India > Andra Pradesh > Pilgrimage Tours
Religion is the heart and soul of India. Andhra Pradesh houses a number of pilgrimage centers that are worth visiting. In fact one of the renowned pilgrimage centers, Tirupati, lies in this Indian state. The tourists can begin with this most popular pilgrimage sites in Andhra Pradesh.
The further south the tourists travel from the fertile lands watered by the great Krishna and Godavari rivers, the less hospitable the terrain becomes, especially in the rocky southwest of the state. For Hindus, the main attraction in southern Andhra Pradesh is the tenth-century Venkateshvara Temple, outside Tirupati, the most popular Vishnu shrine in India, where several thousand pilgrims come each day to receive darshan. Set in a stunning position, surrounded by wooded hills capped by a ring of vertical red rocks, Shri Venkateshvara Temple at Tirumala, is said to be the richest and most popular place of pilgrimage in the world. It is located at a distance of 170 km northwest of Chennai and draws more devotees than either Rome or Mecca. With its many shrines and dharmshalas, the whole area around Tirumala Hill, an enervating drive 700m up in the Venkata hills, provides a fascinating insight into contemporary Hinduism practised on a large scale.
Just a five-minute walk from the railway station, the one temple in Tirupati itself that is definitely worth a visit is Govindarajaswamy, whose modern grey gopura is clearly visible from many points in town. Begun by the Nayaks in the 16th century, it is an interesting complex with large open courtyards decorated with lion sculptures and some ornate wooden roofs. The inner sanctum is open to non-Hindus and contains a splendid large black reclining Vishnu. The idol is further coated in bronze armour and bedecked in flowers. A visit during the satiadar sanan will let enable the travelers to witness the deity and participate in fire blessings at the main and subsidiary shrines. In its own compound by the side entrance stands the fine little Venkateshvara Museum of Temple Arts. The temples impressive tank lies 200 meter to the east.
Between Tirupati and Tirumala Hill, the Tiruchanur Padmavati Temple is another popular pilgrimage halt. A gold vimana tower with lions at each corner surmounts the sanctuary, which contains a black stone image of goddess Lakshmi with one silver eye. At the front step, water sprays wash the feet of the devotees.
Another trail starts at Alipuri, 4km from the centre of Tirupati; all the pilgrim buses that pass through look out for a large Garuda statue and the soaring gopura of the first temple. The Venkateshvara Temple dedicated to Vishnu is situated here. Although it was started in the 10th century, it has been recently renovated lately. At the entrance is a colonnade, lined with life-sized statues of royal patrons, in copper or stone. The gopura gateway leading to the inner courtyard is decorated with sheets of embossed silver; a gold stambha (flagstaff) stands outside the inner shrine next to a gold upturned lotus on a plinth. Outside, opposite the temple, is a small museum, the Hall of Antiquities.
At the bottom of the hill, Sri Kapileswaraswami Temple at Kapilateertham is the only Tirumala temple devoted to Lord Shiva. It has been further adorned by a small Hindu pleasure garden at the entrance and a sacred waterfall, which crashes into a large tank surrounded by colonnades where pilgrims pile in for a bath.
Andhra Pradesh is also known for its mosques. In fact in India it is one of those places that house the cultural centers of the Muslims. Hyderabad is hailed as the city of poetry, music and love. Hence the travelers will find in the north of the river jet in a leafy courtyard not far south of the railway station, the Yusufian Dargah, with its striking bulbous yellow dome. It is the dedicated to a 17th century Sufi saint of the venerable Chishti order. The pilgrims can enter to view the flower-decked tomb.
The Birla Venkateshwara temple is open daily from 7am-noon and 3-9pm. It is situated on Kala-Pahad ("black mountain"), north of the Public Gardens and is open to all. Constructed in Rajasthani white marble in 1976, the temple offers fine views. Nearby, and built by the same organization, is the planetarium and a science centre with lots of satellite hardware and photos, machines demonstrating sensory perceptions and a small dinosaur display.
Some 6 km north of Warangal, just off the main road beside the slopes of Hanamkonda Hill, the largely basalt Chalukyan style "thousand-pillared" Shiva temple was constructed by King Rudra Deva in 1163. It remains open for visitors from 10am to 6pm. A low-roofed building on several stepped stages, it features superb carvings and wee shrines to Vishnu, Shiva and Surya, the sun god. They lead to the mandapa whose numerous finely carved columns give the temple its name. In front, a polished Nandi bull was carved out of a single stone. A Bhadrakali Temple stands at the top of the hill.
The Kanaka Durga also known as Vijaya Temple on Indrakila Hill is situated in Vijayawada. It is dedicated to the city`s patron goddess of riches, power and benevolence and is the most interesting of Vijayawada`s handful of temples. Across the river, roughly 3 km out of town, is an ancient, unmodified cave temple at Undavalli, a tiny rural village set off the main road and reachable on any Guntur-boimd bus.
Puttaparthy, the hometown of the spiritual leader Sai Baba, is the another place down south of Andhra Pradesh that attracts significant numbers of visitors. Both Tirupati and Puttaparthy are closer to Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Bangalore in Karnataka than to other points in Andhra Pradesh, and for many tourists, constitute their only foray into the state.
Sathya Sai Baba in Andhra Pradesh Centering on Prasanthi Nilaya, the ashram where Sai Baba resides from July to March, has schools, a university, a hospital and sports centre which offer up-to-date and free services to all. There`s even a small airport. The ashram itself is a huge complex with room for thousands, with canteens, shops, a museum and library, and a vast assembly hall where Sai Baba gives darshan twice daily. Queues start more than an hour before the appointed time and a lottery decides who gets to sit near the front.
The museum adjacent contains a detailed and fascinating display on the world`s major faiths with illustrations and quotations from their sacred texts, punctuated by Sai Baba`s comments.