Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple is located in Thiruananthapuram. The city is named after the presiding deity Sree Padmanabha that is Mahavishnu, reclined on Anantha the serpent King (it also means Endless) in conscious slumber.
The deity is 18 feet long and is made of 12008 Salagrams procured from Gandhaki River and bound together using Kadu sarkara yogam a mixture of herbs and resins. The temple is a seven acre complex with subsidiary shrines for Narasimha, Krishna, Ganesa, Hanuman, Garuda, Dharmasastha, Rama-Sita-Lakshmana, Kshetrapala and Vishvaksena.
The main deity is housed in Cheruchuttu. In front of the sanctum sanctorum, there is a single granite slab of 18 feet X 18 feet X 3 feet. The sanctum has three entrances. Through the first entrance we cans see the crowned head of the Lord. Five hoods of Anantha is held above the head like a canopy. The number five indicates the five Elements and Five Senses. The right hand of the Lord is stretched and the palm and fingers are positioned downwards. On close observation we can see a Shiva Lingam. It is as if the Lord Padmanabha is offering Puja to Lord Shiva. Through the middle entrance we can see the Idol up to the waist. From the navel we can see a lotus emerging upwards. Bend a little to behold Lord Brahma. Thus we have the Creator, the Sustainer and the Destroyer –Shrishti, Sthithi and Samharam. The set of idols displayed here include idol of Mahavishnu in the standing posture flanked on either side by SREEDEVI AND BHOOMIDEVI- all these idols are made of solid gold. Then there is a silver idol of Mahavishnu in the sitting posture. These are neatly displayed on a silver platform. On the left and right there are two idols of Sreedevi and Bhoomidevi made of Kadu sarkara yaogam. As the main idol is made of Kadu sarkara yogam no ablution is performed. However it is performed on the gold idol of Mahavishnu (standing posture). The silver idol is meant for Seeveli only.
It is believed that Lord Narasimha is in rage and to pacify HIM, Ramayana is chanted throughout. The idol is made of Panchaloham –an alloy of five metals. Lord Krishna is in the form of Parthasaradhi.
The temple complex has an oblong corridor made of granite. The corridor is supported by 365 pillars. Each pillar is a monolith. It is 20 feet high and richly carved. All the pillars are adorned with Salabhanjika. It is a sculpture well dressed lady in half relief. She holds both of her hands like a cup to contain a lamp and is raised above her waist. At the four corners there are Oonjal Mandapams. The temple has two flag poles one covered with gold and the other silver. The latter one is positioned in front of the Krishna Shrine. The temple has nine entrances, out of which four in the four cardinal directions are meant for the public. Eastern entrance is addend with a 100 feet Gopuram or tower. Its apex is like a boat. It has seven gold plated Thazhikakkudams. The tower overlooks Padmatheertham the temple pond. The entrance in the south east corner is meant exclusively for the royal family members. They visit the temple at 7 25 am. On festival days, male members use this entrance, while the female members use the same located in the North West corner.
This temple follows very elaborate rituals, customs, and practices. The festivals are biannual-celebrated in the month of Thulam (September-October) and in Meenam (March- April). The festival lasts for ten days. On these days, the idols of Padmanabha, Narasimha and Krishna are taken on richly decorated conveyances called Vahanams along the oblong corridor (Seeveli). There are six different types of Vahanams. On the eight day is Kanikka- the offering, on the ninth day is the Pallivetta and on the tenth day is Aarattu. On the 9th day the idols are taken out at 8 30 pm to perform the Pallivetta. On the tenth day at 5 pm the idols are taken to the Sanghumugham beach which is four kilometers away. The Head of the royal family with drawn sword escorts the idols bare foot to the beach to perform Aarattu. On all these ten days, the Maharaja escorts the deities across the temple corridor at 4.30 pm and 8 30 pm.
Every six months Bhadradeepam is observed on the equinox days and every sixth day on the winter equinox day the temple is decorated with million lamps and the ceremony is called Lakshadeepam. There is a special Seeveli. Prior to this Lakshadeepam there is 56 days long Murajapam-which means chanting of Vedas.
Legend says that Vilwamanglam swami had a darshan of the Lord in the form of a child. The child stayed with him for long. On day while offering puja the child put the Salagram into is mouth. The saint pushed the child to one side and reprimanded. The child vanished at once. The sage heard a divine voice. It said”come to Ananthancaud if you want to see me”. The sage wandered in search of the place and finally found it. He saw a huge iluppa tree uprooted and fell down with a thud. To his surprise, the Lord gave him darshan in all serenity and splendor. The sage requested to condense so that he could behold. He offered a raw mango in a coconut shell. Even today salted mango is offered in a coconut shell covered with gold foil. Hearing this event the then Chera ruler built a temple for the Lord.
There are 30 lakhs cadjan scrolls on this temple known as Mathilakom records. Each scroll has detailed happenings in the temple and the state. Even trivial things are recorded. One life time is not enough to study these documents. The temple is administered by Eattarayogam corrupted form of EATTRASU YOGAM-Eight members and the Arasan (that is the Ruler/ Maharaja). The ruler need not participate in the meeting but the decisions of the committee will be enforced or implemented only when the Maharaja approves it.
Antiquity of the temple: References on this temple can be found in Bhagavatham and Puranas. Sangam works also have elaborate description of this temple. Nammalvar a 9th Century poet has mentioned this temple in his works. However the present physical structure is erected by Anizham Tirunal Marthanda Vamra who ruled Travancore between 1729 and 1758.
In 1750, he dedicated his Kingdom to Lord Padmanabha. He surrendered the entire Kingdom to the Lord and ruled the land as a Vassal of the Lord The dedication is called Truppadidanam. His successors followed it.
Lord Padmanabha is the tutelary deity of the Chera rulers. The rulers of Venad which later became are descendants of Cheras. They made lot of offerings to the Lord. The offerings thus made are never taken back in the long run, it accumulated. It is estimated that vaults now has one 176 lakh crore of wealth in the form of gold and silver-as utensils, coins, chains, ornaments studded jewels etc. Now the temple has attained world popularity.
The author is chronicler of Travancore royal family and has written many books