Hidden histories Society

Sacred pond of memories

Temple and the Royal Bathing Ghat, (around 1912); photograph reproduced from Indian Princes and the Crown.Photo courtesy: Sharat Sunder Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Photo courtesy: Sharat Sunder Rajeev

Padmatheertham, the pond associated with Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, claims a special space role in the socio-cultural and religious context of historic Thiruvananthapuram. The ancient water body is a silent witness to the history of the Fort area and its environs. At present, the pond represents our cultural identity in the modern urban context.

Ananthapuravarnanam, a 13th-century composition by an unknown poet mentions Ananthatheertham (old name of Padmatheertham) along with other tanks surrounding the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Local historians such as V. Narasimhan Thampi maintain that the pond was enlarged in the 14th century, during the reign of Veera Rama Marthanda Varma, who used the earth from the excavations to construct a rampart around Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. The tank transformed into its present state in the 18th century, after renovations carried out by Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma and Dharmaraja. Padmatheertham was supplied with a fresh supply of water from Killi River by means of a rivulet by the name Kochar. Subsequent rulers took necessary measures to maintain the temple tank. In 1813, oil lamps were installed on the banks of Padmatheertham. A system of periodic maintenance was also introduced to clean the pond in association with the Murajapam festival.

Padmatheertham holds in its depths many interesting titbits of history related to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple and the royal family of erstwhile Travancore. During the reign of Dharmaraja (1758-1798), a spy from Mysore, who settled in the Fort in the guise of a mendicant with magical abilities, was drowned in the tank by Makayiram Thirunal, the King’s brother. The tank has a small vault where some sâlagramams brought for the creation of Sree Padmanabhaswamy’s idol is still stored. Later, Sree Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma (1885-1924) made arrangements to store inside the vault, water from the rivers considered sacred, from all over India, enhancing the sanctity of the ancient water body.

Senior citizens who lived in the Fort area and its surroundings had maintained an intimate association with the pond. For some, the tank and its ghats were a perfect hang-out where they could gather with peers to discuss and debate on their favourite topics. For Sreekandeswaram Ratnakaran Bhagavathar, a well-known vocalist in the city, the pond evokes fragrant memories. “Even though I was born into a family of artists and musicians, I started my career in Thiruvananthapuram during the 1940s as an ivory carver,” recalls Ratnakaran. “While I learned the nuances of carving, my heart craved for music. During those days, my only solace was the spare time I got in the evenings. After my work was over for the day, I used to go the Fort area and sit on the steps of Padmatheertham, my feet immersed in the cool water and ears tuned to the music from radios in the nearby shops,” he adds. The tank and its serene milieu definitely helped in cultivating the musician in the youngster, he avers.

The serene Padmatheertham was transformed in the later years. The old drainage pattern became defunct and iron railing and gates were installed around the pond. The introduction of new elements brought about a transformation in the relationship between the locals and the pond. A few old-timers still continued their visits to their hangout – fond memories of the pond, the fragrance of camphor and incense, and of music floating in the air.

[The author is a conservation architect and history buff]

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 7:35:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/padmatheertham-pond-and-its-special-place-in-history-of-thiruvananthapuram/article8313968.ece

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