Last week on March 14, they began the gold plating of Tirupati temple with a special puja to the golden Lakshmi image near the main sanctum. A 100 kilos of gold is required to convert the entire temple and its precincts into a golden complex. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam decided to finance the project through donations from devotees. They invited donations on October 1, 2008.
Over 20kg of gold were received that very day. Until now, according to temple sources, the management has received over 60kg of gold and hundreds of thousands of rupees for the gold-plating. The deity who thus loosened purse strings is Lord Venkatesa/ Venkataramana/Balaji, whose temple is atop the seventh of the ‘Tirumala’ (holy hills) where he is worshipped as Tirupati (Lord of Lakshmi: Vishnu) in Chittoor District, south Andhra Pradesh.
It takes a four to five hour climb and long, slow queues which you join after buying a token to reach the target: Venkatadri (adri in Sanskrit means hill), which houses the garbhagriha (main shrine) of Lord Balaji. The Venkatam or Venkatadri Hill is believed to be a part of the celestial mount, Meru, brought to earth from Vaikuntam (heaven) by Garuda.
Situated 2,820 feet above sea level, Tirupati is about 100 square meters in area. To reach the main temple you have to cross the first six hills – Seshadri, Vedadri, Garudadri, Anjandri, Vri-shabhadri and Narayanadri.
Balaji inspires several industries from manufacturing pins to prasadam. He has several educational institutions offering higher technical and management education and specialty hospitals running under his benevolence. But if Balaji is seriously into investment and earnings, He has reason, says the sthalapuranam or founding legend of Tirupati.
He has a huge debt to clear, for he took a loan for his wedding to his beloved Padmavati (Lakshmi) from Kubera, Lord of Wealth. Even today, after centuries of depositing all his earnings, He is still repaying only the interest component of the loan that He took for his splendid marriage.
“The Lord seems to be spending so much on staff and maintenance that He has no capital to pay the interest and is caught in a vicious karmic circle created by Himself,” says E. Muralidhara Rao, Telugu Professor, Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi and research scholar on Tirupati. He adds that the global downturn is good for religious business, as more people turn to God and astrology for emotional support.
The economy Lord Balaji powers continues to grow. If anything, his earnings have only grown with one lakh plus devotees in a week, crowd-controlled by sophisticated software. Says S. Sathyam of Chicago, a software engineer with Tata Consultancy Services, who worked on the the project, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve!” Balaji is now set to enter Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi with branches.