Long before Thiruvananthapuram assumed any importance as a capital city, it was famous for its temple dedicated to Lord Padmanabha. And now, this historic temple is a major landmark in the city.
According to the legends associated with this temple, it is said that Balabhadra, the brother of Lord Krishna had visited it during his pilgrimage just after the Mahabarata war. The temple as an abode of Vishnu as Lord Padmanabha finds mention in ancient Tamil texts.
Times of trouble
During the 16-17 centuries, a conflict arose between Umayamma Rani of Attingal and the other members of the governing council. The temple was totally burnt down. The present structure was built by Marthanda Varma 1, the founder of modern Travancore. He brought in stone masons and other artisans from Tamil Nadu and designed the temple in the present Pandian style. He adopted Lord Sree Padmanabha as the guardian deity by famously declaring himself as the Padmanabha Dasa. The kings of Travancore continued the tradition and endowed the temple with vast treasures of gold and precious stones.
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The temple complex
The temple complex occupies almost three hectares of land in the middle of the city of Thiruvananthapuram. It faces east and is enclosed within the massive walls of East Fort. It is on a slight elevation and the main entrance is up a handsome flight of stone steps on the eastern side. Entry is through a lofty tower modeled after those in Tamil Nadu. It is seven stories high. The basement functions as the 'Natakasala' where Kathakali and other performances are staged occasionally.
Beyond is a magnificent hall adorned with sculptured stone pillars. Notable is an icon of the monkey god Hanuman carved at the base of one of the pillars. It has become an object of worship. Close by is a multi-pillared mandapam, or platform, that houses a museum. If you are musically inclined, the representatives will show you how to create the notes by hitting the stone pillars inside.
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In through the Gopuram, one can perambulate the temple through a fine, broad corridor. The high roof is supported by 324 stone pillars. Every pillar has the figure of a girl with folded hands holding a lamp. If you go straight in, you enter the main temple. There are a number of platforms leading into the inner shrine. On one side is the shrine dedicated to Narasimha and by the side is the main shrine of Lord Sree Padmanabha.
Up a flight of steps leads you to a platform from which three doors reveal the head, middle and foot of the recumbent icon of Lord Padmanabha. The deity is represented as lying in deep meditation on the coils of the great serpent Anantha, whose hood with five heads form a canopy over the Lord. The priests and the other temple officials will try to hurry you through, but look out for these small details. At the head of the statue you will see a land let down. It touches a 'shivling'. The Lord's consort Sree Devi and Saint Brighu are seen. From the middle door you can see a lotus stalk rising out of the navel of the statue, in the middle on which sits Brahma, the God of creation. And then at the foot of the statue you see the Lord's second consort, Bhumi Devi.
The temple complex has a couple of other shrines too. The notable one being the Ugra Narasimha which is inside the main temple complex and the Krishna Swami temple which is just outside. There is a small shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha, too; it is known as the Agrasala Ganapati.
In the news
About 10 years ago, the Supreme Court ordered that the temple would be managed by a committee chaired by a Hindu district judge of Thiruvananthapuram. An executive officer was posted in charge of the management. The treasuries of the temple were opened. Everyone was awed by the extent and value of the treasures so revealed. But these treasures are not displayed because of safety reasons.