Article by Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, published in SURRENDER – Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Renovation Souvenir 2002.
“ഏവം ത്വത് പദപദ്മയോരനുദിനം
പ്യുത്ക്കര്ഷം നനു വാഞ്ഛസിത്വമധികം
തത് കാരുണ്യസുധാംബുധൌ ത്വയിപരേ
ഭക്തിം ഭക്തജനപ്രിയാദ്യ വിതര
ശ്രീ പദ്മനാഭ പ്രഭോ
ETERNAL obeisance to You oh! Sree Padmanabha Swamy who have subjugated unchartered spans of mighty time to reign in all glory as the heart and heart-beat of the ancient Thrippaappoor Swaroopam (Travancore Dynasty), May Your kind grace descend so as to enable me in all humility to attempt at transmitting the multifaceted glory of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple on these pages, though in abridged form.
After retrieving the land mass of Kerala from the embrace of the ocean, Sree Parasurama, (the 6th incarnation of Sree Maha Vishnu), entrusted the responsibility for the conduct of spiritual affairs with twelve Nampoothiri illoms (houses) and the onus of governance of the land He had partitioned, to the kings identified by Him. The descendants of these Swaroopams (dynasties) still connect their respective royal lines to those bygone eras. It was fated that among them three emerged far more prominent and powerful and were famous as Nediyiruppu Swaroopam (of the Zamoodiries of Kozhikode/Calicut), Perumpadappu Swaroopam (of Kochi) and Thrippaappoor Swaroopam (of Thiruvithamcore).’ Their signatures, undimmed by the passing ages, are boldly visible on the broad historic expanse of the sands of Malayala Nadu. Due to many factors, Venad, later to be known as Thiruvithamcoor, was able to acquire for itself an undeniable position of consequence. The sole cause for all fortunes was deemed to be Sree Padmanabha Swamy Himself, who, for centuries had received its homage as the grandsire of the different lines of this Swaroopam, as its Ishta (personal), Kutumba (family) and Kula (dynastic) God.
This ancient city was ever known by names linking it to the presiding Divinity of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple like Syanandoora Puri, Aanandapuri, Ananthapuri, Ananthasayana Nagari, Thriruvavanthapuram etc. This was only appropriate since Sree Padmanabha Swamy was not only the presiding Deity of the city, but the Sovereign of the State of Travancore as well.
Two distinct aspects were associated with this Temple. From the time it was known, it enjoyed the stature of a Mahakshetram (great temple) and it was all along inter-connected with royalty.
Alvar devotional literature praises 108 identified great temples of Vishnu Paramatman as Thiruppathies’. The Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple lists as the 59th. It has also been recognised as one of the temples praised in song by the illustrious 9th Century saint Nammalvar, as one among the 7 Muktisthals or spiritual seats of salvation set down in the 12th century work ‘Syanandoorapurana Samuchayam’ authored by an anonymous poet and as one among the 6 Narayansthals or centres of Vaishnavite divinity in Bharat as declared by the famed 18th Century sage, Sree Chaithanya Mahaprabhu of Bengal.
Belief exists that apart from the divinely charged power and specified features of a Mahakshethram, ten qualifications array themselves as attendant factors contributing to enhancing its greatness. While there may be temples claiming the status of Mahakshethras though possessing just some among the ten and a lesser number claiming a good majority, Sree Adikesava Perumal Temple, Thiruvattar (erstwhile Venad) for example, at least in common knowledge, there is no Mahakshethram existing which commands all the ten qualities with the exception of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple.
- Antiquity – From unspecified ages, this Temple has come in for mention.
- Records – With over 30 lakh records, mainly cadjan scrolls but also inscriptions, copper plates and the like, this Temple is said to stand first in the area of histriographic literature in the world.
- Royal Connections – As the personal, family and dynastic Deity of various blue-blooded lines which held sway over Venad and ultimately as the paramount Perumal (Sovereign) of the entire State, Sree Padmanabha Swamy was acknowledged supreme. Consequently emphasis on royalty is evident in the functioning of this Temple.
- Origin in a forest – Ananthan Kaatu
- Proximity to an ocean – Arabian sea (known previously as ‘Retnaakara’).
- Historical importance – From the time of available history, the destinies of the Temple and the Throne were interconnected and moved together. Singularly exceptional and significant was the role enacted by it, not only as history-maker but as history itself.
- Situation at an elevation – Though not on a hill as such, the Temple rests at a reasonable height.
- Artistic embellishments – Bhagavan Vishnu is ‘Alankaara Priyan” or one fond of ornamentation. This abode of His is abundantly beautiful with artistic excellence and fine craftsmanship.
- Grandeur of festivals – The biannual 10 day Alpasi and Painkuni Uthsavas (festivals), the royally grand Araat marking their conclusion, the sacred Murajapam and glorious Lakshadeepam taking place once in six years, all stand witness to the splendour of its festivals.
- Mention in ancient literature – This Temple merits mention in ancient literary works inclusive of eight of the Puranas. It is also one of the few temples tracing its evolution down the centuries through literature of the corresponding times which covers 20th Century works as well.
SPECIAL SPIRITUAL ATTRIBUTES
The concept of ‘Sree Padmanabha’ is one among the 24 visualisations of Sree Maha Vishnu. Here the great Perumal is worshipped as the ever-blissful One who is the very embodiment of peace, as also the One reclining on the mighty Anantha in conscious slumber prior to His descent to the earth as Sree Rama Bhagavan. Since the Padmam (lotus) spirals up from His Nabhi (navel), He bears the name ‘Padmanabha’.
- The wondrous Moola Vigraham (main idol) of the Lord is wrought of a highly complex amalgam known as Katusarkara and lined inside with 12 thousand eight Salagramas out of 24 thousand eight brought on elephant back from the Gandaki river in the far-off Himalayan kingdom of Nepal as an offering of the King of Nepal. This adds weight to the belief that once upon a time both these royalties were part of one large clan but with the increase in number of its members with passing summers, it bifurcated and one branch went north to the Himalayan regions to establish a kingdom there while the other moved south to exert its suzerainty.
- The Vaishnava Agamas hold forth that if 12 Salagramas are ritualistically worshipped in one confine for over a period of time, collectively they acquire the potency of one Mahakshethram. In this Temple, for many years,12,008 Salagramas have received such homage within a single idol thus conferring on it the super charges of 1,000 Mahakshethras. This single aspect should suffice to illustrate the spiritual majesty found here.
- While Anantha stands equated with infinity, his five coils represent the Panchendriyas (the five sense organs) or the Panchabhoothas (the five basic elements) and three coils of his body, the three Gunas (qualities) found in all created entities. The play of the senses and tendencies make man dance to many a tune. Here the infinite Perumal is seen in total command of not only nature but of eternity as well.
- The divine hands display the mystic symbol known as ‘Chin Mudra’ or ‘Jnana Mudra’ which proclaims the oneness of the Jeevatman and the Paramatman (the bonded and the Supreme souls).
- Even during those days when clashes between the followers of Vishnu and Siva scarred the face of orthodox worship in many parts of India, Malayala Nadu stood free of them. As a perfect example, in the sanctum sanctorum here, it is possible to view and offer homage to Brahma seated in the lotus rising from the navel of Sree Padmanabha Swamy and to Siva (of Saiva Salagrama Sila) resting beneath His right outstretched hand. It is indeed rare that imbibing the cosmic secrets, the principles of creation (Brahma), preservation (Vishnu) and annihilation (Siva) are represented in one sanctum.
- Deemed particularly auspicious is the worship of the three postures of the main deity in the same temple. These positions are sitting, standing and reclining. In the Sreekovil (sanctum) here, the Siveli or Uthsava idol sits, the Abhisheka idol stands and the Moola Vigraham (main idol) reclines. Also present in the sanctum are the other Katusarkara images of the 33 crore celestials in conceptualised representation, Devies, Lakshmi and Bhoomi and sages Markandeya and Bhrigu. Lakshmi Devi symbolising prosperity and Bhoomi Devi, earth which is the cradle of all civilization, are the two highly-charged potencies of Maha Vishnu. Katusarkara idols of Madhu and Kaitabha, stand with folded hands near the feet of the Lord.
- Though, worship conducted by Rishies or Sanyasis (renunciates) was operational in many a temple in Kerala, with the progress of time and changing circumstances, their number has drastically dwindled. By divine grace the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple continues to receive this blessing in the form of two saffron-clad Nampoothiri renunciates, the Pushpanjali Swamiyars, who offer Pushpanjali (flower worship) daily within the sanctum. They normally alternate once in six months. Belief exists that the spiritual radiance of those temples wherein ‘Kshetra Sanyasis’ perform Pooja, increases side by side with the prosperity of the surrounding regions.
- It is possible to gain the Darshan (visual experience) of the main Idol partially and separately only through the three Natas (doorways). They are indicative of implacable time-past, present and future.
- Till fairly recent times ‘Kuta Santies’, used to be engaged in the routine worship of the presiding deities of various temples of importance. They are called thus by virtue of the rule which makes it compulsory for such priests to move out only with the Kuta (umbrella-cadjan ones) in hand. During their tenure, these priests had to remain celibate and were forced to lead more or less cloistered lives of prayer with movement totally restricted to that temple and its needs. The great majority of such temples have made unwilling compromises on this issue, but the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple appears almost unique in that it has managed to preserve the character of this institution without any real change being admitted into it. The numerical strength of such high priests at a given time too is more here, totalling to four. Sree Padmanabha Perumal has two Nambies employed in His service, the Periya Nambi and Panchagavyathu Nambi while Sree Narasimha Swamy and Sree Krishna Swamy have one each.
- For centuries, the Tharananalloor Namboothiripads hailing from Irinjalakkuda village near Thrissur have held the position of Thanthries here. The Thanthra they adhere to in this Temple, is in accordance with the special norms laid down by Bhagavan Sree Parasurama, 6th incarnation of Sree Maha Vishnu and imparted to their forefathers directly by Him. Termed as ‘Padhathi Sampradaaya’, it is in vogue only in ten temples in the world (all of which are located in Kerala). The biggest and most famous among the ten is the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple wherein extremely complicated and elaborate Tantra is operational.
- The famed granite Mandapam (platform), the Ottakkal/Ekasila Mandaparn made of one massive stone stands for oneness. It conjoins the sanctum even though it is separately made and is considered in principle as its extension. As such restrictions are imposed on touching and ascending it and prostrating on it.
- Sree Narasimha Swamy seated to the south of the sanctum is of ferocious temperament and is thus possessing the identity of ‘Ugra Moorthy’.
- Consecrations of the great sage Sree Veda Vyasa can be counted on the fingertips. From long past and up to mid 20th century, free rice feeding and free education had been operational here in staggering proportions. The Temple was a recognised meeting ground for the erudite and the scholarly from all parts of the nation. It can be surmised that Sree Vyasa Bhagavan’s presence would have acted as strong benediction in the area of the educational opportunities functional here. Offerings to this renowned sage of unquestioned knowledge for gaining meritorious results in this field have proved most beneficial.
- When one places the head in homage on the long, narrow gold-plated window which indicates the lotus feet of the Lord, at times it is possible to hear the resonance of the Pranavom or the muted roar of waves believed to be rising from the Ocean of Milk on which the Lord rests on Anantha.
- It is held that during the Uthsavas (festival), the 33 crore celestials present themselves to offer their obeisance for the Deeparadhana at the western Sivelippura.
- Reading the Puranas, chanting the Vedas and reciting the Manthras have continued in uninterrupted flow down the ages to weave an invisible spiritual orbit of force to encircle this great Temple.
- This Temple is identified as a ‘Samadhi Kshethram’ by virtue of belief that Sage Agasthya’s Samadhi rests under the sacred feet of the Lord.
SREE PADMANABHA SWAMY
The Salagrama Katusarkara idol of the great Perumal who is the epitome of pure bliss and the embodiment of perfect peace is the exceedingly beautiful and marvellous work of the master craftsman Balaramaykonidevan. This compound – Katusarkara Yogam – is highly complicated to process, as such idols are rare even in Kerala, the land of their origin. The consecration was conducted by the Tantri of this Temple, Tharananalloor Sri Padmanabharu Parameswaru in 1739 A.D in the Malayalam month Midhunam, during the eventful reign of Maharaja Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma. The presence of the 12,008 Salagramas enhance its sanctity. Since the other idols present in the Sreekovil have already come in for prior mention, repetition is being avoided.
SREE NARASIMHA SWAMY
After the main consecration, the two others commanding immense importance are the Thekkedom Sree Narasimha Swamy (so called because of His southern location) and Thiruvampati Sree Krishna Swamy. Though, it is said that fire flared up high on its own at the time of consecration of Sree Narasimha Moorthy, the exact year evades recording. Anachronisms add to the confusion. Mention of this fearsome Deity surfaces in books of old origin like ‘Unnuneeli Sandesham’ of the 14th century while certain other texts lead to the surmise that it could have been Sureswaracharya, one of the four chief disciples of Sree Adi Sankara (late 8th – early 9th century A.D.) who was responsible for this consecration. It is customary to invoke the potency of Sree Narasimha Swamy into a Vishnu idol, adorn it with appropriate embellishments and worship it thus. Here this Panchaloha Idol itself is of Sree Narasimha Swamy.
SREE KRISHNA SWAMY
Fortunately, specific details are available concerning the Sree Krishna Swamy consecration. Subsequent to the submersion of Dwaraka in the sea, seventy two families of the Vrishni clan under the leadership of the Vrishni Kshatriya chieftan by name Krishna Varman, settled down in a village in Gujarat. However disquiet dodged their footsteps. One night Sree Krishna Bhagavan appeared before Krishna Varman in a dream and directed him to lead the clan southwards to ‘Ananthasayana Nagari’ where He would await their arrival. In that distant land they would find peace and refuge which had been denied to them thus far. The very next day the entire community embarked on its journey in a southern direction in search of the city of their destiny. When they had abandoned Dwaraka, they had carried with them a sacred Sree Krishna idol and a Salagrarna which they had installed in a temple in Gujarat, constructed for this purpose. These they took with them on their voyage in search of Ananthasayana Nagari. Finally they reached their destination, the holy city of Sree Ananthasayee Bhagavan (today’s Thiruvananthapuram). Udaya Marthanda Varma, the illustrious rulers of that age, gave them settlement conveniences in and around the Fort area. However the idol which was accustomed to temple worship could not be contained within the atmosphere of a homestead. The news of this power-charged icon soon reached the king’s ears and the Vrishnies were only too glad to entrust it to him, to be worshipped in a separate temple within the spacious grounds of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. A temple which is now famous as Thiru Ampati came into being on the 5th of the Malayalam year (Kolla Varsham) 1 (one), Friday, under the asterism Thiru Onam. The Deity who was initially venerated as ‘Goshala Krishna’ (Krishna of the cattle-shed) later acquired the nature of Parthasarathy.
Other Consecrations and Power Centres
In places reserved for them are found the idols of Sree Rama-Lakshmana-Sita with the ever-faithful Hanuman Swamy in a posture of object humility, Ganapathy, Vishwaksenan as Nirmalya Moorthy wrought of Katusarkara, Sree Veda Vyasa with Aswathama close by, Kshethrapalaka and Ganapathy in two chambers of the same shrine, Sastha deemed to be Swayambhoo (self-materialised) and Agrasala Ganapathy. A favourite among the devoties is the massive figure of Sree Hanuman Swamy head held high, positioned near to the main Beli stone. Ample are the offerings which search out this claiment little shrine in which reside a collection of idols in their own little temple of wood. They formed part of Maharaja Sree Chithira Thirunal’s personal Pooja. After he discarded his mortal frame in 1991, they were shifted here in consultation with astrologers and with the sanction of the Tantries.
It is impossible to pin point the year marking the origin of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, even approximations evade, as it retreats behind drapes concealing unspecified time. Nevertheless since its mention surfaces in Puranas with some claiming an existence beyond 5000 years, its antiquity stands established. While difference in opinion exists regarding the Sangam age, this temple appears in its period literature. Yet the Sthala Purana has a backdrop which in comparison is younger in years, two opinions circulate which bestow the responsibility of the consecration on Vilwamangalathu Swamiyar of Nampoothiri descent and Divakara Muni of Potti origin, both of them of the 9th century A.D. Yet another belief holds good that those two personalities were one and the same. Whichever the case may be, there is strong representation of both communities in the Temple. While the Tharananalloor Tantries and the Pushpanjali Swamiyars hail from Nampoothiri community, all the Potties (priests) including the four Nambies who are the officiating chief priests, belong to the Tulu or Malayalam Potti caste. Only those ethnic group of Potties who resided on either side of the distinctive appellation ‘Akkara’ and ‘Ikkara Desies’ were recruited for this service here. This tradition still holds good. The Swamiyar version of the Sthalapuranam is being included here since it has gained marked popularity in these regions.
One fine day, a little child of exceptional radiance appeared in Vilvamangala Swamiyar’s hermitage. The reply he received to his queries from the young guest was “I have no parents and no home”. Entranced by the inexpressible enchantment of this boy of tender age, Vilvamangalam who had thus far led a solitary life, invited the cherub to share his home with him. Though the little one murmured assent, he put forth a condition. Should any displeasure be shown to him at any time by the seer, he would at once go away from the Ashram (hermitage). Taking it to be a childish whim, Vilvamanagalam indulgently agreed to the stipulation. Time passed. One day the little lad got into an extremely naughty frame of mind. He messed up the Swamiyar’s Pooja items and even went to the extend of concealing a Salagrama in his mouth. By the time Vilvamanagalam finally discovered the missing Salagrama, he had reached the end of his patience and in irritation he pushed the little one out of his way with the back of his hand. Piqued by this display of anger, the lad immediately sped out of the hermitage. In a trice, the realisation of the divine nature his young companion dawned on the sage. Without wasting a moment, he ran after the little one calling out to him but very soon he vanished from the seer’s vision. Vilvamangalam ran on guided by the sound of the bells on the child’s anklets, but in a short while that too ceased. The distraught monk then heard a disembodied voice from up above “come to the forest of Anantha (Ananthan Kaatu) if you desire to see Me”. From that moment onwards, the sage commenced on a long journey in quest of Ananthan Kaatu and the adorable little child. The innumerable temples of spiritual stature consecrated by him from the northern side of Kerala to the south bear witness to his subsequent wanderings. One evening, as the twilight hours were drawing gentle grey drapes across the vast skies, the Swamiyar came to rest under a tree near a jungle. He was in a deeply dispirited frame of mind having been thus far unsuccessful in his search for the elusive forest. Suddenly, from a nearby cottage of a Pulaya, an irate woman’s voice rose up sharply, ” If you do not cease crying, I will throw you into Ananthan Kaatu”. She was in a fretful mood and not going to sleep. A surge of hope rushed into the Swamiyaar’s heart and springing up, he hastened to the cottage to enquire of the frightened Pulayi, the whereabouts of that forest. Too alarmed to verbally respond, she pointed a finger at the adjacent wood. The overjoyed Swamiyaar blessed her with depth of feeling and taking a single lighted wick from her, he ran into the forest. In early pre-dawn hours, just after four, a massive Iluppa tree (Indian Butter Tree) most unexpectedly crashed down in front of him with a tremendous explosion of sound. (There is another version which claims that three such trees were involved). In the flash of a second, the gigantic form of Sree Padmanabha Swamy reclining on the king serpent Anantha and stretching out to over 18 yojanas materialised before the sage’s dazzled eyes. Since he had nothing at hand to submit as an offering, he placed a raw mango in a coconut shell lying near by and offered it to the Lord with all devotion. That original coconut shell continues to be in use though it is now covered with gold for protection. Since it was a Herculean task to circumambulate that massive form with head resting at Thiruvallam, body at Thiruananthapuram and the sacred feet at Thrippaadapuram/Thiruppaappoor, in response to the Swamiyaar’s plea, He shrunk to three times the size of Vilvamangalam’s Dandu to contain Himself as is represented in the present form, in this very place. On hearing of this incident, the ruler of the land had a temple erected wherein the Swamiyaar consecrated an idol of Sree Padmanabha Swamy similar in concept and appearance to that divine Form he was blessed to view in the heart of the forest. To commemorate Vivamangalam’s memory, it was ruled that the daily Pushpanjali (worship with flowers) be necessarily conducted by renunciate Nampoothiries. This is commonly known as ‘Swamiyar Pooja’. The term ‘Kshetra Sanyasi’ (resident monk of the temple) seen in use in the Padma Purana gives weightage to the conviction that Swamiyaar Pooja was not new here. Since this Mahakshethram was in evidence before the 9th Century, it is concluded that what Vilvamangalam performed was a reconsecration of the Temple necessitated by the whims and wiles of an adverse destiny. The other parts of India know Vilvamanagalam as ‘Krishnaleelasukan’.
One night prior to this momentous event, the Nambi (chief priest) had a strange dream in which the great God Himself appeared and issued a command “The first lamp to be lit in My Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) should be from the fire brought from the Pulayi’s hut”. It was obeyed in toto by the concerned authorities. This narration has reached the present times through word of mouth; no written records are available to substantiate the claim.
Enclosed within mighty walls and situated on 7 acres of land, the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple stands bathed in all glory at the Brahmasthaanam (heart) of the city of Thiruvananthapuram. Too much space will be required if a detailed description of its architectural, sculptural and artistic treasures is embarked upon, consequently only a brief introduction to this world of wonders is envisaged here.
Intermingling of Malayala-Tamil styles of vastu are evident here. While the multi-storied eastern Rajagopuram with its two thousand odd figures and figurines is totally Dravidian in Character, the other three entrances exhibit the Malayalee style double-storied Patippuras. Since this temple was symbolic of the State of Venad with Sree Padmanabha Swamy becoming its supreme Sovereign with the Thrippadi Daanam, taking into account the presence of a large number of subjects of Tamil origin, such a mixed construction was decided upon by royal will in order to bring about the emotional fusion of the two major linguistic groups – the Malayalees and the Tamils. The Vanchi (water craft) so much part and parcel of Vanchinad (land of boats) as Venad was equally known, occupies the position of honour right on top of the Gopuram.
Maharaja Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, architect of modern Tranavcore, who ruled between 1729 and 1758, was resolute that the renovation, as and when demanded, should be replica of the original. Reponsibility of the work was entrusted to Vishnuthraatan Nampoothiri of Thycaud Illom, while Maharaja took upon himself the task of supervision at every stage. The vast Natakasala Mukhappu, which served as the platform for many a scholars’ meet and performance of temple arts, the Sivelippura of impressive dimensions completed in an unbelievably short duration of six months due to the ceaseless round-the-clock toil of 10,000 artisans of stonework including a huge number of master craftsmen along with a hundred elephants, the grand sculptures which proudly rise up, carvings and engravings, the Ekasila/Ottakkal Mandapam (single stone/platform) conjoining the sanctum, which is a constructional feat, many types of beautiful lamps, special kinds of bells, murals which fill every inch of available space as a running canvas of pictures, thus the list of such riches unravels. The temple mural held to be the largest in Kerala is found here – the Ananthasayana mural executed by a Brahmin Artist of Karamana village in this city who answers to the name Chalayil Kalahasti. Of special attraction is the ‘Kulasekhara Mandapam’ or ‘Aayiramkaal Mandapam’ which took life and form from the inspired vision of Maharaja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma, 1758 to 1798, famed as ‘Dharma Raja’. Situated where the Koothambalam is normally located, it is still another example of merger of the constructional patterns of Malayala Nadu and Tamil nadu. This Mandapam is a source of eternal delight and wonder to art lovers and has often been qualified as pure poetry in stone. Twenty four main figures which radiate life, array themselves on the pillars along with many subsidiary figures worked on the other side. Moods and expressions are potrayed with expert touch. The lavishly bejewelled Deepalakshmies (lamp ladies) are by themselves works of art with their seductive stance and exquisite features. In passing, it may be mentioned that among the countless temples of India, only 11 possess such amazing pillars. As of today, the oldest construction within the Temple complex is the Thiru Ampadi Sree Krishna Swamy Temple which has mercifully escaped the fury of the flames that had caused damage to many other areas. Its entrancing Namaskara Mandapam is rich in fine wood work for which Kerala temples are very well known.
Miracles have found their place in the cadjan scrolls and records relating to the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. A few are being touched upon here, They include happenings like milk oozing from the paved granite floor within the Cheruchuttu (exclusive containing the sanctum and the Ottakkal Mandapam), the tinkling of bells on anklets and patteing of tiny feet heard from the Thiru Ampadi when the maids went to sweep the area in the early morning hours, in explicable appearance of serpent with raised hoods inside and outside the Sreekovil (sanctum) as well as their equally inexplicable disappearance, the loud peeling of bells and the chilling roar arising from the Sree Narasimha Swamy Shrine during the night hours, are all listed in the scrolls of the Temple. That the Moola Vigraham (main idol) of Sree Padmanabha Perumal fashioned of Illuppa wood remained in tact but for minor damages even though the burning ceiling collapsed on top of it (1686) during one of the major outhreaks of fire to which this Temple had been exposed and the manisfestation of Sree Hanuman Swamy near His own big idol (adjacent to the main Belikkallu) to check the greedy tongues of fire immediately after a disembodied voice was heard that the inner regions would remain untouched, during another outslaught of fire which occured centuries hence during Maharaja Sree Chitira Thirunal Rama Varrna’s reign (1934) are events which can be decreed only as miracles. It was again during his period that the left foot of the towering Dwarapalakan stationed behind the same Sree Hanuman Swamy idol, started to elongate. These two lastly mentioned incidents are of the fairly recent past.The following events is beinq remembered even if it necessitates retreating on the time scale. The high-tension drama of an elphant being made to run amuck by those inimical to the king during the Aaraat (Arat) procession, the transformation of the enraged beast which went down on its knees, tusks boring the ground, the panic-stricken crowds, standing amazed witness to the super-imposition of a ferocious lion on the King, all of which have been carefully recorded, cannot be dismissed. That King was none other than Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma (1829-1846). It is believed that Sree Narasimha Moorthy had arrived there Himself in order to protect His devotee. So the narration continues.
At least twenty five inscriptions are available within, in Vattezhuthu (rounded letters), Kolezhuthu (shortly pointed slanting letters) and Sanskrit script. An inscription which is unusual by virtue of the fact that it is on a gold base is seen on the Ottakal Mandapam. They carry their respective years too. Such dated inscriptions are comparitively few in Kerala. One inscription which speaks of ten beautiful ornamental lamps of gold submitted to this gracious Perumal by Paranthaka Pandya, is seen inscribed on the walls of the sanctum of the famous sea-shore temple of Sree Kanyakumari Devi at the ‘land’s end of India’.
Though the number varies in different works, the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple is said to have had 22 to 24 Teerthas (holy water sources) with some of them believed to have been located as far away as Varkala. The most famous is the Temples own tank -Padmateertham – which has, because of its sanctity, merited mention even in the Srimad Bhagavatham. Within the railed enclosure of this tank are situated an unusually large number of Mandapams out of which some used to be platforms for the performance of temple arts, others for certain rituals, few reserved for the exclusive use of this Temple’s ecclesiastical hierarchy and yet others for the convenience of the public. Also present is a small temple containing the unusual consecration of Sree Parasurama and Sree Parvathy Devi seated on top of Nandi the bull.
FESTIVALS AND SPECIAL DAYS
The festivals and red-letter days in the calendar of events of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple are being touched upon here. The months of Thulam (October/November) and Meenom (March/April) witness the Temple flags being hoisted signalling the commencement of the two ten-day Uthsavams(festivals) known as Alpasi and Painkuni Uthsavams. The unfailing presence of Krishna Parunthu (kites) which circle the Dhwajasthambhams at that auspicious time adds to the sanctity of the ceremony. The Palli Vettah (royal hunt) to eliminate all the ills plaguing the land which takes place on the 9th day followed by famous Arat prcession full of pomp and pagentry to the Shanghumukham Beach on the 10th day for the ritualistic purificatory inmersion in the Arabian Sea are famous. The massive figures of the five royal Pandava brothers are erected in honour of the latter festival.
Thiru Onam in the Malayalam month Chingam (August/September) which is considered as the Thirunal (birthday) of the Perumal when the Ona Villu (Onam bow) accompanied by the tradition of many centuries behind them, are submitted, the Kalabham and Kalasam ceremonies taking place twice a year, Ashtami Rohini marking the birthday of Sree Krishna Bhagavan etc. are of much note. However, the festival which, by its seen magnificence commands a place in the front line of Indian religious festivals is the fabulous Lakshadeepam preceded by the fifty-six days of Murajapam which come only once in six years. While earlier it was completely dominated by the Nampoothiri Brahmins who poured in from all corners of Kerala to participate in the prayers under the supervision of the Thirunavaya Vaadhyan, for some time now, the participants are a mixture of Nampoothiries and other Brahmins, especially Tamil. The Aazhwancherry Thampraackal, hereditary head of the Nampoothiri community used to be the distinguished guest of the royal family of Travancore at that time. Now all the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva – and the Vishnu Sahasranama are chanted daily, with the Vedas being recited as Murajapam or prayers in cyclic rotation according to prescribed formats. The Jalajapam or prayers conducted in knee-deep water in the Padmatheertham by the Nampoothiries in the evening was discontinued due to its royal under currents in wake of the sweeping political changes of democratic India. The others continue as the highly sacred Nadabrahmopasana and Tejabrahmopasana submitted to Sree Padmanabha Swamy. Both are extremely elaborate in nature. The Lakshadeepam presents a visual extravaganza with myriad lamps and lights cascading lustre in adoration of the supreme Perumal. This stupendous Yajna is aimed at the prosperity and security of the land and the people. While the first Lakshdeepam took place on the 1st of Makaram (January 14th/15th) 925 ME (1750 A.D.) under the direction of Maharaja Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the old records reveal the conduct of the Murajapam from 1520 AD., when Sree Veera Rama Varma or Udaya Marthanda Varma was in power, to continue unbroken to date. The fame and majesty of this festival of thousands of lights have been reflected not only in Kerala but on the national plane as well. Notwithstanding the vastly changed circumstances which makes it now difficult to conduct the proceedings of this complex festival in the mega manner of bygone ages, the Lakshadeepam has continued uninterrupted along with the Murajapam, from its inception to the running present due to the boundless grace of Sree Pdamanabha Swamy and the inspired vision of Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma.
With much gratification, it is added here that on the 20th of November 2001, the Murajapam had started. Once again the ancient walls of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple reverberate to the intoning of Vedas and chanting of the thousand sacred names of Vishnu Paramatman. The Lakshadeepam took the stage on the 14th of January 2002, with the blessings of Sree Padmanabha Swamy who now showers His blessings from a halo of golden magnificence.
From long past, the links the royal houses ruling this land had with the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple had been inviolate. After the consolidation of Travancore by Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma who is famous as the ‘Maker of Modern Travancore’, he took a momentous step. In the year 1750, he surrendered the kingdom he had won by conquest or compromise along with all royal rights and previlege, his dynasty and himself at the lotus feet of his adored Sree Padmanabha Perumal by the historic deed of Dedication famous as Thrippati Danam, thus acknowledging the total overlordship of the Lord, to thenceforth administer the affairs of the kingdom as the Dasa or slave of the supreme one. Contrary to popular belief, the title ‘Sree Padmanabha Dasa’ had been operational long before 1750. Pre Marthanda Varma records confirm the same. Attention is invited to a record of the 16th Century which refers to the warrior king Bhoothalaveera Rama Varma by this distinctive title ‘Sree Padmanabha Dasa’. What would then have been more of a personal and emotional designation thenceforth would have become official as well with the Thrippati Danam. The Travancore royal family considers it as its cherished honour and greatest good fortune that it continues the Tradition of this exalted slavery. The passage of years did not dim the nature of royalty vested on Sree Padmanabha Perumal, on the other hand, He came to be acknowledged on a national level too as the paramount ruler of the land. While in Udayapur and Nepal, their dynastic Deities have been conferred with royalty to a certain degree, it could be deemed unique in world political history for a Deity to be recognised as the monarch by a national government (in this case the Imperial Government of the British Crown).
Maharaja Marthanda Varma’s eleven blue-blooded successors inclusive of three queens implicitly adhered to the mandates imposed by him. The present head of the Travancore royal family, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma also strictly obeys those guidelines. His nephew and next in line Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma, closely and silently follows his senior’s footstpes. All those personalities who have occupied the first position in the service of the Perumal have made significant contributions in their own way. Yet Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma apart, in this context it is impossible not to remember Maharaja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma on whom got vested the title’ Dharma Raja’ for his commitment to Dharma during his action-packed long rule of forty years, Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma the famed musician-composer whose existence itself became translated as the song of adoration to Sree Padmanabha Swamy and Sree Chithira Thirunal Rama varma and his Temple Entry Proclamation (1936) whose very life breath was his Sree Padmanabha Swamy. As figures in history, their names step across territorial limits to move on to fresh vistas and pastures new.
Supreme Sovereign of the infinite cosmic constellations and configurations, great, grand and glorious, who reigns paramount in utmost splendour in this divine abode lauded as ‘Bhooloka Vaikuntom’ (heaven on earth), may the thought of You, my ever-Beloved, permeate every pore of the body and every space in the heart to explode in exhilaration as ecstatic devotion at Your Adored Feet.