Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple, in Thiruvananthapuram, is one of the 108 Divya Desams. It is located inside the Fort area. In 1749, Maharaja Marthanda Varma, after annexing seven principalities, placed his sword at the feet of the deity, and dedicated the entire kingdom to the Lord. Since then the Maharajas of Travancore ruled as Padmanabha dasas (servants of the Lord), and functioned as the caretakers of this ancient temple. The great king and composer, Swati Tirunal (1813-46) has composed many a kriti, praising the Lord. The Valampuri Shanku, the conch symbol of Sri Padmanabha Swamy, was the symbol of the erstwhile Travancore state.
The temple is topped by a seven-tiered, 30 metres (100 feet) Rajagopuram, in the south Indian style. The only major temple in Kerala in this style, this famous Rajagopuram looks more short and squat than tall and thin. Inside, there is a long corridor with more than 350 exquisitely-carved granite pillars extending right up to the sanctum. Here, in the sanctum, Lord Vishnu is in a reclining posture. Anantha, the celestial snake, after which the city is named, is the bed on which Vishnu rests. Sri Shiva is present, in the Lingam form, just below the Lord's right hand. The divine consorts, Sri Devi and Bhooma Devi, stand by His side, while Brahma is on the lotus, which rises from Vishnu's navel. Parts of the Lord's body, the face, navel and feet, are visible from three different entrances.
According to legend, sage Diwakara was meditating on Lord Krishna, when he was constantly disturbed by the antics of a small boy. Enraged, the sage chased the boy, who then disappeared, saying that henceforth he would be found only in Ananthakaadu (Anantha forest). Realizing that it was the Lord who was playing with him, the sage went into the forest, guided only by the tinkling of the bells that the child wore round his waist. He then saw a huge illuppa tree (bassia longifolia) come crashing down, and taking the shape of Vishnu in the reclining posture. The sage felt that the idol was too big. Instantly, it shrunk in size. The Lord told the sage that He could be worshipped through three openings.
The temple is said to be one of the seven Parasuram Kshetras. It finds mention in the Skanda Purana and the Padma Purana. Sage Diwakara or Diwakaramuni is said to have offered an unripe mango and a coconut shell as an offering when he first saw the deity. To this day, neivedhyam, in the form of rice, is offered in a coconut shell. At the end the 10-day Alpashy festival in October/November and the Painkuni festival in March/April, the utsavamoorthis of Sri Padmanabha Swamy, Sri Krishna and Sri Narasimha are taken in a procession to the Shankumugham Beach, and brought back after the ritual sea bath. The Laksha Deepam (lighting of one hundred thousand lamps) festival takes place once in six years. No darshan is allowed during pooja, and here as in most Kerala temples the shrine has its own timings. They do not follow the Andhra Pradesh / Karnataka / Tamil Nadu pattern of early morning to noon (or on pm) and 4 or 5 mp to 8 or 9pm. The temple enforces strict dress code. Here, as in most temples in the state, women should wear only saris, while men have to wear dhotis, without any upper garment.
The temple is also a treasure house of ancient sculpture, in stone and bronze, murals and wood carvings. The murals depict scenes from the puranas. The Navagraha Mandapam, in front of the Krishna shrine is unique among the many mandapams here. On the ceiling are displayed the nine planets. Many of the mandapams are excellent examples of craftsmanship. A good example is a sculpture in the Siveli Mandapam, which viewed, from one side, looks like an elephant, and, from the other, as a bull.
How to get there
Thiruvanthapuram is connected by rail to most parts of India. It is also connected by air. Bused connect it to other parts of Kerala and the major cities of the south. Thiruvananthapuram is the southern-most district in the state, and is closer to Kanniyakumari, at the tip of peninsular India, than to the other district of Kerala, of which it is the capital.
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