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There are many names with which the Lord Venkateswara is called. Of course the sahasranama is devoted to Lord Vasudeva and all his avatars and the one in the question is definitely included. Leaving that behind He is also called as Govinda, Thiruvenkatamudayan, Srinivasan etc and many solkas and archana mantras enumerate his names. But none of these seems to have the name Balaji listed but still it is very popular especially with North Indians.

Usually every name will have some sort of anecdote however small or big it might be. What is such with the name Balaji?

  • There are two theories on why he's called Balaji: one that it's taken from Balaka, a name of Krishna conveying his youthful appearance, and the other that it's taken from Bala which is a name of Durga, from the days when people used to consider the statue to be Durga. You see, there was a time when there was a lot of confusion on the identity of the statue; various people thought it was Vishnu, Shiva, Kartikeya, Durga, and Buddha. This confusion was resolved by Ramanujacharya, who gave both arguments for why it must be Vishnu, and he demonstrated it was Vishnu using the locked-doors miracle. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 25 '16 at 4:27
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    By the way, this book says there's no record of the name Balaji before the 17th century: books.google.com/… – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 25 '16 at 4:30
  • @Keshav What was Ramanuja's experiment of locked doors? – Surya Feb 25 '16 at 6:43
  • @Surya Because there was a controversy concerning who the statue depicted, there was a perpetual fight over what ornaments to put in the statue's hands, e.g. Kaumaras wanted to put a Vel in his lower hand. Now Ramanujacharya had first given detailed scriptural arguments showing that the statue is Vishnu, but the priests of other sects weren't willing to listen. So he proposed a test: put all the proposed ornaments in the Garbagraha and lock the doors overnight, and let the statue choose its ornaments. In the morning, when the doors were unlocked, the statue was holding the Shankha and Chakra! – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 25 '16 at 13:02
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    @KeshavSrinivasan The story of Ramanujacharya becoming a snake and putting the Shankha and Chakra is just a story added later. What actually happens is Ramanujacharya prays the Lord to chose his right form and prove to the world what he actually is. When they opened the doors the next morning, all the weapons and ornaments except the Shankha and Chakra fell down. Then Ramanujacharya put Shankha and Chakra according to Pancharatra Agama to the Lord and thus became acharya to the God. Venkateshwara ordered the Yadava king to chant the name of Ramanuja every time they take His name at Tirumala. – Sarvabhouma Apr 20 '16 at 11:38
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There is an interesting story behind the how Lord Venkateshwara got that name. This is not because of the confusion of who the deity in Tirumala is.

Once upon a time, there was a controversy between various sects of our religion on who is the presiding deity of Tirumala. There were different theories that the deity in Tirumala is Shiva, Shakthi, Kartikeya, Srimannarayana. Many debates were held among those sectarians regarding this issue. But no one could prove their theory as correct.

But Bhagavad Ramanujacharya, founder of Visishtadvaita philosophy visited Tirumala and took part in the debate with other sectarians. He proved that the presiding deity is none other than Srimannarayana through debate and also an experiment called locked doors(see the comments thread). By that experiment, all were convinced that Venkateshwara is none other than Srimannarayana.

In His lifetime, Bhagavad Ramanujacharya visited Tirumala 3 times and organised the puja vidhanam to the Lord and made rules on how the Lord should be worshiped. He also appointed his disciples to carry on the tradition of worship to the lord.

How did Lord Venkateshwara get the name Balaji?

Bhagavad Ramanuja made the rules on how Venkateshwara should be worshiped and different sevas performed to the Lord like Abhishekam etc.,.

On a Friday(Ramanuja was the one who made the rule that abhishekam should be performed and it is followed till date) while Abhishekam(holy bath) was being performed to the lord with the Akasa Ganga waters,The white part of the tirunamam of Lord Venkateshwara got melted and only red part and white part under the eye brows of Venkateshwara was visible(Like the women of Sri Vaishnava tradition wear the namam). Looking at that scene, Sri Ramanujacharya got mesmerized by that beauty of the Lord and thought in his mind as follows:

Oh Lord! How beautiful you are, How beautiful your face is. I am mesmerized by your beauty. Once you took the incarnation of Mohini and mesmerized the worlds with your beauty. May be you are desiring to look like that again and make the people happy.

After this thought, the Lord conquered one of priests who were abhishekam said in a loudly voice as an approval. Yes Ramanuja! I am desiring to look like that. People who were sitting along with Ramanujacharya and watching the abhishekam were astonished by those words and didn't know the meaning of that. Later Sri Ramanujacharya explained. Thus Sri Ramanujacharya made a rule that the Lord should be decorated as Mohini avatar wearing a saree on Monday, tuesday, wednesday. On Thursday, Lord should be decorated with different flowers and a namam made of jewels should be put. On Friday, saturday and sunday, He should be decorated with different jewels.

This rule was well performed till the early 18th century. In the 18 century, the Mahanths reigned over the temple administration of Tirumala. By that time, the facilities on the Seven hills were improved. The number of devotees visiting Tirumala from northern states of India has increased. People who have seen Lord Venkateshwara in saree were pleased and called Him Balaji. Bala means a beautiful woman in Hindi. Ji means the respect people give to the deities for example : Ganeshji, Shivji etc., . Thus the name of Balaji got popularised in the north India even though He has other names. This is the real reason behind the history of the name Balaji. But this tradition of decorating the Lord with saree is forgotten by present TTD board who are the administrators of the temple.

This story was explained by HH Sri Sri Sri Tridandi Chinna Srimannarayana Ramanuja Jeeyar swami as a part of explaining the history and importance of Tirumala.

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It is Hathiram Bavaji who gave Lord Venkateshwara the name of Balaji.

This is because Lord Venkateshwara appeared in front of him as a boy, so he called him as Balaji.

If you have any doubt, see this movie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om_Namo_Venkatesaya :)

Hathiram Bavaji is also from North India who worshipped Lord Venkateshwara in Tirupati.

  • TV shows and movies are not considered as valid sources on the site. Add something more valid. – Sarvabhouma May 2 '18 at 5:02
  • See this sentense "According to legend Hathiram named Lord Venkateswara as Balaji.[4] " from wikipedia page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hathiram_Bhavaji – user2225190 May 2 '18 at 5:24

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