Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Padmanabhaswamy Temple


n earlier years[when?] Padmanabhaswamy Temple and its properties were controlled by eight powerful Pillai feudal lords known as Ettuveetil Pillamar (Lords of the Eight Houses) under the guidance of the Council of Eight and a Half. Later, King Marthanda Varma, the founder of Travancore, successfully suppressed the Ettuveetil Pillais and his cousins following the discovery of conspiracies the Lords were involved in against the Royal House of Travancore. The last major renovation of the Padmanabhaswamy temple was also done by Marthanda Varma. He virtually "dedicated" the kingdom of Travancore to Padmanabha, the deity at the temple, and pledged that he and his descendants would "serve" the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa, meaning "Servant of the Padmanabha".

The insignia of the Padmanabha, Valampiri Shankhu or Dextral Conch-shell, served as the state emblem of Travancore and it can still be seen on the emblem of Kerala state. Padmanabha is still regarded as regional deity of erstwhile Travancore. 

The two annual festivals of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple culminate in a grand procession, in which the three deities (Padmanabha, Narasimha and Krishna) are carried on flower-deck and aesthetically decorated Garuda Vahanas to Shankumugham Beach, for "arattu" (sacramental ablution). The arattu days are declared as local public holidays in Thiruvanathapuram. The Idol is made of Kadusarkkara Yogam, an ayurvedic mixture, with Vishnu sleeping on the serpent Ananta with his head pointing towards south, facing east.

The temple

The history of the temple dates back to the 8th Century CE, when Thiruvananthapuram was ruled under the Chera Dynasty. The Divya Prabandha canon of literature by the Alvars glorifies this shrine as one of 11 Divya Desams in Kerala. It's said that there are references to this temple in four puranas; namely Brahma, Vayu, Varaha, Padma. The 8th century Alvar poet Nammalvar created four slokas and one phalasruthi about this temple in his creations.


The foundation of the present gopuram was laid in 1566. The temple has a 100-foot, seven-tier gopuram. The temple stands by the side of a tank, named Padma Theertham (meaning the lotus spring). The temple has a corridor with 365 and one-quarter sculptured granite-stone pillars with elaborate carvings. This corridor extends from the eastern side into the sanctum sanctorum. An eighty-foot flag-staff stands in front of the main entry from the 'prakaram' (corridor). The ground floor under the gopuram (main entrance in the eastern side) is known as the 'Nataka Sala' where the famous temple art Kathakali was staged in the night during the ten-day uthsavam (festival) conducted twice a year, during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Thulam.


In the Garbhagriha, a deity of Vishnu is depicted in a reclining position over the serpent Anantha or Adi Sesha. The serpent has his face pointed upwards, as if enjoying the fragrance emanating from the lotus held in his left hand. His right hand hangs over Shiva. Sridevi and Bhudevi, two consorts of Vishnu stand by his side and the Brahma is seen on a lotus, which emanates from the navel of Vishnu. The deity is made up of 12000 Saligram that compose the reclining Vishnu. These Saligram are from the banks of the river Gandaki in Nepal, brought with much ceremony on elephants. On top of the Saligram, "Katusarkara yogam", a special ayurvedic mix, was used to make a plaster. The katu sarkara mould keeps the deity free from pests. The abhishekam of the Lord is not a traditional ritual. The daily worship is with flowers and for the abhishekam special separate deities are used. The flowers have always been removed using peacock feathers fearing damaging the katu sarkara on the deity.

The platform in front of Garbha Griha and where the deity rests are both carved out of a single stone and hence called "Ottakkal Mandapam". In order to perform darshan and puja, one has to climb on to the "Ottakkal Mandapam". The deity is visible through three doors – Face of the Lord and Siva Linga underneath his hand in the first door, Brahma seated on lotus emanating from the Lord's navel along with the "Utsava moorthi" and deities of Lord MahaVishnu, Sreedevi and Bhoodevi in the second door and the Lord's feet in the third door. Only the King of Travancore may perform Namaskaram, or bow prostrate on this "Ottakkal Mandapam". Since the deity of the Lord is also on this "Ottakkal Mandapam", anybody who bows prostrate, or any material object that is kept here, henceforth belongs to the Lord.

Here, the King is called a "Padmanabha Dasa", or a "servant" of Vishnu. Adherents believe that it is actually Vishnu who rules the state of Tranvacore.

In the 108 Divya deshams, or holiest shrines of Lord Vishnu, the dieties of the Lord are in one of the three different postures. Either reclining, sitting, or standing. A unique feature of the Padmanabha Swamy temple is that it has dieties in all these three postures. The main deity inside the sanctum sanctorum and viewed from three doors is in the reclining posture, the deity viewed through the central door in the standing posture, and the "Utsava Murthi", the deity taken out for the festival processions is in the sitting posture.

There are other important shrines inside the temple for Hindu deities Sri Narasimha, Sri Krishna, Sri Ayyappa, Sri Ganesha and Sri Hanuman. Many other small shrines like Kshetrapalan (who guards the temple), Vishwaksena and Sri Garuda are also present.

A unique feature that came to light recently is the fact that Lord Padmanabha's deity is entirely cast in gold except for the face and chest. Katu sarkara yogam was used to ward off invasion of the temple by Muslim invaders. The crown of the Lord sporting kundalams in the ears, the huge salagrama mala adorning the chest and the finely chiseled poonal are in gold. The various ornaments covering the chest and the right hand sporting a huge kankanam shielding Lord Siva, the left hand holding a Kamalam are in gold. The stalk of the kamalam rising out of the nabhi is also in splendid gold. The entire length of the Lord's legs is again cast in gold.

The katu sarkara yogam was obviously an ingeniously conceived plan to avoid the prying eyes of the invaders who attacked the city.


There are many legends regarding the origin of the temple. One such legend says that Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar alias Divakara Muni prayed to Krishna for his darshan. Krishna came in disguise as a small, mischievous boy. The boy swallowed the Saligrama which was kept in Puja. The Sage became enraged at this and chased the boy until the boy hid himself behind a tree. The tree fell down and became Vishnu in Anantha Shayanam (reclining posture on Anantha the serpent) – but when he did so, he was of an extraordinarily large size. The Sage, recognizing that the tree was Vishnu, pleaded that because of the huge form the lord had manifested before him he could not either have a mind fulfilling darshan or circumambulate him. He then asked the Lord to shrink to a smaller proportion – thrice the length of his staff.

Immediately, the Lord Vishnu shrunk himself, and told the sage that he should be worshipped through three doors.

These doors are now the doors in the temple through which the idol may be viewed. Through the first door, the worship is offered to Shiva; through the second entrance to Brahma on the Lord's lotus navel, and through the third is Vishnu's feet, which are said to lead to salvation.

There was a great fire accident in which the original Murti which was made of the wood of that tree got burned during a fire that engulfed the temple complex, was a sign of the unhappiness of the lord with the king.


Padmanabhaswamy Temple stands at a place considered one of the seven Parasurama Kshetras; texts including the Puranas, particularly the Skanda Purana and Padma Purana, have references to this shrine. Another story tells of a pulaya couple seeing Vishnu in the form of a child. The child took morsels of rice from the hands of the couple. Also it is believed that Divakaramuni, when he saw the deity, took the first food item he saw which was an unripe Mango on a coconut shell as an offering plate and performed primary pooja. In memory of this legend, naivedyam or offering prepared from rice is offered to the deity here in a coconut shell.

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