The past is present at the Mitranandapuram temple

The Mitranandapuram temple complex is a tranquil island of antiquity

December 15, 2017 04:15 pm | Updated 04:15 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

 The opening on the northern façade of the Mitranandapuram temple complex

The opening on the northern façade of the Mitranandapuram temple complex

In 1894, when Raja Ravi Varma and his brother C. Raja Raja Varma, the renowned artists, accompanied Prince Marthanda Varma of erstwhile Travancore on a tour to north India, one of the major halts was at Pushkar Lake. Among the many shrines there, C. Raja Raja Varma records the most important as the one dedicated to Brahma, which stood on the spot where Lord Brahma had conducted a great yaga . The ancient temple, believed to be the only one dedicated to Brahma, reminded Varma of the existence of another Brahma temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

The ancient shrine dedicated to Brahma, the Creator, stands in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, in the Mitranandapuram temple complex – a rare abode dedicated to the Trimurtis of the Hindu pantheon. Yet, it is surprising that the shrine, a stone’s throw away from Padmanabha Swamy temple, remains largely unknown, except to local residents. The temple complex can be accessed from West Street or Arattu Road, both bustling with activity. In contrast to the setting, Mitranandapuram precincts is a tranquil place dotted with verdant greenery, temple pond, ghats, Pushpanjali Swamiyar Madham, Nambi Madhams, agraharams and old houses. Separate shrines dedicated to Siva and Vishnu lie in the vast complex, to the east of the ancient Brahma shrine.

Contrary to popular belief that the Brahma shrine was added later to ward off menacing spirits, historians place it in antiquity on a par with Padmanabha Swamy temple.

Some attribute Jain origins to the temple. The idol of Brahma is installed inside a square shrine with a mukhamandapam (porch) attached to it. The absence of the mandapam in front of the temple indicates its antiquity. Alongside Brahma, housed in a separate shrine is Sree Ganapathy.

The architectural style deviates from Kerala traditions, as stone is used as the major building material. The vimana crowning the square garbagriha is constructed in the Dravidian style using brick and embellished with beautiful stucco mouldings in lime plaster.

Mitranandapuram kulam, the temple pond, is located to the northeast of the Brahma shrine. Prof. A.G. Menon is of the opinion that the ‘Agastyakundam’ mentioned in Ananthapuravarnanam (14th Century composition) is the Mitranandapuram pond.

Other pointers to the antiquity of the temple are the twelfth century records of grants by the Venad royals towards its upkeep. The meetings of the ‘ Thiruvānanthapurathu Sabha ’ constituted by the members of Ettarayogam took place in the temple precincts.

The Vishnu and Siva shrines lie to the east of the Brahma shrine, enclosed within a nalambalam . The kitchen and the associated rooms are accommodated in the nalambalam constructed using hewn stone blocks.

The architecture of the Siva shrine represents an affinity towards the traditional Kerala standards, such as the tiled sloping roof, a typical feature of Kerala architecture is seen here.

 Vimana of the Brahma shrine with the stucco work at 
 Mitranandapuram temple complex

Vimana of the Brahma shrine with the stucco work at Mitranandapuram temple complex

Records from the early nineteenth century hint that the processional path starting from the western gopuram of Padmanabha Swamy temple went through the Mitranandapuram complex and proceeded out of the Fort through a gateway located to the west of the Brahma shrine.

However, the path was later restructured and laid outside the temple precincts. The new path and fort gateway made during the reign of Rani Gowri Parvathy Bayi (who reigned from 1815 to 1829) is still used today for the Arattu procession.

Mitranandapuram is perhaps Thiruvananthapuram’s best kept secret, an island of tranquillity, where centuries of history rest under the lush foliage of ancient trees.

(The writer is a conservation architect and history buff )

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