Vishnu Shrines

Year-round pilgrimage to Tirupati temple.

The four most sacred temples for Vishnu in Andhra Pradesh are at Tirupati, Ahobilam, Simha-chalam and Bhadrachalam. The fifth sacred site is at Tadpatri that has the Chintala Venkataramana (Vishnu) and the Ramalingesvara (Siva) temples.

Temple of Balaji


Tirupati is well known all over India and abroad. Devotees from the North call it the temple of Balaji. Tirupati is on the Seshachala range of hills. The temple maintains the Venkatesvara University where, along with the usual courses, research in ancient manuscripts is actively encouraged.

This hill range was known in the Krta yuga as Vrshabhachala, in Treta yuga as Anjanachala, in Dvapara yuga as Seshachala, and in Kali yuga as Venkatachala. The icon in the shrine is svayambhu (self manifest), and represents the Trinity in unity. The Brahma aspect is unmanifest (avyakta). The jata (coiled hair on top of the head) and the snake ornament on the right forearm recall Siva, while all the other features are those of Vishnu. Devas called nitya suris are said to offer worship here at night.

The deity is fully covered with camphor. On Thursdays all the ornaments are removed and the deity is dressed completely with flowers. Ramanuja revived the worship of Vishnu in the avatar of Varaha at a shrine near the Swami Pushkarini tirtha. Killing of birds and animals is not allowed on the hill.

Alamelu Manga, the consort of Lord Venkatesvara, is at Tiruchanur at the foot of the Tirumala hill, two miles away from the main temple.

Dhana Akarshana Yantra
Adi Sankara installed a dhana akarshana yantra at the main shrine.

Every morning accounts of money spent and received are read before the Lord.

The Swami Pushkarini tirtha is adjoining the temple. Sacred water is taken for temple rituals from Akasa Ganga, which is four miles away.

Tirupati enjoys the patronage of rich devotees and the belief is that cash offered to the Lord comes back to the donor multiplied many times.

Temple inscriptions say that Vikramaditya, a Chalukya king (12th c A.D.), worshipped here.

The spiritual head of the Ahobala Matha is called Jeer. The first in this line of acharyas was Srinivasacharya (14th c), known as Shatakopa yati, since the Lord in the form of a yogi gave him initiation. (Sri Narasimhah svyam dadau yogi rupena yasya asmai Shatakopqya namaha). Annamacharya, the music composer, received initiation from the Jeer at Ahobalam. The Vaishnava saints (Alwars) refer to this place as Singavelkundram.

Nine shrines (Nava Narasimha) of Vishnu in the form of Narasimha sanctify this kshetra, which is in Kurnool district. At the foot of the hills is Prahlada Varada Narasimha. Chatra Vata Narasimha is further up and this icon is installed under a peepal tree (Arasa maram). Yogananda Narasimha is in Upper Ahobalam, where Lord Narasimha taught Prahlada yogic postures here.

On the southern slope the fierce aspect of the Lord, called Ugra Narasimha, is worshipped in a magnificent temple. The Guha Narasimha nearby has a huge pillar at the entrance that is believed to be the pillar that was kicked by the Lord.

At Krodha Narasimha, the Lord is worshipped in the form of a boar. Narayana shata akshari (100 names of Narayana) and Varaha kanda parayana are done here. The Ahobala Jeers worship a gold utsava vigraha (idol taken out in processions) called the Malola Narasimha, which is the shanta (sanguine) form of Narasimha, while Jvala Narasimha shows the fury of the Lord when he tore apart Hiranyakasipu. Pavana Narasimha is the ninth idol.

The name Ahobala is derived from the verse Narasimham paramam devam Aho balam Aho balam (Narasimha is the supreme lord. O, his strength, his great power.)

Worship by Tribals
The Chenchu tribes are associated with Srisailam as well as Ahobalam. Folk songs sing of Lord Vishnu and Chencheta, his tribal bride. The Rakta Kundam, a tank with reddish water, is the water in which Lord Narasimha washed his hands after killing Hiranyakasipu.

The Narasimha Yantra has the following verse in Anushtubh (poetic meter) engraved on it.

Ugram Viram Maha Vishnu
jvalantam sarvatomukham /
Nrisimham Bhishanam Bhadram
mrtyor mrtyum namamyaham //

(I bow to Narasimha of terrible aspect, full of courage, who is Vishnu as Lakshmi Narasimha, who is blazing with fury, who faces in all directions, who is terrifying, who is auspicious, and destroys death).

This imagery of the Lord corresponds to the vision of Arjuna when he was given visvarupa darsan on the battle field.

This shrine dedicated to Vishnu as Narasimha is on a hill near Visakhapatnam on the Andhra coast. Pilgrims take bath in the pushkarini at the foot of the hill. The legend goes that when Prahlada's father, Hiranyakasipu, placed the Simahachala hill on his head to crush him, Vishnu tilted the hill a bit to save his bhakta. Prahlada established this shrine in gratitude.

A pillar of tribute (kappam sthambha) in the temple is venerated for its healing power. King Pururavas of the Chandravamsa (lunar dynasty) married Urvasi, the apsaras (celestial dancer) and while roaming with her in his pushpaka vimana (aerial chariot) they landed on the Simhachala hill. Urvasi remembered that Prahlada had set up a shrine there for Lord Narasimha. In order to find the idol Pururavas entered deep Samadhi (meditation). He discovered the idol buried under an anthill.

A celestial voice told him that the feet of the idol would not be visible to anybody and sandal paste should cover the idol except for one day in the year. In the first week of May on the day of the Visakha star (akshaya tritiya), darsan of the Lord is special. The water of Gangadhara spring atop the hill has medicinal quality.

This kshetra is a unique instance of Muslim patronage for a Hindu temple. This kshetra is in the northern end of Andhra, on the banks of the Godavari. A saint called Bhadra attracted Rama to this place by his intense meditation. So this place is Bhadra achala- the hill of Bhadra. This is the place where Rama stayed with Sita before she was abducted.

A bairagi (ascetic) who came from Ayodhya lived on the hill here. He carved the image of Rama and built a small shrine which is in an inaccessible part of the hill. After many years, during the time of the Kutub Shahi kings, an unlettered woman had a vision of the idols of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana lying on the hill top. She found the spot and built a small mantapam over it.

Gopanna, a nephew of the king's minister, came to worship at this shrine. Kabirdas also came at that time and was initially refused permission to enter the temple. Gopanna, persuaded the archakas (priests) to relax their rigid rules. Gopanna then received initiation from Kabir and assumed the name of Ramadas.

Ramadas was the officer responsible for collecting revenue. Instead of depositing it in the treasury, he spent the money to enlarge the small temple and for festivals. Tanasha, the ruler, imprisoned him for 12 years as punishment.

Rama's Gesture
Ramadas remained immersed in bhakti even within the prison. Rama and Lakshmana came to the king in the guise of two messengers and repaid the debts with gold coins. The king later realised that it was a great miracle. He instantly released Ramadas and gave him his full support. He minted gold coins similar to the celestial coins. These coins, called Ramatanki, are preserved in the temple to this day.

Ramadas constructed another temple for Ranganatha. The Rama idol in this temple is unique since it has four hands, two holding bow and arrow and the other two holding the conch and the discus.

Ramadas is remembered as the renowned musician saint, who poured out his bhakti in classical songs and became a role model for Tyagaraja. His song Sri Rama nee name emi ruchira (O Rama, How sweet is the taste of your name) has been immortalised by M.S. Subbulakshmi.

At Tadapatri in Anantapur in the south-west of Andhra near Lepakshi, there are two sacred shrines, one dedicated to Siva and the other to Vishnu. The temples are on the banks of the Pinakini river. Since this place had a thick forest of palm trees, it was called Tamlapalli and later changed to Tadapatri by the Vijayanagar kings who built both the Siva and Vishnu shrines.

The Sivalingam in the Ramalingesvara temple is kept damp by a perennial spring that flows over it. The lingam is roughly formed and is considered a svayambu. Lord Parasurama performed penance here and worshipped this lingam. The lingam got covered by an anthill and was discovered by observing a cow that shed its milk daily at this spot.

Chintala Venkataramana temple is in honour of Vishnu. This idol of Vishnu was discovered under a tamarind tree. So this shrine is called Chintala (tamarind).

The stone walls of the temple are carved with exquisite figures of elephants and horses in procession going from one end of the wall to the other end. A stone chariot is part of the architecture and the holes carved into the chariot focus the sun's rays on the foot of the deity.

The whole of Ramayana from Dasaratha's yajna to the Pattabhisheka, the various avataras of Vishnu, and scenes from Krishna's life are carved on the walls. This temple shows that the best of Indian art has always been an offering to the Divine.

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