I have been rather lax about posting recently, and it is several weeks since we visited the Venkateswara mandir in Birmingham, UK. This is a very impressive temple, as can be seen in the picture (courtesy of San Sharma, released on the creative commons license). The main temple is fronted by two smaller temples, one dedicated to Shri Ganesha and one to Shri Murugan (Kartikaya). The The main temple has Venkateswara at the centre, and also had other deities including Lakshmi and Hanuman.
Like all the other Mandirs I have visited, we were all made welcome. I mention this again, because I think it important that westerners know that they will be welcomed, many are worried as I was before my first visit to a Hindu temple. We received a blessing and Jal (holy water). Unlike the gulab jal (sweet rose-flavoured water) that I have received in other temples, this jal was spiced with what I thought was a hint of ginger. A commenter has since told me that it was not ginger,but thulasi (tulsi) leaves, cardamom and saffron.
Though Venkateswara is associated with Vishnu as the destroyer of sins, the layout, ambiance and association made me think of Lord Shiva.I have since discovered that I am not alone in this. I have found many articles indicating that the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple (the richest temple in India) is a pilgrimage for many Shaivites, who know him as Tirupati Thimmappa. One site says:
This idol is unique in the structure it depicts both Vaishnavites (followers of Lord Vishnu) and Saivites (followers of Lord Siva). The idol has jata, the mated locks and this is associated with Durga Devi. According to Vamana Purana, Skanda (the Lord Subramanya) performed tapas at Venakatachalam and that the sacred tank at Thirumala is known as Swami Pushkarani. This suggests that the idol could have been that of Subramanya. There are other marks on the idol, which suggests that He is a symbol of Hari-Hara, which means Vishnu and Siva symbolised in one form. This could be the reason that many families of Saivites origin worship Lord Venkateswara as their Kula Deiyvam, which means their family God.
The Birmingham Venkateswara mandir has a peaceful spiritual ambience, which will be appreciated by any visiting Hindus, whatever lineage they follow. If you are in the UK it makes a good pilgrimage destination.
Aum Namah Shivaya