Tag Archives: Travancore

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple – Richness of royal legacy!


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Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the most celebrated and legendary Temple in Kerala’s state capital
, is Thiruvananthapuram nowadays  constantly hitting the headlines of national & international newspapers & media alike on account of the vast treasures discovered in its secret chambers. As countless debates continue about the treasure values (estimated to be in many billion-dollars) and the temple being the richest in not only India but all over the world, an insight into this sacred shrine’s flashback unearths the time-tested unshaken bond between a bygone royal dynasty and their state shrine.

Looking Back…

Regarded as one among the holiest 108 Vaishnava Thirupa (sacred abodes of Lord Vishnu) in India, the exact age of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is still debated. This temple is mentioned in several ancient Hindu ‘puranas’ (epics) though officially recorded facts dated back to 7th / 8th centuries. Legends states, Anantha Padmanabha – the deity of this Temple – was originally at the Anantha Padmanabha Lake Temple in Kasargod
district, North Kerala. A tryst with an ardent devotee, Sage Vilwamangalam, saw the Lord shifting his base to the Southern zone.

The present Temple was built in the forested land Ananthan-kadu. In due course of time the city was known by the Temple’s name – ‘Thiru Anantha Puram’ meaning the ‘Land of Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy’. It was the chief shrine of then-dynasty Aayi Kings, predecessors of Venad Kings. Before the Venad rulers gained foothold the Temple was under ‘Ettera-yogam’ – Association of Ettu Veettil Pillamaar, a powerful group of 8 feudal lords that held sway over Venad in 15th – 16th centuries. With the local feudal lords at one end and emerging European trading powers at the other, the domestic situation was in turmoil and it was left over to Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma the then- crown-prince to bring the situation under Kerala control. His accession to the throne was an eventful chapter in
History which saw the annihilation of feudal powers and checking of colonial traders’ advances in the South.

Widely considered as the valiant & powerful King of his generation, Marthanda Varma had high regards for Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. During his reign (1729-58) he conquered neighboring provinces and turned the tiny Venad into a powerful Kingdom of Travancore. After firmly establishing his Kingdom, Marthanda Varma reconstructed & enlarged Padmanabhaswamy Temple and, performed the exemplary act of ‘Thrippadi danam’ – dedicating his Kingdom & wealth to the Lord and rule on behalf of the Lord’s will – to Sree Padmanabha in 1750 AD. Thereafter, Travancore Kingdom was regarded as the sole property of Lord Padmanabhaswamy and the King became Padmanabha-dasa alias ‘In service of Lord Sree Padmanabha’.

Marthanda Varma and his succeeding Travancore Kings considered their assets as offerings to Lord Padmanabha. Even the small kingdoms under Travancore considered the Lord as their master and offered their valuables to the Temple as tokens of devotion & regards. Apart from the Travancore Kings, who wholeheartedly bestowed so many priceless assets (gold, silver, diamonds …) to their State Temple, several Royals from different parts of India and foreign rulers too, donated countless invaluable souvenirs to Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The reigning King(s) safely guarded the Temple’s treasures and ruled without eyeing their dizzy value, as they considered it as God’s own property for which it’s their duty to protect. In fact, as they treated themselves as the servants of the Lord, Travancore Kings never wore a Crown (except for a brief time during their swearing-in ceremony). Such was the Travancore Royal clan’s bonding with Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Even old testimonies state, the Kings served their people without making use of any Temple’s treasures and even without imposing unnecessary taxes  – a sharp contrast to the present governing system of Kerala where the word ‘corruption’ is more like a brand name!

The rituals and customs introduced by King Marthanda Varma were voluntarily followed by all the successors to the throne of Travancore… until the Kings lost their authority with the formation of Independent India in 1947. However the last reigning King of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma continued his duties & services to the Temple, strictly in accordance with earlier customs, till his death and now the Temple administration is handled by the present head of the royal clan, Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma.

Temple Specialties…

The royal legacy of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple cannot be complete without mentioning its unique features. The Temple architecture itself is one-of-a-kind. Distinctly different from traditional Kerala architectural style, Padmanabhaswamy Temple showcases a nice blend of Dravidian-Kerala structural combination, which can be found nowhere else in the state.

The Temple complex is flanked by ‘Padma Theertham’ (means, Lotus Pond), a sacred pond which is considered as old as the Temple itself. On the north-east side of the pond, lies a cave inside which a small Lord Shiva Temple is located. The most interesting feature of this pond is a raised stone at its center, which is believed to bear the footmarks of Lord Vishnu (Sree Padmanabhaswamy). Devotees cleanse themselves in Padma Theertham before proceeding for Temple worship. Also they feed the fishes in this pond as a mark of devotion.

Inside the Temple complex, what stand amongst the numerous sculptural beauties are the ‘the Bali Peeda Mandapam’ and ‘Mukha Mandapam’, two artistically sculptured halls dating back to the era of King Marthanda Varma. Another notable feature here is the ‘Navagraha Mandapa’, where the ceiling displays the Navagrahas (Nine Planets, which according to Hindu philosophy signifies different stages in human life) – something rarely seen typical Kerala Temples.

The chief deity, Lord Anatha Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu in a reclining position on the Serpant Anantha), is consecrated in a unique way. The 18 feet long idol is built with 10,008 precious saligram stones, and can be viewed through three doors – Lord’s head and his right hand, hanging over the Shivalingam, thro’ first door, the middle portion with Lord Brahma seated on a lotus (which comes from the navel of Lord Vishnu) thro’ the second door and, Lord’s feet thro’ the third door.

As with the ancient legendary Temples around the world, Padmanabhaswamy Temple too has got its own share of distinct murals and wood-works. For the people who throng to the Temple at all times, it’s a feast for eyes as well as mind.

With the recent discovery of Padmanabhaswamy Temple’s immense treasure trove led to a new twist over the Temple affairs. The legal battles for Temple management go on and people continue to ponder over the fate of the treasure… Whatever be the outcome; staunch devotees are certain that Lord Sree Padmanabhaswamy continues to grace his subjects and Thriuvananthapuram (and Kerala) will remain God’s Own Country forever as the ‘Land of Sree Padmanabhaswamy’, to be precise the.

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Padmanabhapuram, glimpses of bygone glories

A quite little town in Tamil Nadu, located close to Kerala… by seeing the humble Padmanabhapuram clad in greenery anyone will find to difficult to believe that it was once a thriving capital city of a wealthy medieval kingdom in South India – Travancore. But it’s a fact!

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Padmanabhapuram served as the capital city of Venad state (which later became Travancore) for centuries. It was the mute witness of many exciting historical episodes, of which perhaps the most notable one was the power struggle between King Rama Varma’s sons and the heir-apparent Prince Marthanda Varma, in the yearly years of 18th century. Venad / Travancore was one of the very few states that strictly adhered the Thai-vazhi (to be precise, Mother’s dynasty) ‘system of inheritance’, that means, it is not the King’s son who inherits the throne; but the nephew. The rightful heir is the King’s sister’s son! The royal lineage continues this way.

Around 1725-28 AD, the sons of then king Rama Varma, aided by local chieftains, tried to put an end to this system. The rest was a period of turbulence and finally, Marthanda Varma became the King, defeating the opponents by sheer aggression (a thrilling saga so well narrated in C. V. Rama Pillai’s historical novel ‘Marthanda Varma’). Under Marthanda Varma, Venad was transformed from a tiny state to the powerful Kingdom of Travancore and Padmanabhapuram reached its zenith.

However, after his Marthanda Varma’s reign (1729-58 AD), the scenario changed in due course of time. Towards the end of 18th century, the capital was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram – which still serves as the state capital of Kerala. Nevertheless, Padmanabhapuram continued to be a royal city till the end of British dominance in India. After the unification of princely states and subsequent new state dominions saw Padmanabhapuram togetherwith the southernmost part of Travancore ceded to Tamil Nadu. Gradually the once prominent city faded from limelight.

Despite of its present low profile, one monument still stands tall – the Palace of Padmanabhapuram – erstwhile ‘royal residence’.

Studded with elegant wood carvings and lattice works, there is hardly a better example of traditional Kerala architectural style.

Throughout this palace, splendors of old Travancore echoes…

The greatness of royal legacy seems astounding in some portions such as,

The Matralaya – King’s Council chamber – a hall with beautiful wooden lattices where windows fitted with colored mica serves as the natural air conditioner!

Another one is the Nataksala – the hall or performance – beautified with nicely carved stone pillars. At the top, wooden enclosure with peep holes can be seen which were used by the ladies of royal family to watch stage performances.
A source of inspiration for many movie settings !

The amazing palace-ceiling with over 90 varieties of wooden carved flowers and hanging-lamp !

Arguably the most curious spot in the palace – the ‘secret underground passage’, which was built for emergency purpose (through which the royal family could escape to another palace, ‘Charottu Kottaram’, which is located few kilometers away)! Several interesting legends were associated with this passage.

The gifts of ancient Chinese merchants – priceless jars form China…

Close-up of the ‘medicinal cot’, the King’s bed – made up of 64 wooden pieces from a variety of medicinal tree trunks – believed to be gifted from the colonial Dutch East India company.

The palace’s clock tower – where the 300+ years old clock still functions!

The palace’s assets are innumerable, ranging from numerous kinds of sculptures, furniture, lamps, mirror / metal works.… to weaponry (used in actual wars). In fact, a brief study of this grand palatial residence is enough to understand that Travancore was one of the famous & prosperous kingdoms in medieval times.

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A favorite destination for historians and comers alike; there stands a proud ‘sole’ testimony of a forgotten royal capital.

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