The Hindu 25 years in Thiruvananthapuram: A strong connection

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple: The bond has only grown stronger

Capital’s icon: Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple has maintained a connect with the people, transcending linguistic, geographic and, at times, religious barriers.  

As an eclectic piece of architecture representing an amalgam of Kerala and Dravidian styles, the majestic Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram has always inspired awe in generations of people from across the world.

Sree Padmanabhaswamy, the Deity of the Travancore dynasty for centuries, was revered by successive monarchs as the sole cause for all the prosperity and good fortune that came by their land. The etymology of this ancient city has all along been closely associated with the Temple as the different names like Syaanandoorapuri, Aanandapuri, Ananthapuri, Ananthasayana Nagari, Thiruvananthapuram and so on reveal.

It is significant that Sree Padmanabhaswamy was not just the Sthala Devatha (place deity) of Thiruvananthapuram but was accepted as the supreme sovereign of the entire State of Travancore from 1750 onwards. Even previously, along with being recognised as a ‘mahakshetram,’ it appears a claimant to ongoing royal connections.

From the time of recorded history, the fortunes of the Temple and the Throne moved hand in hand. Unusual and important has been the role assumed by it not only as history-maker but as history itself. In 1750, Maharaja Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the architect of modern Travancore, surrendered the territories that he had either conquered or acquired, along with all royal rights and privileges, his dynasty and himself to Sree Padmanabhaswamy by deed of gift, famous in history as Thruppati Danam (gift at the holy steps). Henceforth, Sree Padmanabha Perumal became the true monarch of the State with the Travancore rulers administering the domain as the dasas (slaves) of the Supreme Sovereign.

Mention in Puranas

The Temple has found direct and indirect mention in ancient literary works including in seven of the Puranas. It also has the distinction of being one of the few temples to have its growth and evolution traced from the dim past to the 21st century through literature.

But apart from the sheer architectural beauty of the structure, the grandeur of its festivals, the discovery of the immense wealth in its underground vaults, and the hoary rituals associated with the Deity, the Temple has endeared itself to devotees across the world by maintaining a connect with the people, transcending linguistic, geographic and at times, religious barriers as well.

Fundamentally, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is a Hindu temple that has remained the symbol of the erstwhile State of Travancore. For the people, irrespective of religion or caste, it has always been something special.

Records of the Temple are replete with instances of how people of other religions have had an enduring bond with it over the centuries.

In one such episode in the 17th century, Mukilan, a Muslim raider was on his way with his ragtag army to Thiruvananthapuram to plunder the Temple for wealth. Before the then Regent Queen Umayamma Rani could muster her army, Mukilan had appeared at Manacaud where the Pathans, an immigrant Muslim community from Afghanistan, were dominant.

The Pathans asked Mukilan how much he expected to seize from the Temple. Overnight, they collected the amount from their own families and handed it to the raider who conceded their request to leave without touching the Temple. The incident reflects the rare kind of solidarity that existed from ancient times and the special place the Temple with the Deity of Sree Padmanabhaswamy in reclining form had in the minds of the people.

In another incident, a group of Muslim pilgrims bound for Makkah found themselves stranded in Thiruvananthapuram. Considering them as guests of the Temple, the then ruler of Travancore gave them lodging and food for three days and the money to go back. In yet another incident of communal harmony fostered by the Temple, Christian fishermen who used to maintain vigil at sea during the Arattu ritual foiled an attempt to assassinate Swati Tirunal.

Inclusive in design

Even the design of the Temple reflects its lasting bond with linguistic groups from outside the State. While the eastern Rajagopuram with its 2,000-odd figures and figurines follows the Dravidian style, the other three gateways are double storey Padippuras mirroring the Malayalam pattern. Because Sree Padmanabhaswamy was deemed as the symbol and sovereign of the State, this kind of construction representing a fusion of the Malayalam and Tamil systems would have been adopted respecting the sentiments of a good percentage of subjects who spoke Tamil and the local Malayalis to achieve emotional amalgamation of both linguistic groups.

Certain other aspects of the Temple reflect the mood of the times. While the Deepalakshmi statues on the pillars in the Seevelipura are spartan and sport a stern expression in tune with the troubled times during the rule of Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma in which they were constructed, those in the Kulasekharamandapam are heavily ornamental and lavish and have varied expressions reflecting the period of Karthika Thirunal’s reign when things had settled down.

The Tipu link

According to historical records, the ceremonial flag carried at the start of the Arattu procession from the Temple to the Sanghumughom beach for immersion of the deities in the sea is a replica of the flag seized from Tipu Sultan by the victorious Travancore army at the battle of Nedumkotta in 1789. While Tipu’s sword and shield were returned to him, his cap, another trophy from the battle, was adopted as the design for the headgear worn by securitymen at the palace.

Time has not dimmed the glory of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple; the relevance of the Temple and the values it has fostered and championed have only increased over the centuries.

The writer is a member of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 11:04:10 AM |

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