Padmatheertham, the sacred pond associated with the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple is undoubtedly one of the oldest ponds in Thiruvananthapuram. Many historians agree that the ‘Ananthatheertham’ mentioned in Ananthapuravarnanam , a 13th century composition, can be identified with Padmatheertham. However, the records from medieval times reveal that the pond was once known as Darpakulam.
With the emergence of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple under Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the once small Darpakulam, a pond fed by natural springs, was expanded, the exact dimensions of which can be found in the Mathilakam records. Thus, the conversion of the old Darpakulam to Padmatheertham of the present day was initiated during the 18th century. It is said that the introduction of Murajapam and Lakshadeepam festivals, which ensured the participation of numerous scholars and dignitaries from all over Kerala, was the major reason for the enlargement of the pond. Further, the pond was equipped with a constant supply of fresh water from the Maruthankuzhi-ana (check dam) in Killi river by means of a channel known as Cochar (meaning ‘small river’).
Cochar, though defunct today, was a marvel. It was the proof of the expertise of the engineers of yore who understood the local topography and gradients, allowing them to devise a freshwater stream running a distance of almost six km. The Cochar stream from Maruthankuzhi passed through Edapazhinji, Jagathy, Valiyasala, and Thakaraparambu and entered into the Fort from the north-east side and released into the Padmatheertham tank. Old-timers still recall the stories of the Cochar Pillamar who regularly inspected the freshwater stream.
The 18th century records associated with Padmatheertham mention the construction of stone steps on all four sides of the pond. The small and big mandapams (pavilions) and bathing ghats on four sides of the pond were also erected during the same time. During early days, prior to every Murajapam festival, the pond was regularly drained and the bed cleaned and laid with fresh beach sand. The polluted water from Padmatheertham was drained to a large pond located in Putharikandam by means of a sluice connecting the water bodies.
Later, the polluted spill-over from Padmatheertham was connected to the nearby Pātrakulam, located to the south-east, across the east street. An outlet from Pātrakulam drained its overflow to the Thekkanamkara thodu.
During post-independence period, the rapid transformation of the historic precinct eventually resulted in the disappearance of many water bodies. Though Padmatheertham remained unscathed, its twin pond — the Pātrakulam — was filled and the drainage system became obsolete. Later, when the fresh water supply from Cochar ceased, Padmatheertham had to rely once again on its original aquifers.
As part of renovation, Padmatheertham is now fully drained, revealing an old well and the lid of a vault that holds sālagramams. The old sluice connecting Padmatheertham to Putharikandam can be seen on the eastern side. On the south-east corner are the ruins of an old pavilion, which was once used to house the paddy sheaves brought to the temple for the ‘nira-puthari’ ceremony. Broken pillar shafts with carvings find use as steps on the ghats; seen on the north side is an early 18th century ‘çhavaru-thangi’, once used by the workers to rest head loads of dirt and mud collected from the bed of Padmatheertham.
The author is a conservation architect and history buff