Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is Kerala's leading temple. It is the main shrine of the guardian god of Thiruvananthapuram city.
The city gets its name from Lord Vishnu, the Padmanabhaswamy. The word Thiruvananthapuram is a combination of words Thiru-anantha-puram. That means "the place of one who lies back on Anantha". This is is none other than Padmanabhaswamy.
Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple is home to a 6 m long statue of the Lord Vishnu resting on Anantha, the thousand-headed serpent.
Architecture and Antiquity
Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple is possibly 2,000 years old and is mentioned in 1st and 2nd century CE Sangam literature. It is instantly recognisable by the Dravidian-style gopuram at the east gate; a rare sight in Kerala.
The image of this exotic skyline reflected in the waters of the temple's bathing tank has become iconic of the city.
The gopuram was begun in 1565 and completed under the rule of Marthanda Varma in the late 18th century. Its style symbolically unites Malayalam and Tamil peoples of Travancore.
The earliest of the existing structures date from the 11th century. Many of the original wooden structures were rebuilt in stone after destructive fires.
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple layout follows the Kerala pattern. Temple has an outer prakaram and an inner prakaram or nalambalam. But within the inner prakaram there is another enclosure called the cheruchuttu, which in turn contains the srikovil.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Lord Vishnu lying on his multi-headed serpent is an image of divine power in repose. The majestic black idol was sculpted in 1733 to replace the original wooden one. The idol is made of 12,008 sacred stones bound by a mortar of jaggery and other substances.
The idol is seen through three separate openings, for darshan of the feet, the navel with the lotus emerging from it and the face. Brahma is seated on a lotus rising from Vishnu's navel and a Shivalingam is sheltered by Vishnu's right hand.
Buy an archana ticket just inside the east gate or inside the cheruchuttu and you can get up on the front of the ottakkal or single-stone platform for close darshan. Without the ticket, you can climb to the back half of the platform and get a good darshan. It is from a little further away but without being rushed through.
The sanctum is closed to the public when the erstwhile royal family members have their private darshan and also, as in most Kerala temples, during puja and neivedyam.
Around the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Outside the south door of the cheruchuttu is a shrine for the small but fearsome Narasimha which is said to be highly potent. Some claim to have heard the roar of a lion from within the shrine.
In the western part of the outer prakaram is a temple of Lord Krishna with its own richly carved japamandapam and flagstaff. The granite idol was brought from Gujarat by families of the Vrishni sect said to be direct descendants of Krishna.
The entrance corridors of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the sivelipura, and the 1,000-pillared hall or kulasekhara mandapam are patterned after the grand temples of the east with high roofs supported on sculpted granite pillars.
The 1,000-pillared hall features a granite bells on a granite pillars, musical pillars at the four corners and evocative sculptures. The abhishravana mandapam, inside the inner prakaram and in line with the srikovil, has polished granite images of the five Pandavas inside and exquisite bronze lamps in front.
Puthen Malika Palace (Kuthira Malika Palace) is just outside the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. It is a complex of several palaces and buildings.
As you approach the entrance to the inner palace, the slanting wooden beams in the upper galleries, carved in the form of grinning kuthiras (horses), immediately catch your attention. That is why palace is also known as Kuthira Malika Palace.
The palace became the seat of the Travancore Rajas after they left Padmanabhapuram at the end of the nineteenth century.
Palace guides show you around some of the most impressive wings that have been converted into a museum. The palace chambers are cool with highly polished plaster floors and carved wooden screens.
These chambers house a collection of dusty Travancore heirlooms. The collection includes royal emblems, weapons, a solid crystal throne and some fine murals. But the real highlight is the elegant Kerala architecture itself.
The palace was built in the 19th century by Swathi Thirunal. He was a composer king. Swathi Thirunal along with Thygaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar makes up the 'Carnatic Music Trinity'. The palace displays the king's collection of musical instruments.
The royal family have always been keen patrons of the arts and continues the tradition. The open-air Swathi Sangeethotsavam festival is held in the grounds during the festival of Navaratri (Oct/Nov). Songs composed by Raja Swathi Thirunal dominate the programme. For the details, ask at the KTDC tourist counter.
Pujas and Festivals in Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The evening deeparadhana is a sight to behold. At 6.30 pm the sanctum doors are closed and people gather at the abhishravana mandapam, murmuring in anticipation, praying or peering between the slats into the cheruchuttu as priests light the lamps around the srikovil.
For the best view of the deeparadhana at 7 pm, get in line with the doors into the cheruchuttu. Afterwards, devotees can enter the cheruchuttu for darshan till 7.25 pm.
If you don't mind the bats, you can climb up into the gopuram for views of the city and the nearby palace. The temple has two 10-day festivals. one is in the Malayalam month of Thulam (Oct-Nov) ending in a procession to the sea for the immersion of the deity.
Once in six years, the temple holds a murajapam during which the Vedas are recited for 56 days. This concludes with the Lakshadeepam Mahotsava when the temple is lit up with a hundred thousand lamps.
Watch what You Wear
To visit the temple, women must wear saris or wear a mundu over their clothes. Men must wear dhotis and bare their upper bodies. Near the srikovil, they must tie the upper cloth, if any. Mundus can be rented at the cloakroom at the east entrance.
All large bags, umbrellas, clothes, cameras and mobile phones must be left in the cloakroom. Small bags are searched at the entrances.
The temple has authorised guides who explain features of the temple in Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and English. Fee is generally up to the visitor. The temple is open only to Hindus.
The main approach road to Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is lined with stalls selling religious souvenirs. They sell shell necklaces, puja offerings, jasmine and marigolds. It is an atmospheric area of a walk - particularly in the early morning and at dusk. At this time the devotees make their way to and from prayers.
The Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala could be the richest temple in the world. The inventory of treasures in its six chambers has an estimated value over $20 billion. The treasure includes gold, diamond and other precious metals.
The inventory of the temple here was maintained by the erstwhile royal family of Travancore. The chambers are opened by a seven member, Supreme Court of India appointed, panel.
The stock taking process was ordered by the Supreme Court in July 2011. The order was following a petition by advocate T.P. Sundararajan over mismanagement of the temple affairs.
There are two more chambers to be examined. The actual value of the findings is yet to be assessed.
Treasure includes very old gold chains, diamonds and precious stones which cannot be valued in terms of money. Some social activists in Kerala have demanded the treasure be handed to a national trust to help the poor.
Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, however, assured the people that the wealth would remain with the temple.
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