By Srinidhi Murthy
Set in the peaceful hills of Tirumala, the temple of Lord Venkateshwara Balaji or Vishnu, is one of the holiest places in the country. The story of why the Tirupati temple is so special is a fascinating one.
Many years ago, a farmer heard a divine voice from an anthill. The farmer rushed to tell King Thondaiman about the voice. Upon investigation, King Thondaiman found an idol in the anthill and decided to build a temple to match its serenity and beauty. However, this story goes further back to the time when Lord Vishnu arrived on earth as Venkateshwara.
The Departure of Lakshmi
After the end of Vishnu’s Krishna Avatar, he returned to live in Vaikuntha. Many sages decided to perform a yagna under the guidance of Sage Kashyapa. Following the advice of Narada, Sage Bhrigu was chosen to decide who among Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma would accept the final offerings of the yagna. To make this decision, Bhrigu decided to pay a visit to the gods at their abodes. However, Bhrigu was dissatisfied with the reception he received from Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. The sage expected more disrespect when he arrived at Vaikuntha. Hence, as soon as he reached, he struck Lord Vishnu on his chest. Vishnu, through his divine intuition, understood the anger of the sage and calmly washed his feet. As he did, he pinched the sole of Bhrigu’s foot, shutting the sage’s third eye which was located on his foot. This ended Bhrigu’s arrogance and he immediately realised his mistake. Humbled, Bhrigu requested Vishnu to accept the offerings of the yagna. However, when Bhrigu left, Vishnu realised that Lakshmi was upset. Upon asking her the cause of her distress, she told Vishnu that the sage had kicked his chest, that is, the place where Lakshmi resides. Hence, by letting Bhrigu kick his chest, Vishnu had allowed Lakshmi to be insulted. Not able to tolerate this insult, Lakshmi decided to leave Vaikuntha.
Vishnu and the Cowherd
Lakshmi then descended to the earth and started living there. Unable to live without Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu came to earth in search of her. He began meditating without food and water in an anthill. Seeing this, Lord Shiva and Brahma decided to help Vishnu. The two gods formed a plan with Narada and took the form of a cow and calf, respectively. They approached Goddess Lakshmi and Narada requested her to gift the animals to the Chola king. The king in turn gave the cow and calf to the queen. After a few days, the queen noticed that the animals were not yielding milk and accused the cowherd of stealing it. In order to prove his innocence and find out what happened to the milk, the cowherd followed the cow. He noticed the cow was giving all its milk to the anthill. Angry, he threw the axe at the cow, but to his horror, Lord Vishnu took the hit to protect the cow. The cowherd fainted due to the shock of what happened. When the king learnt about all this, he begged Lord Vishnu to forgive him for the consequences of his ignorance. Vishnu forgave him and told the King that he would be born as King Akasa Raja in his next birth.
The Gesture of Gandharva Princess
The wound inflicted on Lord Vishnu did not heal completely and he was left with a perceptible bald spot. Seeing the misery of Lord Vishnu, a Gandharva princess named Neela Devi, decided to help him. She cut off her lustrous hair and pressed it on Vishnu’s bald spot. Touched by her gesture, Vishnu decreed that whoever came to worship him would sacrifice their hair to her. Hence, even today, thousands of devotees offer their hair at Tirupati to clear Vishnu’s debt to Neela Devi.
Shrinivasa and Padmavati
As foretold by Lord Vishnu, the Chola king was reborn as Akasa Raja. Akasa Raja decided to perform a special yagna to obtain an heir. In preparation for this yagna, the king and queen were asked to till some fertile land. While doing so, they found a golden lotus box. They opened the box and found a baby girl in it. Akasa Raja named the child Padmavati as she was found resting on a golden lotus box. Unbeknownst to the king, Padmavati was an incarnation of Vedavati. In her previous birth, Vedavati wanted to marry Lord Vishnu, which is why she was reborn as Padmavati in this birth to fulfil her destiny. In the meantime, Vishnu was staying on earth as Shrinivasa, with his foster mother, Vakula Devi. One day, when Shrinivasa went hunting, he heard some cries for help. He saw an elephant chasing some young women, one among them was Padmavati. Shrinivasa subdued the elephant and chased it away. Shrinivasa and Padmavati took an instant liking to each other and fell in love.
When Shrinivasa learnt about the identity of Padmavati, he went to his mother. Revealing that he was in fact, Lord Vishnu, he asked her to go to Akasa Raja to discuss marriage between him and Padmavati. Vakula Devi was sceptical about whether or not the king would believe the true identity of Shrinivasa. Shrinivasa then disguised himself as an astrologer and went to the palace before his mother. He predicted that Padmavati would marry Lord Vishnu himself. Later, when Vakula Devi arrived with the proposal, Akasa Raja agreed immediately.
Wedding and Reunion
The preparations for the grand wedding began. Shrinivasa approached Kubera, the lord of wealth, to lend him money for his wedding. In the presence of Lord Brahma, Shiva and others, Shrinivasa married Padmavati. They built a house like Vaikuntha and spent their days together happily. When Lakshmi heard about the marriage of Shrinivasa and Padmavati, she was furious and rushed to meet the Lord. When he saw the angry Goddess, Vishnu turned to stone. Brahma and Shiva decided to come to earth to soothe Lakshmi’s fury. Their explanations calmed the Goddess and she decided to live, where she always lived, in Vishnu’s chest. Padmavati settled down at Tiruchanur, offering boons to her devotees. A visit to Lord Venkateshwara at Tirupati is incomplete without a visit to Tiruchanur temple.
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