Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
West Nada, Fort, East Fort, Pazhavangadi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695023, India
The ancient temple with its billions of dollars of wealth, impeccable architecture and legends.
Location of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
More about Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram City is built in an intricate fusion of Kerala Style and Dravidian Style architecture associated with the temples in Tamil Nadu- featuring high walls, tall tower with sculptures. The moolasthanam (original seat) of the temple is at Ananthapura Lake Temple in Kasaragod and the principal deity is Lord Vishnu (also called Padmanabha) in Ananthasayanam form (Vishnu sleeping on the serpent king Anantha).
Padmanabhaswamy is the family deity of the Travancore Royal Family and the titular King is the trustee of the temple. The name of the city Thiruvananthapuram in Malayalam translates to ‘The city of Lord Anantha’, referring to the deity of Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Existence of the temple in the Hindu epics
The exact origin of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple are not known, although the temple has references in many epics. The Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita mentions that Balarama, elder brother of Lord Krishna visited the temple and bathed in Padmatheertham- the temple pond. Nammalwar, one of the 12 Tamil Vaishnavite (followers of Hinduism who consider Vishnu as the Supreme Lord) poet-saints of 9th century has composed ten hymns in praise of Lord Padmanabha.
Some of the well known scholars, like Dr. L.A Ravi Varma has expressed the view that the temple was established on the first day of Kali Yuga. Kali Yuga is the last of the four stages world goes through as a part of cycle or eras according to Hindu beliefs. Lord Krishna’s end dated to 3,102 BC marks the beginning of Kali Yuga according to Hindu scriptures. If this is indeed true, temple is around 5,000 years old.
Legend about the temple’s founding
The legends surrounding the temple are handed down through centuries. One of the legend from the old palm leaf records at the temple mentions that it was founded by sage Divakara Muni Vilwamangalam, the great Tulu Brahmin thinker who performed rituals at Ananthapura Lake Temple in present day Kasaragod.
Sage Vilwamangalam and the story of Lord Vishnu as a boy
Legend has it that one day Lord Vishnu appeared before him as an orphan child. Vilwamangalam felt pity for the boy and allowed him to stay in the temple premises. The boy proposed a condition that when he feels humiliated he will leave the place at once. The boy helped Vilwamangalam for a while but soon his mischievousness became intolerable. Vilwamangalam reacted harshly and the boy soon disappeared saying that if Vilwamangalam wants to see him again, he would have to go to Ananthakat, the forest of serpent god Anantha.
Vilwamangalam soon realized that the boy was the lord Vishnu himself. He found a cave at the place where the boy disappeared and proceeded to inspect the cave in search of the boy. He reached a woodland near the sea and saw the boy who soon disappeared once again into a huge Mahua tree.
Form of Lord Vishnu in Ananthasayanam form
The tree fell down and assumed the shape of Lord Vishnu lying on a thousand hooded serpent. The divine form had its head at Thiruvallam, 5 km from the location of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple to the east side and its feet at Trippapur, 8 km from the temple to the north side. Overwhelmed by the size, Vilwamangalam prayed to the lord to condense himself in a smaller size. There upon the form of the lord shrank to a size three times the length of Vilwamangalam’s yoga stick. But even then the sage was only a able to see the lord in three parts- thirumukham(the face), thiruvudal (stomach areas) and thrippadam (feet area) as trees obstructed the view. Even today, the three doors covering the large idol of Padmanabha at the temple shows itself to the devotees in the manner in which sage saw it.
The sage then offered a raw mango in a coconut shell to the Lord and the lord ordained that offerings to him should be conducted only by Tulu Brahmins. To this day, half the number of priests (and the head priest) at the temple are from Tulu region and the the offering of raw mango in coconut shell continues.
Some of the major events at the temple
In the year 1,729, the temple underwent a serious restoration work under Marthanda Varma, then king of Travancore. The sanctum sanctorum was reconstructed, the old wooden idol was replaced by one that was made of a rare combination of more than 70 medicinal materials called kadu-sharkara-yogam containing 12,008 Salagrams within. The oblong corridor built of solid stones was constructed, the temple gate, the flag-staff, renovations to the temple pond were also undertaken by the king.
Submission of Travancore Kingdom to Padmanabha
In 1,750, then king of Travancore Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma submitted his entire state of Travancore along with his right on it to Padmanabhaswamy by placing his royal symbols on the stone platform in-front of the sanctum. This act is known as Thrippadi Danam. Even before this, the male members of the family at the age of one were laid on the platform and surrendered to Padmanabhaswamy as his own, gaining their title as ‘Sri Padmanabha Dasa’ meaning ‘servant of Padmanabha’.
Construction of the outdoor hall and the murals
In 1,758, during the reign on King Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma, the pillared outdoor hall known as Karthika Mandapa was built. The hall is supported by 28 large pillars and the pillars on the four corners can produce musical notes when taped. In 1,820 a big mural of Ananthasayanam was drawn in the temple during the time of Queen Gaury Parvathi Bayi. The mural is one of the largest temple murals in Kerala.
Temple entry proclamation in 1,936
Among the rulers of Travancore, King Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma ranks as one among the most illustrious personalities. He ruled as a sage and he made the Kshethra Praveshan Vilambram or Temple Entry Proclamation in 1,936 allowing every caste and creed into the temple- irrespective of their order in the Hindu caste system. This is considered one of the most socially progressive and religiously liberal ordinance made in India, helping it move towards the eradication of untouchability.
The massive amount of temple wealth
The temple is considered to be the wealthiest religious place in the world. The temple and its assets belong to Lord Padmanabha and were controlled by a trust headed by the Travancore Royal Family. The control was recently taken out by the Supreme Court of India.
The temple vaults
The temple is well known for its vaults that store gold and precious stones that worth billions. There are six vaults in total, named- A, B, C, D, E, F. While five of the vaults are already opened for inspection under the order of Supreme Court of india, the vaults B (and G and H which were subsequently discovered during inspection) are yet to be opened. The estimated wealth from the four opened vaults are around 20 billion dollars, not including the price of the cultural and historic values associated with them. The remaining three are the larger vaults and their opening has been on hold due to temple beliefs that prevent the opening.
The mystery of Vault B
It is believed that Devas (mythical beings), sages, snake gods, reside in vault B worshipping Lord Vishnu. Kanjirottu Yakshi (mythical female vampire), whose enchanting and ferocious forms are painted on the south-west part of the main sanctum is believed to reside in vault B worshipping Ugra Narasimha- a sub-deity at the temple. Holy objects like Sri Chakra (mystical diagram consisting of nine interlocking triangles that surround a central point) are installed beneath the vault B to enhance the potency of the principle deity and Ugra Narasimha is considered to be the protector of vault B. There is a serpent image on the vault indicating danger to anyone who opens it. In 2011, first ante-chamber of the vault was opened for inventory but it was not possible to open the vault itself. There is also a story going on that couple of decades ago a group of people attempted to enter the vaults with torches and found them infested with cobras and fled for their lives.
Inside the temple premises
Inside the sanctum sanctorum, Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu) rests on serpent Anantha with its five hood facing inwards. Lord’s right hand is placed over a Shiva Lingam. Lakshmi- the goddess of prosperity and Bhudevi- the goddess of earth, the two concerts of Vishnu are by his side. Lord Brahma emerges from the navel of Lord Vishnu. The platform in-front of the sanctum and where the deity is placed are carved out of a single piece of massive rock.
In addition to the principle deity, many other shrines also present at the temple premises. The two important ones are for Ugra Narasimha (an avatar of Vishnu, in the form of part lion and part man to destroy an evil, end religious persecution and calamity on earth) and Parthasarathi (lord Krishna in the form of a charioteer). There are also shrines for many other deities as well, such that of Lora Rama accompanied by Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, Vishwaksena (commander-in-chief of the army of Lord Vishnu), Vyasa (author of the epic Mahabharata, as well as a character in it) , Ganapathi (the elephant god), Shasta (the god of teaching) and Kshetrapala (guardian deities of the temple).
Padmanabhaswamy Temple festivals
There are many festivals at this temple. The major ones are bi-annual- Alpashy festival in October/ November and Panguni festival in March/ April, both occurring for 10 days. On the 9th day, the king of Travancore in his capacity as the trustee of the temple escorts the deities of the temple for Pallivetta- a ritual in the form of royal hunt. The festival ends with the Aarat (holy bath) of the temple deities in the sea, in a procession lead by the king on the 10th day.
Navaratri festival (Navratri celebrates either Durga or Rama victory over an evil demon, depending on the region) is also celebrated for nine days in September/ October at the temple during which the famous Swathi Music Festival is conducted at the temple.
Laksha Deepam festival every six years
Another big festival is called Laksha Deepam that happens only once in every six years. Laksha Deepam means ‘hundred thousand lamps’ in Malayalam language. Prior to this festival, chanting of prayers is done for 56 days. On the last day, hundred thousand oil lamps are lit in and around the temple premises. The next Laksha Deepam is slated on January 2020 and then in 2026.
Getting to Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram District of Kerala State in Southern India. Situated right at the heart of Thiruvananthapuram City, it is walking distance from the Thiruvananthapuram railway station which connects the city to most other parts of the country.