TREASURE worth approximately rupees one lakh crore have been found in the Nilavaras (secret chambers) of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple recently. The main treasure found is a golden idol of Lord Mahavishnu believed to be the replica of the utsava vigraham used in the temple. The one feet tall idol, studded with over 1,000 precious stones is roughly valued at Rs 500 crore! Several golden coins believed to be issued during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya in the 16th century A.D, two coconut shells made of pure gold; one studded with rare antique stones including emeralds and rubies were also found. Out of the six secret chambers, one has not been opened for over 100 years!
The seven member panel appointed by the Supreme Court of India are drawing up a list of assets of the temple. The list of inventory includes golden crowns, gold coins dating back to the period of the East India Company, gold in the shape of rice trinkets, long golden necklaces, gold ropes, golden vessels, sacks of diamonds, thousands of pieces of exquisite jewellery studded with diamonds and emeralds. The actual value of the treasure haul is anybody’s guess.
It is believed that the total assets of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple have now exceeded the assets of the Tirupati Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh thereby becoming the richest temple in India.
Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple also known as Sri Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple is one of the famous Vishnu temples in India. It is also one of the seven Parasurama Kshetras (temples) in Kerala and is located in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city which is named after the Lord. ‘Thiru’ ‘Anantha’ ‘Puram’ means sacred abode of Lord Anantha Padmanabha. Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana, Skanda Purana and Vayu Purana have references about the temple. Divya Prabandha canon of literature written by the Alvars, Tamil saint poets glorifies the temple as one of the 11 Divya Desams in Kerala. Nammalvar, one of the 12 Alvars who lived in the 8th century had composed four slokas and one phalasruthi about the temple.
The history of the temple dates back to the 8th century AD when Travancore was ruled by the Chera dynasty. The temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu was built by Marthanda Varma, the Maharaja of Travancore. On January 3, 1750, Marthanda Varma surrendered the kingdom to Lord Padmanabha and pledged that he and his descendants would ‘serve’ the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa (Servant of Lord Padmanabha). Since then, the name of every Travancore King was preceded by the title Padmanabha Dasa, while the female members of the Royal family were called Padmanabha Sevinis. The donation of the Kingdom to Sri Padmanabhaswamy was known as Thripadidanam and afterwards the Maharaja was known as Sri Padmanabha Vanchipala Marthanda Varma Kulashekara Perumal.
By surrendering the kingdom to Lord Padmanabha, the whole Travancore state became the property of Sri Padmanabhaswamy. Valampiri Shankhu (Conch shell), the insignia of Sri Padmanabha and served as the emblem of Travancore is still used as the emblem of the Government of Kerala. Since India attained Independence in 1947, a Trust managed by the descendants of the Travancore royal family has controlled the administration of the temple.
In the Garbha Griha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple, the deity of Lord Vishnu is depicted in a reclining position over the serpent Anantha or Adi Sesha. The idol of Lord Vishnu is made up of 12,008 salagramams brought from the banks of river Gandhaki in Nepal. On top of them, Katu Sarkara Yogam, a special Ayurvedic mix, was used to give a plaster to avoid the prying eyes of the invaders. Devotees believe that the Lord has personally come in disguise and had saved the Travancore Kingdom many times from the clutches of enemies. According to traditions, Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple is believed to have been worshipped by the Moon God as well as Lord Indra. The daily worship of the Lord is with flowers and they are removed using peacock feathers to avoid damage to the deity. There are other important shrines inside the temple for deities of Sri Narasimha, Sri Krishna, Sri Ayyappa, Sri Ganesha and Sri Hanuman.
It is believed that the temple and its properties were controlled and maintained by eight powerful Nair feudal lords of ancient Travancore known as Ettuveetil Pillamar under the guidance of Ettara Yogam (Council of Eight and a Half). Later Marthanda Varma Anizham Thirunal suppressed the feudal lords and took over the control of the temple. It was Marthanda Varma Maharaja who did major renovation of the temple and built the present temple structure. He also introduced the Murajapam (continuous chanting of three Vedas) for 56 days and the Bhadra Deepam festival. Murajapam is still conducted once in six years. The biggest festival in the temple is the Laksha Deepam when one lakh oil lamps are lit in and around the temple premises. The next Laksha Deepam is scheduled for January 2014. Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma composed many songs in praise of Sri Padmanabhaswamy; most of them have the word Padmanabha in them.
The two annual festivals culminate in a grand procession, in which the deities of Lord Padmanabha, Sri Narasimha and Lord Krishna are carried on aesthetically decorated Garuda Vahanas to the Shankumugham Beach for purificatory immersion in the sea. The King of Travancore escorts the Aarat (procession) by foot and this event takes place in the evening. After this ceremony, the idols are taken back to the temple in the light of traditional torches, marking the conclusion of the festival. A major annual event is the Navaratri festival lasting for nine days. The idols of Saraswati, Durga and Murukan are brought to the Kuthira Malika palace as a procession. The famous Swati Thirunal Music Festival is held annually during this festival.
Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple known for its stone and bronze sculptures are peculiar to the Hindu style of architecture besides the mural paintings and wood carvings. The temple stands by the side of a tank named Padma Theertham (lotus spring). The foundation of the seven-storey Gopuram (tower) at the entrance was laid in 1566 and is 35 meter in height and decked with beautiful stone carvings. The eighty-foot Dhwaja Stambha (flag post) in front of the temple is gold plated. The Bali Peeda Mandapam and Mukha Mandapam are halls decorated with sculptures of Hindu deities. The Navagrahas are displayed on the ceilings of the Navagraha Mandapam. The broad Prakaram (corridor) leading to the Garbha Griha from the eastern side has 365 pillars along with one quarter granite stone pillar with beautiful carvings. The platform in front of Garbha Griha and where the deity rests are both carved out of a single stone and hence called Ottakkal Mandapam. In order to perform darshan and puja, one has to climb on to the Mandapam and the deity is visible only through three doors. The ground floor under the Gopuram (main entrance) is known as the Nataka Sala where the famous Kathakali dance is staged in the night during the ten-day festival conducted twice a year.
Apart from the usual rice offering various other items are offered to the deity. The most important Nivedyam is the Uppu Manga (unripe mango) which is offered in a gold covered Chiratta (coconut shell) and is more than 1,200 years old. Sage Vilvamangalathu Divakara Acharyar offered an unripe mango in this very same coconut shell and is still preserved with thick layers of pure gold as an outer covering.
After the death of Marthanda Varma Maharaja in 1758, succeeding kings of Travancore took care in continuing the daily pujas and ceremonies of the temple and ruled the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa. The successors of Marthanda Varma were Dharma Raja, Balarama Varma, Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, Gowri Parvati Bayi, Swati Thirunal, Uthram Thirunal, Ayilyam Thirunal, Visakham Thirunal, Moolam Thirunal, Sethu Lakshmi Bayi and Chithira Thirunal. Shri Chithira Thirunal, the last in the lineage was known as Rajapramukh. Shri Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the present head of the Travancore Royal Family, continues the tradition and maintains the temple rituals and ceremonies intact. The British Government saluted the Lord Padmanabha with 21 gun salutes which were continued after Independence as well by the Indian Army until its abolition by the Government of India.
(Author is a freelance journalist and social activist. He can be contacted on [email protected])