Article by Radha Sekhar, published in SURRENDER – Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Renovation Souvenir 2002.
The Deity of the Travancore rulers – Sree Padmanabha became the endearing, all-pervading benediction and guardian of this 1000 year old city – Thiruvananthapurarn. Here, it is interesting to note that the city has taken the name of the protector of the Lord – the 1000 headed Divine serpent – “Ananta” – on whose coiled body, the Lord sleeps. Ananta’s hood with its 2000 eyes, while giving shade to the Lord’s head, keeps vigil while He rests.
The heritage bequeathed by Lord Padmanabha to this ancient city is rich and many-fold-architecturally and culturally. The facade of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple – the “Gopuram” – is clearly of Tamil Nadu architectural style and very different from the indigenous temple facades. How this has come about can be understood when we go back a little through history. “Padmanabhapuram located in the Tamil speaking area while we go towards Kanyakumari from Thiruvananthapuram was the original capital of the erstwhile Travancore rulers. Therefore when Shri Anizhom Thirunal Martandavarma, who ruled from Padmanabhapuram, decided to make the temple grand, it is but natural that the Tamil Architectural style was resorted to. The next ruler Karthika Thirunal (Dharma Raja) shifted his residence to Thiruvananthapuram, obviously to be near his beloved deity. He built his palace on the Southern side of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple. And then on, a palace complex developed in this area for the subsequent rulers consisting of three beautiful palaces , the most beautiful of them being Kuthira Malika (Horse palace-the ribs supporting the roof all around in wood in the shape of horses) – a poem in wood.
This was Maharaja Swati Thirunal’s residence. The complex includes Anatavilasam Palace, Krishnavilasom Palace, the Durbar hall, Bhajanappura Malika and other grand structures. Those days, it was customary that each new ruler had a new palace built for him to reside. (The citizens of Thiruvananthapuram now have this palace complex as their proud heritage because of this custom). Architecturally, these palaces are a beautiful and clever blend of indigenous and colonial styles (this was the time of British occupation). From the East Fort area, where the temple stands up to the airport, you find gracious, proud houses strewn all over (now juxtaposed with shops and ugly structures) displaying again aesthetically blended styles, colonial and indigenous. These are the “Ammaveedus” – royally bequeathed abodes for the wives and offspring of the rulers.
In the areas surrounding the great temple, you find a distinct concentration of Brahmin houses – Collectively they are called “Agraharam” – of unique architectural pattern. Red and white stripes painted on the outside wall and iron bars facing the road mark them out as Brahmin households. There is every reason to believe that the Brahmins came to live there hundreds of years back because of a great ritual of Padmanabhaswami Temple, the Murajapom (vedic chanting). Only Brahmins and Namboodiris chanted vedas for Murajapom.
The whole area from the East Fort where the temple stands up to the airport has rich architectural heritage – some of them connected to the rituals of the great temple like the Mandapams on the way to the Sanghumughom beach and on the beach itself.
Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has been pressing the Government to declare this area a “Heritage zone” and the government has in principle agreed to do so.
Thiruvananthapuram inherited another great legacy – that of the Classical Arts – inspired by bhakti and love for Sree Padmanabha. Swati Thirunal – the sovereign who resided at Kuthiramalika nesting at the Lord’s feet composed music – priceless gems in classical ragas. The musical pieces display different kinds of love for the Lord, that of the dasa (Servant), love of the close friend and premika (lady love), The life span of Swati Thirunal was only thirty three years – in the astounding number of musical compositions the Mudra, (stamp) Padmanabha is visible. He also composed music for the classical dance form Bharata Natyam. Great artists from Thanjavoor were brought down to Thiruvananthapuram to reside and teach in the city.
Right in front of the Padmanabhaswami Temple to the South side is the Navaratri mandapom, Here a 9 day festival of Durga Pooja is observed in the ancient portion of the Kuthiramalika, the goddess worshipped through classical concerts all the 9 days. Only compositions by Swati Thirunal are sung. He has composed special musical pieces for each day and even to this day, this festival is being observed with great devotion.
The Rituals of this great temple are observed diligently to this day by the present royalty. Every year there are two major festivals of the temple – “Arattu ” – one in April and another in October. Murajapom and Lakshadeepom (festival of a lakh of lamps) are also two major events of the temple. The daily rituals are strictly observed up to this day. The dress code for the visitors – for the ladies no Salwar – khameez or Western dress – the men should enter shirtless in dhoti.
History records that the bachelor king Anizhom Thirunal Marthandavarma who ruled from Padmanabhapuram is the architect of Venad. He fought with many chieftains who created problems and they had to be annihilated for creating a unified state, He later repented this massacre, surrended his sword at the feet of Lord Padmanabha vowed never to fight again and accepted the suffix “Padmanabha Dasa – meaning servant of Padrnanabha. Even to this day the suffix exists. The Travancore rulers ruled in all humility ever since.
Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple enjoys the distinction of declaring the temple open for allowing the backward classes of Hindus to worship at the temple for the first time in India. For 2000 years, the backward classes were prohibited from entering Hindu temples. In 1936, during the reign of Shri Chithira Thirunal, this was proclaimed. Years back, the Muslims, before they started on their journey for Haj Pilgrimage, had rice gruel from Padmanabhaswami Temple as “Prasadom”. There is a” Muslim Clock” at the Eastern gate of the temple. The Muslims guarded king Anizhom Thirunal Martandavarma during his struggle for a unified state and were granted land in Manacaud .. a place very near the temple. Even now, there is a Muslim settlement there. This State has enjoyed extra ordinary communal harmony prior to independence and also now due to the attitudinal traditions left by the Travancore rulers and the presence of Lord Padmanabha in the city.