Origin of the Temple
It is impossible to pinpoint the exact time when the Temple originated since it retreats to the undated past. As repeated references surface even in Puranic literature, its antiquity stands established. Even though conflicting opinions are available concerning the period of the Sangam era, the Temple is seen mentioned there. At the same time the ‘Sthala Puranam’ dealing with the narration of its coming into existence is comparatively younger in age. The names of the two venerable sage’s appear in this connection – Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar of Nampoothiri caste and Divakara Muni of Tulu stock, both believed to be of the 9th century A.D. Yet another opinion circulates that both of them were in reality one and the same. Whatever the case may be there is significant representation of both sections in. the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. While the Tarananalloor Tantries and the Pushpanjali Swamiyars both belong to the Nampoothiri community, all the other priests of the Temple inclusive of the four ‘Nambies’ attached to the main sanctums are Malayala and Tulu ‘Potties’ belonging to the ‘Ikkara’ and ‘Akkara Desies’. In presenting the ‘Sthala Puranam`, Vilvamangalam Swamiyar’s name is being adopted by virtue of the fact that it is more well known.
One day a little child presented himself at the door of Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar’s hermitage. The response derived by him when he enquired of the lad details about himself was, “I have no parents nor a home.” Vilvamangalam who led a solitary life was entranced-by the charm of the little visitor and invited him to make a home in the hermitage. Though the child assented, it was conditional. He would leave the place the moment any kind of displeasure was shown to him. Taking it to be a childish caprice, the Sage agreed to it. Time passed. One day found the little one in an exceedingly naughty mood. He upset the ‘Puja’ items arranged by the Swamiyar, knocked over the water kept ready for worship and still not satisfied, hid a ‘Salagrama’ in his own little mouth. The Swamiyar whose patience was sorely tried, lost his temper when he finally discovered the missing ‘Salagrama’ and pushed his little guest aside with the back of his hand. Displeased by this gesture, that instant the young boy sped out of the hermitage. Vilvamangalam at once realised the divinity of the young child and though he ran behind him crying out to the speeding lad to stop, he very soon lost sight of him. The sage followed the sound of the bells on the anklets but that too soon faded away. All of a sudden the distraught Swamiyar heard an ‘Asareeri’ (disembodied voice from the skies). “If you want to see Me, come to Anantan Katu”. From then onwards he commenced the long journey in search of Anantan Katu and the beloved little one. The innumerable temples consecrated by the Swamiyar or which have become more sacred due to his connections dotting the land from northern Kerala to south bear testimony to his search. One day as dusk was descending the Swamiyar, sat down under a tree, both mentally and physically exhausted. Then from a cottage occupied by a Pulaya family a voice raised in ire floated out “if you do not cease crying, I will throw you out into Anantan Katu.” A Pulayi was thus scolding her baby who was wailing and refusing to sleep. At once the sage leapt to his feet and rushed across to the but where the poor woman frightened by his approach was cowering; to enquire of her the whereabouts of Anantan Katu. Without uttering a word she merely pointed a finger at the wood close by. He blessed her with a heart full of joy and taking a lighted wick from her to aid his progress, raced into the forest despite the night hours and unfamiliar terrain. In the early hours of the morning around 4 O’clock a huge ‘lluppa’ tree (Indian Butter tree) crashed down in front of him. (There is a version that there were three trees and not one). Instantaneously the mighty form of Sree Padmanabha Swamy reclining on the serpent Ananta as Sree Anantasayee and extending to about eighteen ‘Yoganas’ (a measurement of distance) materialised before the Swamiyar’s wonderstruck eyes. Since he was empty handed and had nothing to offer to this miraculous vision, he quickly plucked a raw mango from a near-by tree and putting it in a dry coconut shell he submitted it as his humble offering. That coconut shell now gold covered and gem studded is still in use for special occasions. Since it was impossible to circumambulate a figure of such magnitude with head positioned at Thiruvallom, body spreading across Thiruvananthapuram and feet resting at Thrippappoor/Thrippadapuram, the Swamiyar requested that He may shrink to three times the length of the Swamiyar’s ‘Yoga Dandu’ (staff) to accommodate his limited mortal vision. This was conceded to. On hearing these tidings the ruler of the land had a Temple constructed at that spot and an idol of the wood of the Indian ue_ttEr tree carrying the same characteristics of the Divine vision granted to Vilvamangalam was consecrated by the sage. Keeping alive the memory of the initial `Pushpanjali’ (flower worship) performed by the Swamiyar it was decided that henceforth it would always be the prerogative of the renunciates to conduct it. The term ‘Kshetra Sanyai’ appearing in the Padma Puranam indicates that ‘Swamiyar Puja’ was not new here. Since this ‘Mahakshetram’ was known before the 9th century it can be concluded that Vilvamangalam carried out a re-consecration.
On the night prior to this most sacred ceremony the head priest saw a dream in which Bhagavan Himself appeared and issued a directive. “The fire to light the first wick in My ‘Sreekovil’ should be with the fire from the Pulaya hut.” This order was obeyed in toto by the concerned authorities. Thereafter that Pulaya woman came to be known as “Theeyedi Pulayi” (Pulayi who took the fire). There is a different legend connecting Bhagavan to this Pulayi through oral tradition. As the Pulaya couple was busy cutting grass the wail of a baby reached their ears. Guided by it they arrived at a place where they found a baby abandoned. A serpent was stationed nearby as though on guard with its five heads spread out like an umbrella over the infant’s head to protect him from the sun. The moment it spied the couple it vanished into the thin air. The poor woman took the babe to her hut, gave him milk and cared for him as though he were her very own. A few months went by. One day as she was cradling the little one in her arms to rock him to sleep, suddenly he rose up in a flash of light and disappeared in the direction of the Anantan Katu. In the place of the baby she was found holding a log piece. May be that dream was intended as a reminder of the status that poor woman enjoyed at least for a while as the mother of the Lord of all creation. The king gifted a large field to this family. It came to be known as ‘Putharikkandom’ (the field of new rice). Though the field and harvest remain just as memories now, the name continues.
Main Consecrations (Deities):
1. Sree Padmanabha Swamy
The ‘Anantasayana Salagrama Katusarkara’ Idol of Sree Padmanabha Swamy who is adored as the ‘Paramananda Shanthaswaroopa Yoga Moorthy’ of supreme bliss and embodiment of tranquility, was the exceedingly beautiful and marvellous creation of the master icon maker Balaranyakonideva. The re-consecration was carried out by Tantri Tarananalloor Padmanabharu Parameswararu in the year 1739 in the Malayalam month of Mithunam (mid June – mid July) 9th day, when Maharaja Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma sat on the throne of Travancore. It can be understood how complex their crafting is when the substances used and the processes involved are even superficially examined. A quick glance is revealing. ‘Thiruvattappasa’ (Pinus Roxlrerghir), ‘Kundirikkam’ (Boswelliz Serrata), ‘Gulgulu’ (Commiphora Mukul), molasses, ‘Chenchalyam’ (resin of Schorea Robusta), ‘Kavi’ (red ochre), husk of coconut shell, ‘Maruthu’ (Terminalia Paniculata), sand from specified places, wood of ‘Karinjali’ (Acacia Catechu) and ‘Devatharui (Cedrios Deodara), bark of the four trees ‘Athi’ (Ficus Racemosa), ‘Ithi’ (Ficus Gibbosa), ‘Arayal’ (Ficus Religiosa) and ‘Peralu’ (Ficus Bengalensis), Plavin-pasa (leaf latex – Artocarpus Integrifolia), inner part of the ‘Koovalathum kaya’ (Aegla Marmelos), ‘Iluppa’ tree (Indian Butter tree Bassia Longifolia), ‘Kolarakku’ (lac), ‘Thriphala’ concoctions, mixture of ‘Katukka’ (Tirmernalia Chebrila), ‘Nellikka’ (gooseberry) and ‘Thannikka’ (Tirminalia Ballerica), ‘Yavum’ (barley), leaf of ‘Kasavu (Memecylon Edule), dried ginger, honey, turmeric, ‘Thrippali’ (long pepper), ghee, water of matured coconut, oil, ‘Kumkumam’ (composite powder of red colour), ‘Chandanam’ (sandal); ‘Aritharam’ (Acacia Pamesiana), ‘Kottam’ (Sassurea Lappa), camphor, ‘Akhil’ (Indian Cedar), ‘Gorochana’ (Benzar), ‘Kasthuri’ (musk), mud, silk, powdered silver and gold, ‘Kozhipparal’ (a specific rock ground. to powder), black coloured stones found on river bed), conch powder etc are among the ingredients utilised. It can be seen that almost all of them possess medicinal value. As such the materials used and methods followed are very similar to those adopted by ‘Ayurveda’ for the protection and re-enforcement of the human system.
2. Sree Narisimha Swamy
After the main consecration, those commanding great importance are the Ugra (fierce) Sree Narasimha Swamy on the southern side and Sree Thiru Ampati Sree Krishna Swamy. Though description exists of how the fire flared up of its own volition during the exact time of installing Sree Narasimha Swamy’s idol, the correct time-frame remains elusive. Since there is mention about this powerful Deity in ancient literature, His great age stands assured. What is normally seen is that the potency of Sree Narasimha Moorthy is invoked in a Vishnu idol, appropriate decorations and marks of identification added to it and worshipped. Differing from them the ‘Panchaloham’ Idol present here is of Sree Narasimha Swamy Himself. There is a school of thought upholding the view that this consecration was performed around the 8th Century AD by Sree Sureswaracharya, one among the prime disciples of Adi Sree Sankara. If that be true then two of the main Divinities here, Sree Padmanabha Swamy and Sree Narasimha Swamy have been consecrated by ‘Munies’ (sages).
3. Thiru Ampati Sree Krishna Swamy
Specific recorded evidence is available regarding the origin of the Thiru Ampati Temple. After Dwaraka was claimed by the ocean, seventy-two ‘Vrishnivamsha Kshatriya’ families under the leadership of one Krishna Varman immigrated to Gujarat and settled down there. Disquiet dodged their footsteps. One night Krishna Varman had a dream. In it Sree Krishna Bhagavan Himself appeared and directed him to go southwards to ‘Ananthasayana Nagari’ which would prove to be their refuge. Next morning Krishna Varman conveyed this dream directive to his clan along with his decision to start for that city of the south. His entire clan decided to follow suit. The city was unknown to them but finally, after much travelling they arrived at that place. They had brought with them the sacred Sree Krishna idol and a ‘Salagrama’ which they had installed in their village in Gujarat. Ultimately both of them were consecrated in a separate temple within the confines of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. It also went by its original name ‘Thiru Ampati’. This hallowed event took place on the 5th of the first ii Malayalam year, in the month of ‘Chingom’, Friday, under the asterism `Thiru Onam.’ These immigrants identified as ‘Krishnavamsajar’ (those belonging to the family of Sree Krishna) were honoured with positions, landed properties, buildings and so on. (Today this community is known as ‘Krishnanvakakkar’.) Their Idol which was initially worshipped as ‘Goshala Krishna’ (Krishna of the cattleshed) later underevent a transformation of concept i and came to be venerated as “Parthasarathy”.
4. Other consecrations and Power Centres
In places reserved for them are seen Sree Rama-Lakshmana-Sita Hanuman close at hand in a mood of servitude, Ganapathy with a Devi on His lap, Vishvaksenan as the Nirmalya Moorthy fashioned out of Katusarkara, Sree Veda Vyasa Bhagavan with Aswatthama in close attendance, Kshetrapalan with a Ganapathy nearby, a rare ‘Swayambhoo’ Sasta and Agrashala Ganapathy facing west. Much favoured by the devotees is the towering figure of Sree Hanuman Swamy finished in granite which stands close to the main ‘Belikkal’ (sacred stones on which sanctified food is offered). Offerings come in search of this claimant to many a miracle, in abundance. A relatively uncommon Ashtanaga Garudan (Garudan with the eight serpents interned all around his body) rises majestically on the other side. In a sacred area of recent origin are placed the idols of personal worship of Maharaja Sree Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma. After he shed his mortal coils, these idols were brought from the Palace to this place subsequent to conducting a ‘Deva Prasnam’ (astrological inquiries) in the presence of the Tantri and with his consent. The ‘Bhadradeepappura’ which has witnessed many great religious ceremonies and where Chakrabja Puja’ is conducted is another power centre.
Enclosed within four massive walls and situated on seven acres of land in the heart of the city of Thiruvananthapuram, the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple sheds its lustre far and wide. We can understand the importance given to the walls as one of the names by which the Temple is known is ‘Mathilakam’ (within the walls). Since it is not easy to do even moderate justice to the special structural features, a description in compromise alone is being attempted.
A fusion of the Malayalam and Tamil constructional systems offers itself here. While the eastern ‘Raja Gopuram’ with its two thousand odd figures and figurines follows the Dravidian style, the other three gateways are double-storied ‘Patippuras’ mirroring the Malayalam pattern. Because Sree Padmanabha Swamy was deemed as the symbol and Sovereign of the State, this kind of construction would have been adopted respecting the sentiments of a good percent of subjects who spoke the Tamil tongue and the local Malayalees, aiming at achieving emotional amalgamation of both major linguistic groups. As a pointer to ‘Vanchi Nadu’ (land of boats), it is possible to spy the representation of a boat atop the ‘Gopuram.’
‘The architect of Travancore’ as he was well known, Maharaja Marthanda Varrna (1726-1758) commissioned repairs and restoration of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple wherever it was found necessary but he was most particular that the restored or replaced structures should be replicas of the old edifices. With this aim in view the Maharaja himself assumed the responsibility of over-seeing such work while the actual construction rested in the able hands of Vishnuthrathan Nampoothiri. The vast and impressive ‘Sivelippura’ was completed within an incredibly short time span of six months. Ananthapadmanabha Moothassari, the master artisan had ten thousand masons and one hundred elephants working round the clock to accomplish this feat. Sculptures that stand head high, carvings both in granite and wood, the ‘Ekasila’/Ottakkal Mandapam’ which continues as a masterpiece in granite, various kinds of lamps, bells of uncommon mould, mural paintings that fill the walls, so runs the description. The mural depicting the ‘Ananthasayanam’ executed by a Brahmin artist named Chalayil Kalahasthi and which is deemed to be the biggest among Kerala temple murals, is present here. As is usual in mural paintings seen in temples these murals too adhere to the ‘Panchamala’ (garland of five principle). Of special note is the ‘Aayiramkal Mandapam’ (thousand pillared hall) or ‘Kulasekhara Mandapam’ which took form during the reign of Maharaja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja). This exquisite structure hailed as pure poetry in stone is a source of eternal wonder and delight to art lovers. Other than the four groups of musical pillars in dressed granite, there array twenty-four major sculptures exuding vitality and life. Regarding the musical pillars it may be added that such wonderful pillars producing different musical sounds are found only in eleven temples all over India. The oldest construction now available within the whole complex is the Thiru Ampati Temple. This Temple which escaped from the fury of fire possesses a wooden ‘Namaskara Mandapam’ abounding in fabulous wood carvings which are a feast to the eyes.
The Ottakkal Mandapam (single stone platform) in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is a striking feature. The Mandapam is in front of the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Sree Padmanabhaswamy. This structure is built with a single slab of granite which is two and a half feet thick and twenty feet square. The Abhishekams to Sree Padmanabhaswamy are performed in this Mandapam. Its granite pillars are covered with gold.
This structure is in front of the Ottakkal Mandapam but outside the Cherruchuttu containing the sanctum sanctorum. Special poojas related with Temple festivals are performed here. Devotees use this Mandapam for meditation and prayer.
It is a marvelous and fantastic architectural work on stone. It is also known as Aayiramkaal Mandapam and Sapthaswara Mandapam. It is supported by 28 balustrades of pillars. The pillars on the four corners can produce musical notes when tapped. The pillars are adorned with exquisitely carved figures in half and full relief.
The Golden flag-staff (Dwaja Stambham)
An eighty feet high pole near the eastern corridor was installed by Anizham Tirunal. A teak wood of this dimension was carried from the nearby forest to the Temple. As per Sastras the wood should not touch the ground while in transport. The teak pole was then covered completely with gold foils. The apex of the flag pole has a figure of Garuda Swamy, in kneeling posture.
The Temple has nine entrances, indicating the nine orifices of the human body.
The Sreebalippura (Corridor)
The Temple has a marvelous Sreebalippura. This magnificent rectangular corridor built of stone surrounds the main shrines and it is through this corridor that the Vahanams are taken out during Sreebali (procession). Records say that daily 4000 stone artisans, 6000 labourers and 100 elephants worked for a period of 6 months to finish the construction of the Sreebalippura. Sreebalippura is supported by 365 and a one quarter of pillars. Each pillar is a monolith. The master artisan Ananthapadmanabha Moothassari was in charge of the work.
Large numbers of bells adorn the Temple. In most cases the tip of the bell has a metal banian leaf attached to its tongue.
Multiplicity of Mandapams
Another feature of this Temple is the multiplicity of Mandapams (platforms). There are 11 mandapams in the Temple and 8 in the Padmatheertham pond.
The outer walls of the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Padmanabha and Sree Krishna are adorned with murals. Of these, the Ananthasayanam on the backside of the sanctum is termed as the largest one among the temple murals of Kerala, and was painted by a Brahmin artist by name Chalayil Kalahasti. It is of 18 feet long.
Miracles find a place in the scrolls and records pertaining to the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. A selected few are being presented here. The seepage of milk from the granite paved floor of the enclosure containing the sanctum, ‘Mandapam’ and two other shrines, the sound of pattering feet and tinkle of bells on the anklets heard by the sweeper women from near the Thiru Ampati as they approached it in the early morning hours, the appearance and disappearance of serpents within the ‘Sreekovil’ and in other areas, the changing of bells and ferocious roar, emitting from the Sree Narasimha Swamy’s shrine in the advanced hours of the night etc. all find their places among the miracles. Another which merits mention is added here. During one of the outbreaks of fire which this Temple was subjected to, despite the fact that fire encircled the main Idol of ‘Iluppa’ ‘ and burning logs collapsed on it from the ceiling, it remained free of harm except for minor damages. Likewise it cannot be forgotten that during the fire of 1934 when Maharaja Sree Chithira Thirunal ruled, an ‘Asareeri’ was heard, followed by the manifestation of Sree Hanuman Swamy near His own towering Idol to successfully check the encroaching flames. The incident when the left foot of the granite Dwarapalakan near the ‘Dhwajasthambham’ started to elongate was also during this Maharaja’s time. Hence these events belong to the recent past. When the foes excited an elephant during an ‘Arat’ procession of the Temple with the intention of slaying the Maharaja, the terror – stricken crowd saw a ferocious lion in his place like a super imposition. The maddened elephant also would have seen it as it fell down on its knees, the tusks boring the ground. It is believed that Sree Narasimha Swamy Himself had appeared there to save His devotee. That Maharaja was none other than Sree Swathi Thirunal. Thus the parchment of miracles unfolds.
At least twenty-four inscriptions offer themselves for inspection including an uncommon water inscription in the lauded Padmateertham. The script is varied and in Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu and so on in languages like Grantha, Sanskrit, old Tamil etc. They are mostly dated unlike those found in other parts of Kerala which are, by and large, undated.
From the texts it is seen that twenty-two ‘Teerthas’ (holy water sources) [though opinion on the exact number varies] came under the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple with some located even as far away as Varkala. The most famous one which has been found mentioned even in the ‘Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana’ is undoubtedly the ‘Padmateertham’ which is the Temple’s own tank. Within its railings stand nine granite ‘Mandapas’ which had been put into use as platforms for many a performing art and also for conduct of certain rituals. A small but important temple housing a rare Shiva-Parvathi seated on Nandi the bull too finds its place within these railings. Butting on to them and with their backs turned are located the shrines dedicated to Sree Hanuman Swamy, Sree Ganapathy and the Navagrahas.