. The earliest mention of the shrine was in Tolkappiam, a Tamil literary work of the 2nd century B.C. Of the 12 primary Alwars (saints who laid the foundations of the Srivaishnavite tradition), 10 have sung pasurams, or poems, in praise of the Lord of the S even Hills, as the presiding deity is commonly known.

Chakravarthi Tondaiman, a devotee, is said to have discovered the self-manifested (swayambhoo) deity on Venkatadri, one of the seven hills that form the Seshachalam range in the Eastern Ghats, and built a shrine dedic

Devotees taking a plunge in the Swami Pushkarini (the temple tank) as part of the Brahmotsavam, in 2006.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Devotees taking a

ated to Venkatesa. The self-manifestation of Srinivasa, according to legend, took place at the end of Dvapara Yuga and at the start of Kali Yuga. The idol of Venkateswara has His consort Sri Devi (Lakshmi) nestled on the right side of his chest and displays scars on both shoulders, extending up to the arm pit, as if caused by the constant wear of the bow-string and the arrow pouch. Ramanuja, the 11/12th century Sri Vaishnavite saint, reformer and preceptor, established and standardised the daily rituals and modes of worship at the shrine. To this day, this religious routine is followed meticulously by the temple.

The date of the Tirumala temple cannot be ascertained with any degree of accuracy. It is believed that a small village with a shrine of Parthasarathy existed before Ramanujas time. There is, however, neither inscriptional evidence nor tradition to back this conjecture.

The Venkateswara temple has more than a thousand wall inscriptions dating from the 7th century to modern times. The architectural development of the shrine has been studied from its various structures and inscriptions. Tiruchanur, which is located downhill, is, in fact, considered more ancient than Tirupati, also downhill, although it cannot claim the same antiquity as Tirumala.

THE idol of Venkateswara on the Garuda vahana, on the eve of Karthika Poornima; the full moon is visible in the dark sky.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

THE idol of

The temples of Tirumala and Tirupati were under the control of successive dynasties. The temple inscriptions indicate that the Tirumala shrine received royal benefaction between A.D. 813 and A.D. 1550. After the fall of the Hindu empires, the Tirumala and Tirupati temples came under the sway of the Nawabs of Arcot, and with the advent of the English, the management passed into the hands of the East India Company in 1801. Archival evidence shows that Lord Clive gave instructions to the Nawab of Arcot in 1800 in connection with the arrangements to be made for providing convenience to a dignitary who wished to go to Tirumala on a pilgrimage. The Mackenzie manuscripts of 1801 (Vol.XVI page 476-C) have recorded the boundaries of the seven hills, spread over 250 sq km. The Company managed the Tirumala temple under the well-defined rules contained in the Bruce Code drawn up in 1821 on the basis of previous usages and customs and did not interfere in its day-to-day affairs.

In 1843, it transferred the management of the temple to the head of the Hathiramji Mutt, Tirupati, who managed its affairs until the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams Act of 1932 was enacted. The TTD Act was, however, superseded by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1951. Interestingly, it was in 1934 that the first tenements were constructed on Tirumala. In 1950, choultries and individual cottages were built with donations from devotees and philanthropists. The first ghat road to Tirumala was laid in 1944.

In addition to the temple, the TTD owned 600 zamindari villages, spread over Chittoor (Andhra Pradesh) and Chingleput (Tamil Nadu) districts, with an annual income of about Rs.6 lakh. When it handed over the villages to the government under the Zamindari Abolition Act of 1950, it netted a compensation of Rs.12 lakh. The annual income of the temple, including land revenue, stood at Rs.11 lakh in 1933, Rs.22 lakh in 1949 and Rs.2.5 crore in 1964, and is now touching a whopping Rs.800 crore.

The bulk of the TTDs income, is derived from offerings. The collection from the temple hundi is at present not less than Rs.1 crore a day. On any given day, both the volume of pilgrim traffic and the revenue collection are higher at the Tirumala temple than at any other temple in the country. It is not uncommon to find huge individual offerings ranging from Rs.50 lakh to Rs.1 crore dropped into the hundi. The pilgrim turnout, which used to be 10,000 a day in the 1960s, now hovers around 55,000 to 60,000 on normal days, and goes well above one lakh on festive occasions.

AT the venue of the TTDs Kalyanamasthu programme in Tirumala.-K.V. POORNACHANDRA KUMAR

AT the venue

With the increase in revenue, the TTD administration added a social function to its religious agenda. Besides setting up oriental institutions and colleges of general education in the early 1950s with an outlay of Rs.40 lakh, it has donated a 400-hectare site together with some buildings to help the government set up Sri Venkateswara University, which is among the top-most conventional universities in the country. On the vast land donated by the TTD, the Sri Padmavathi Mahila University, the Veterinary and Agricultural College, the SVIMS University, the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidya Peeth, and the recently set up Sri Venkateswara Vedic University stand testimony to the TTDs concern for the cause of education, health and the overall development of society.

The TTD administration, with a 14,000-strong workforce, is run by a supreme policymaking body called the TTD Trust Board, constituted by the State government once in two years. Besides the Chairperson, the board has 10 non-official members, including three Members of the Legislative Assembly (one of whom is a woman and another a member of the Scheduled Castes), belonging to the ruling party. The Principal Secretary, Revenue (Endowments) Department, A.P. government, and the Commissioner of Endowments (both Indian Administrative Service officers) and the Chairman of the Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA) are its ex-officio members. The executive head of the TTD is its Executive Officer, again a senior IAS officer who is also the Member-Secretary of the board. He has under him two Joint Executive Officers of the IAS cadre, one based at Tirumala and the other at Tirupati. The TTD Act of 1979 has made it mandatory for the TTD to have a financial adviser and a chief accounts officer.

The post of the TTD Board Chairperson, which is equivalent in rank to a Cabinet Minister of Andhra Pradesh, is one of the most sought-after political appointments in the State. The person holding the post enjoys political and protocol privileges. The TTD, which is governed by the AP Endowments Act 30 of 1987, can be described as a mini government with its own well-established departments. Some of them are headed by officials deputed by the State government.

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