Tirupati (also known as Tirumala) is a site in southern Andhra Pradesh where a TEMPLE to VISHNU in the form of Venkateshvara stands on top of a sacred hill. It is one of the major PILGRIMAGE sites in India and may be India’s richest temple. People go to see Venkateshvara for practical ends, with wishes for children, wealth, or success in education. It is very common for people to have their head shaved in the town of Tirupati, to fulfill a vow to the deity, who has been humbly beseeched.
   As many as 30,000 pilgrims a day walk the long narrow winding roads to the top of Tirumala hill to the modest-sized temple there. There are rest houses along the walking route. A bus ride to the summit takes approximately one hour from the bottom. The summit is a dramatic 2,100 feet over the city of Tirupati. As are most Vaish-navite temples Tirupati is known for its delicious PRASADA, or “grace food,” which is given to all who visit the Lord. The food is symbolically offered to God and divinely eaten by him before it is given to the worshippers to take home. The temple is known both for allowing non-Hindus into its inner sanctum and for keeping the eyes of the image covered—its look is considered too potent for people to bear.
   The temple is located amid the famous seven hills of the Sheshacalam mountain range, said to represent the seven hoods of the divine serpent ADISHESHA, the couch for the recumbent VISHNU as they float on the MILK OCEAN between eras. The oldest part of the temple dates to the ninth or 10th century. There is a credible tradition that the temple was originally a MURUGAN or SHIVA temple that was converted to Vishnu by the famous Vaishnava Acharya RAMANUJA in the 12th century. The temple was enlarged considerably under the VIJAYANAGARA kings, who took Venkateshvara as the patron deity of the royal family.
   Further reading: Nandith Krishna, Balaji, Venkatesh-wara, Lord of Tirumala-Tirupati—an Introduction (Mum-bai: Vakils Feffer & Simons, 2000); Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, God on the Hill: Temple Poems from Tirupati (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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