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Padmanabha Swamy temple  

The temple of Sree Padmanabha is one of the most important Vaishnava temples in India. The place (puram) that bears the holy (thiru) name of ‘Anantha’ became ‘Thiru Ananthapuram’ later known as ‘Thiruvananthapuram’.

According to the Hindu mythology Anantha, the holy serpent with five hoods lives in Palazhi, and the Lord Mahavishnu lies on it. Here Ananthan is represented as the Time and Mahavishnu as the God of the entire universe.

It is not possible to determine correctly as to when and by whom the original idol of Sri Padmanabha was set up in the location. The origin of the temple as handed down through centuries in the form of legend goes like this:

The famous hermit Sri Vilwamangalathu Swamiyar, who hailed from a Nampoothiri Brahmin community, was a dedicated Vishnu devotee. One day while Swamiyar was chanting hymns at the ‘Ananthan Kadu’, Mahavishnu presented Himself before him in the form of ‘Ananthasayana’. Then the Swamiyar had nothing worth to offer him. He looked around and saw mango tree bearing fruits. At once he plucked a few unripe mangoes, put it in half coconut shell and offered it to the lord as ‘nivedyam’. The lord ate it and was pleased with the hermit and blessed him and disappeared.

Since it was a Brahmin supremacy period, some Brahmins assembled at the Ananthan Kadu and decided to build a temple there. Accordingly a temple was founded by the Vilwamangalathu Swamiyar.

Even today one of the pooja vessels in use at the temple is a half coconut shell and the important ‘nivedyam’ from time immemorial is the unripe mangoes pickled in salt water. Besides, the right for performing the morning ‘pushpanjali’ is still vested on Nampoothiri Brahmins. These traditional customs lend support and credence to the fact that the swamiyar had founded the temple and Ananthan Kadu became Thiruvananthapuram.

Some scholrs and historians expressed the view that the temple might have been established in the fifth century, i.e., about 5000 years ago.

The governing body of the temple consisted of seven nampoothiris, Azhakathu Kurup and the Rajah of Venadu. The Rajah had only half the power in the management so that the whole committee was knowsn as ‘Etterayogam’.

Old palm-leaf records show that a properly constructed temple building had been built by a saint and ruler named Cheraman Perumal. He also appointed Brahmin nampoothiris for conducting rituals and ceremonials at the temple and that practice of appointing high priests form nampoothiri Brahmins is still continuing.

The next important event took place in between the period AD 1335 and AD 1384. the then Travancore ruler was a powerful king named Veera Marthanda Varma. He completely took over the control and management of the temple. Thus the temple became the possession of the Travancore royal family and the deity became its ‘Kuladaivam’ (family deity).

In 1730 the idol was removed to ‘balalaya’ for a fresh renovation and construction of the temple. The old wooden idol of Sri Padmanabha was replaced by a new ‘Salagram’ idol. It is the same idol that we see today at the sanctum sanctorum. A ‘Sreebalipura’ was also constructed around the shrine to give protection to the deities for rain and the sun when taken for ritualistic processions.

In 1556 foundation was for the construction of a ‘gopuram’ (pinnacle) but it was left untouched for a long time. Later Marthanda Varma took the initiative and built it up to the fifth storey. At the same time, based on the astrological findings a flag staff was erected in front of he main shrine. The teak pole was then covered with gold. The renowned tank ‘Padmatheertham’ was also renovated by furnishing steps all around.

It is a sad story in the history of Travancore that a set of madampies and Ettuveettil Pillais tried to overpower the Rajah clan by constantly opposing and doing all sorts of extremely heinous methods against the royal family. They even worked out plans to kill the members of the family for obtaining power and wealth. By this time they had taken over the administration of the temple. Even daily rituals at the temple were interrupted. So Marthanda Varma Maharajah waged a fight against them and succeeded in defeating them. After that he confiscated their property. Later, the income from the property was given to the temple for a daily offering of ‘palpayasam’ to the Lord.

In the morning of ‘Makaram’ 5th 925 M.E. Sri Marathanda Varma, accompanied by the Delava Ramayya and the members of the royal family came to the temple and in the presence of a large crowd the Rajah placed a gift deed surrendering all the authority and rights including his sword at the foot of the Lord Vishnu with veneration and prayed for the well-being and prosperity of his subjects. Thereafter he ruled the state as a humble servant of the lord and was known as ‘Padmanabha Dasa’. Moreover, it was also ordained that his successors should also follow the same principle and it had been carried out till the merger of the stated with the Indian union.

As regards the temple festivals, it may be noted there are two important festivals in addtion ‘Murajapam’ which is conducted every six years.

In the month of ‘Thulam’ (October/November) on the days of ‘Atham’ the flag is hoisted for a ten day festival which ends on ‘Thiruvonam’ with ‘araat’ (divine bath). On the day of ‘araat’ the members of the roral family along with ‘tantris’ (priests) carry the deities Sri Padmanabha, Narasimha and Sri Krishna to the Sankumukom beach. There the deities are ritually bathed in the sea and the procession returns to the temple.

Another ten day festival takes place in the month of Meenam (March/ April). Flag-hoisting ceremony is carried on the day of ‘Rohini’ and ends on the day of ‘Atham’ with procession and ‘araat’.

‘Kalabham’ is another ceremonial festival conducted in the month of ‘Dhanu’ (December/ January). Besides, Sivarathri, Vishu, Sree Rama Navami are also celebrated according to the festival schedule.