Points in favour of Devi theory
At the time of Ramanuja, controversy about the nature of Lord was only between worshipers of Vishnu and those of Shiva. But now there appears to be a group of devotees who claim the Lord of Tirumalai as a female deity.
Their claim rests on the following points as mentioned by Sitapati:
"...Holders of this view usually quote a verse from the Devi Bhagwatam which describes the Lord as 'Sri Venkateswari', the only deity of Kaliyuga. Certain practices in temple such as the use of turmeric paste for the abhishekam of the Lord, the fact that the abhishekam for the Mula Vigraham is done on Fridays, the fact that 'tomal seva' is called 'Bhagvati Aradhana' and that Srisukta mantras are read during this abhishekam of the Lord are relied upon by them to make out a case that the Lord is Shakti or Kali or Durga. Uniquely enough the temple Vimanam has the 'Sakteya symbol' on it-the lion-and not the Garuda, as one would normally expect. The Lord is called 'Bala'or 'Balaji' in the Nort and as 'Bala' stands for a girl, these contend that the presiding deity at Tirumalai is the Divine Prakriti Herself." [Sitapati:25]
Symbol of Lion does not necessarily imply Shakti worship
There is hardly anything to comment on the points raised by Sitapati. Only thing one could understand is that Lion which is believed to be a 'sakteya symbol', was considered to be Buddhist symbol from much earlier times than the shaki puja came into vogue. Lord Buddha was Himself called 'Sakya simha' meaning a Lion among the Shakyas. The so called Lion Capital of Asokan Sarnath pillar is in reality a Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Capital. It was seen like that by Hiuen-Tsang.
Lion Capital is in fact Dhamma Chakra Capital
Dr. L.M.Josi describes it as follows:
"The excellent example of this type is the so called 'Lion Capital' from Saranatha, now the exalted emblem of the Indian Union. It is in fact the 'Dharma Chakra-capital' and not the 'Lion Capital'! Originally, the pillar of Sarnath was crowned by a wheel placed in a deep socket between the heads of the lion. Not only the seven fragments of the wheel are extant in the Sarnath museum but also the above words of Hiuen-Tsang prove that this was a Dharma-Chakra-Capital and not a Lion Capital, though the latter name has attained wide renown. Its right designation should be Dharma-Chakra- Capital." [Joshi: 49]
Percy Brown has given a reconstructed picture of this Dharma-chakra-capital. [Percy Brown: I, 16]
Garuda is missimg
Of course, the lions on the temple of Tirumalai do not have any Boddhist meaning. The vimanam of this temple is built much later than the Buddhist times and those who put the lions there did not put there as symbols of Buddha, perhaps Buddha was long forgotten before the vimanam was built, but the fact remains that Garuda is missing from the vimanam, and even during the late times of building the vimanam, Garuda was not thought to be a symbol to be put there, by the then followers of the Lord.
Female aspects are more in favour of Buddhist Image
It is worth noting, that the association of worship of female deity with the worship of Vishnu is quite late as we have seen, and is in the form of consort, and not as a main deity, worship by courtesy and not by right. It is worth mentioning that if the practice of using turmeric etc. denote Sakti worship then in the late phases of Buddhism - Tantrika Buddhism, with which we are directly concerned, the worship of female element was predominant. In any case if there is any indication that it was a deity of worshipers of female goddess then the association of female deity with the Buddhist pantheon is pertinent to be noted, and the presence of female aspects associated with this shrine does not in any way antagonize the possibility of a Buddhist creed. And the presence of male and female aspects in one and the same murthi, - iconologically as well as historically - should go more in favour of it being a Buddhist Image than that of Vishnu.