The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram (popularly known as Trivandrum), the capital of the state of Kerala in India. The name Thiruvananthapuram which means ‘the city of Lord Ananta’ is an indication of the temple’s deep connection with the city. The temple is a mix of Keralite and Tamil temple architecture. The foundation of the present gopuram of the temple was laid in the year 1566 CE even though the temple history predates many centuries. The temple had been declared by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the devotee incarnation of Lord Krishna to be one of the seven Moksha Kshetras and extolled as one of the six Narayana Kshetras i.e places where Lord Narayana is ever present. Apart from that, it is one of the 108 Divya Desams designated by the Azhwars of the Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya. The moolasthana of the temple is the Sri Ananthapuram Temple in Kumbala, Kasargod district of Kerala state.
On 17 January 1750, the then reigning King of Travancore Anizham Tirunal Sri Marthanda Varma surrendered the Kingdom to Lord Padmanabha and thus assumed the title of Padmanabha Dasa. His decree was that all his successors should follow the tradition without fail in letter and spirit and this decree had been followed till Travancore’s accession to the Indian Union. The Royal family still considers Lord Padmanabha as their true King and themselves as His servants carrying out their respective duties towards the King. This is the only instance in the history of the world where the Supreme Lord has been the Constitutional head of state even with political and legal sanction. This was recognized even by the British Raj in India. The temple is said to be in possession of the world’s largest number of records numbering thirty lakhs. Today, it is the world’s richest temple surpassing even the Venkateswara Swamy Temple on Tirumala hills in Andhra Pradesh.
The origin of the name Thiruvananthapuram
Thiruvananthapuram is a successor name to this land which has been abundantly blessed in all aspects such as water resources, fertile soil, spices, minerals, forest wealth, etc. There are no harsh extremes of climate with sufficient rainfall. It is also known as Vanchi Nadu or Vanchi Rajya, due to it’s extensive water-based transport system. Vanchi means boat in the Malayalam language.
syanandooramiti khyatam bhoomau gurhvam padam
mama uttare tu samudrasya malayasya tu dakshine
I reside in the land which lies south of the Malaya Mountain and north of the ocean, which is famed by the name Syanandoora. (Varaha Purana)
syanandooraalayesham phanipatishayanam bhavaye padmanabham
I worship that Padmanabha who reclines on the serpent chief in Syanandoora. (Varaha Purana)
Anantankattu has been recorded as the earliest names of Thiruvananthapuram in folklore. As per scholars and historians, the city would have had more names due to the much earlier existence of the temple than the currently available records. The name ‘Syanandoorapuram’ implying the city of Maha Vishnu has been quoted in the Puranas and other literature. It also took on the name Aanandapuram meaning the ‘place where Aananda or bliss is found’ and shortened to Anandapuram. This later became Anantapuram or Anantashayana Nagari. The prefix ‘Thiru’ was added later on to become Thiruvananthapuram.
The Origin of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Vigraha
The palm leaf scrolls or Granthas of the temple and the Anantasayana Mahatmyam detail the history/ sthala purana of the temple. There are few versions of the temple’s sthalapurana but the main and commonly accepted history is in relation to the famous Saint Vilwamangalam Swamy connected to the Guruvayur Sri Krishna Temple. He was popularly known as Krishnaleela Shuka outside Kerala. The following is the pastime leading up to the establishment of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram –
One fine day when Sage Vilwamangalam was doing penances in Athartha Desham in Kasargod (near Mangalore), a very beautiful little boy came before the Sage who asked him who he was. The boy replied that he had neither parents nor home. Sage Vilwamangalam asked the little boy to stay with him out of compassion, but the boy didn’t agree and thereafter left after saying that he would come every day to meet him but would stop or not even stay a minute more if the Sage was to humiliate him.
The boy started appearing every day during the Sage’s puja time. One day, in a naughty mood the boy put the Shaligrama worshiped by the Sage in his mouth and thus being enraged the Sage pushed the little one with the back of his hand. The child being true to his word ran away saying that if the Sage ever wanted to see him, the Sage would have to travel to Anantakattu and find him there. After the little boy left, the Sage started realizing that the boy was Lord Krishna Himself and hence, started running behind the boy. The sound of the anklet and waistband bells guided the Sage in his quest for the boy but the sounds ceased slowly. The Sage wandered from place to place beginning from the northern part of today’s Kerala state to the southern part searching for Anantakattu where he would find the little boy and during which he consecrated many well-known temples in the state of Kerala.
One evening while resting under a tree after being physically exhausted, Sage Vilwamangalam heard the loud voice of a lady from the Pulaya caste whose hut was on the opposite side chastising her crying baby that she would throw the baby into Anantakattu if the baby didn’t stop crying. The Sage rushed in joy to the hut of the women and asked her the direction to Anantakattu to which the lady pointed out to the nearby forest. Blessing the lady and taking a single wick lamp from her, the Sage proceeded to enter the dark forest. After walking for some time, Sage Vilwamangalam started hearing the same anklet and waist bell sounds. Sometime before dawn set in, an Iluppa tree (commonly known as Mahua/ Indian butter tree) came crashing down suddenly and a divine radiance manifested around it. The Sage went nearer and found that it was the Deity of Lord Vishnu reclining on the Ananta Sesha. The size of the Lord (around 18 miles long) astonished the Sage with the divine head of the Lord touching Tiruvallom, His divine body spread across Thiruvananthapuram and His divine feet extending up to Trippadapuram or Trippappoor. Sage Vilwamangalam was unable to comprehend the size of the Lord and hence prayed humbly that the Lord reduce His size to three times the length of the Sage’s staff to accommodate his limited vision. Pleased by the Sage’s prayers, the Lord shrank to the size desired by the Sage. Not finding anything else to make an offering to the Lord, the Sage offered an unripe mango plucked from a nearby tree in a dry coconut shell in an ecstasy of devotion. This practice of offering a salted mango to the Lord continues to this day even. The coconut shell used for the offering is said to be the same one used by the Sage except that it is now covered with Gold and studded with gems. The Deity of Lord Padmanabhaswamy was carved from the same Illupa tree and was worshiped till the time of King Marthanda Varma.
A new Deity was thereafter carved from 12,008 Shaligrama Shilas brought from the Gandaki river in Nepal on the back of elephants as it was assumed that the wooden Deity wouldn’t stand the test of time. The new Deity was molded by skilled and authorized craftsmen using a combination of the 12,008 Shaligrama Shilas, various herbs, natural elements like earth, etc. and called as Katu Sharkara Yogam. The Deity carving had begun in the year 1733 CE under the leadership of Balaranya Konideva. The Divinity from the wooden Deity was transferred to the new Deity using a complex ritualistic Prana Pratishta process. Tantri Tarananalloor Padmanabhan Parameswaran consecrated the new Deity in the year 1739 CE. Lord Padmanabhaswamy reclines flat on the back of the five hooded Anantadeva and His eyes are partially closed in Yoga Nidra. He is two armed with His right hand on the Shivalinga. The left hand holds a lotus bud and from His navel arises a fully open lotus on which Lord Brahma is seated.
The darshan of Lord Padmanabhaswamy is seen through three doors as the Deity is around 18 feet long. Through the first door, you can see the transcendental face and hands (on top of a Shivalinga) of the Lord lying on the five hooded Lord Anantadeva. Through the second door, you can have the darshan of the Lord’s middle body with the lotus flower sprouting from His navel and Lord Brahma sitting atop it. Moreover, the Deities of His consorts Lakshmi Devi and Bhudevi, Sage Markandeya, Sage Bhrigu, Sage Narada, Garuda, Tumburu, the Sapta Rishis, Surya and Chandra can also be seen through the second door. The darshan of the divine feet of Lord Padmanabhaswamy can be seen through the third door. The entire back wall of the sanctum is filled with carvings of the thirty-three crore Devatas.
Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple architecture
The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is spread over seven acres of land enclosed by massive granite walls which measure twenty feet in height on the east and fifteen feet high on the other sides. The midpoint of each wall serves as the double storied entrances called ‘Padippuras’ and common to all Kerala temples. The temple is a combination of both Kerala style of architecture as well as the Dravidian style of architecture from Tamil Nadu which complement each other rather than contradicting. The Kerala style is projected in the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum), the Chuttambalam (circumambulatory path), the Belikkal area, Dhwaja Stambha, the Chuttu Vilakku (circle lamps) and Thirumuttam (open courtyards). The Dravidian style is depicted in the huge Raja Gopuram tower with it’s carvings and other decorations numbering to around 2000. Many areas of current day southern Tamil Nadu were under the rule of the Travancore Kings and hence the reason for the architectural fusion in the temple design. There are at least 14 Mandapams of varying sizes and proportions while the majestic eastern Raja Gopuram was designed with self-made calculations. The foundation for this Gopuram was laid during the reign of King Adithya Varma in 1565 CE but the work really commenced during the reign of King Marthanda Varma the great in the year 1753 CE who completed the first five floors while the remaining two were completed during the reign of King Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma. There are 7 floors in the Raja Gopuram tower whereas the usual standard is fourteen. Usually, the Nataka Shala (the performing arts stage) is positioned in the south east, but here the same rule hasn’t been applied. The Mukha Mantapa i.e. the famed Ottakkal Mandapam here is a continuation of the Garbha Griha i.e. sanctum. Granite had started replacing wood gradually during the reign of King Anizham Tirunal Marthanda Varma due to the fires that had ravaged the temple.
The Sreekovil i.e. sanctum is located in the middle of the enclosure called Nalambalam or Chuttambalam which has three huge doorways and is filled with sculptures. The Sreekovil is rectangular in shape being double storied and having two chambers. Square and rectangular sanctums are known to be sattvic in nature.
A uniqueness in the temple here is an enclosure called Cheruchuttu within the Nalambalam where the Sreekovil is positioned. The Cheruchuttu has three entrances to the south, east and north. The entrance on the northern side is famous as Swargavaathil i.e. gateway to heaven. The exterior walls of these walls are fully covered with murals as per the Pancha Mala principles. The Abhishravana Mandapam in front of the Sreekovil but outside the Cheruchuttu is the location of the Kalasha ceremony performed for the Deities twice annually. There are other mandapams known as Thiruvolakka/ Thirunokku and Alankara Mandapam in the Nalambalam. The Ashtadikpalakas along with Lord Brahma in the center of the ceiling can be seen in the Alankara mandapam.
The Shivelipura prakara i.e. the circumambulation path of the Deities has 365 ¼ pillars each ornamented grandly with different engravings and a Deepalakshmi attached to each pillar. 10,000 master craftsmen and masons along with 100 elephants had worked round the clock to complete this feat in a span of six months. From the middle of the eastern Shivelipura moving westwards towards the inner regions through two grand halls of 21 huge sculptures, the gold plated Dhwaja Stambha (eighty feet high) and the gold plated Balikallu can be found. To the south and adjacent to the double hall is the famed Kulasekhara mandapam which is often referred to as poetry set in stone. This mandapam has lavishly jeweled pillars with various carvings and ornamentation. This mandapam, also known as the thousand pillared hall is located at the spot where usually the Koothuambalam (hall for arts performances) stands.
Other Deities and Shrines in the Padmanabhaswamy temple complex
1. Vishwaksena – the Deity is given great prominence being Lord Vishnu’s Nirmalyam darshan Deity and is located right next to the Garbha Griha.
2. Lord Rama, Sita Devi, Lakshmana and Hanuman – there are two sets of Deities kept near the main sanctum just next to the exit. One set of Deities are in the regal King style while the other represent the Lord’s stay in the Dandakaranya forest. A Kaliya Mardana Krishna Deity is also present.
3. Eight armed Ganesha with a Goddess seated on his lap.
4. Sri Narsimha Swamy Temple – this shrine is located in the southern part of the temple near the entrance of the Sreekovil being the second major Deity of the temple. The Deity is in the Ugra Rupa and hence, the Ramayana is recited always when the shrine doors are open.
5. Vyasa Deva Temple – this shrine is located to the north of the ‘cheruchuttu’ which encloses the main sanctum sanctorum and faces the western direction. The Deities of Sage Vyasa Deva and Ashwatthama are present in the shrine.
6. Tiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Temple – this temple gets the status of an independent temple and is located just outside the Sreekovil area having it’s own Balikallu and Dhwaja Stambha. Lord Krishna as Parthasarathy is the third major Deity of the temple.
7. Kshetrapaalakan – this shrine is located on the northern side of the temple and plays the role of being the protector of the temple. The Kshetrapalaka is one of the eight Bhairava forms of Lord Shiva. A Deity of Lord Ganesha is also present in the shrine.
8. Dharma Sastha – the swayambhu i.e. self-manifested Deity of Lord Ayyappa Swamy is located in a shrine on the southern side of the temple.
9. Lord Hanuman and Lord Ashtanaga Garuda – the Deity of Lord Hanuman and Ashtanaga Garuda can be seen near the Dhwaja Stambha i.e. flag pole. The ceiling between the two Deities houses the Maha Meru Chakra.
10. Agrashaala Ganapathi – this Deity of Lord Ganapathi has been installed in the temple kitchen which is located in the north eastern part of the temple. It is believed that Lord Ganapathi oversees the Annadanam service done by the temple.
Temples connected to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple
1. Tiruvallom – it is the only temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Parasurama located on the banks of the Karamana river in Thiruvananthapuram. When Lord Padmanabha manifested before Sage Vilwamangalam, His divine head was placed in Tiruvallom.
2. Trippadapuram – Sri Mahadeva Temple located near Kazhakootam in Thiruvananthapuram. When Lord Padmanabha manifested before Sage Vilwamangalam, His divine feet were positioned in Trippadapuram.
3. Anantakattu Sri Nagaraja Temple – this temple marks the location where Sage Vilwamangalam had the darshan of Lord Padmanabhaswamy. It is located adjacent to the western walls of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.
4. Padma Teertham – this is the temple pond which houses two small temples in it’s enclosure. The bigger shrine situated on the northern bank houses a rare Deity of Lord Shiva and Parvati Devi seated on Nandi. The smaller shrine houses the Deity of Lord Hanuman. The sacred pond is located near the eastern entrance of the temple.
5. Mithranandapuram Complex – this complex houses two temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva each. The Sri Krishna Temple erected over the samadhi of Sage Vilwamangalam is also present in the same complex. It is located at a modest distance from the western entrance of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Major festivals at Padmanabhaswamy Temple
1. Ashtami Rohini/ Janmashtami – the divine birthday of Lord Krishna is a major festival here. Unlike other days, the temple reopens early at 2pm in the afternoon after which there is a grand milk abhisheka for the Lord. All the festival Deities of Krishna in the temple is kept in a specially decorated cradle made of ivory in the Abhisravana Mandapam from where a silver Deity is presented to the King for offering respects.
2. Swargavathil Ekadashi – also known as Vaikuntha Ekadashi in other states. A major festival drawing huge crowds to the temple. The temple opens earlier than usual at 3 am in the morning and earlier in the afternoon at 3 pm for the special pujas and offerings. The devotee que is huge, and they are allowed to have the close darshan of the Lord from the top of the Ottakkal Mandapam.
3. Thiruvonam – a major festival of Kerala which also happens to be the divine appearance day of Lord Padmanabhaswamy. There are grand offerings of naivedyams and pujas performed to the Deities on this day, especially Lord Padmanabhaswamy. Devotees throng the temple in anticipation of the divine and gorgeous darshan of the Lordships. The Onavillu is the most famous offering to Lord Padmanabhaswamy on this occasion done by the Vilayil Veedu family at Karaman who carves the Onavillu after observing a 41 day fast prior to the festival. It is a bow made of broad piece of wood on which miniature paintings of the Dashavataras, Ananthashayana, Sri Rama Pattabhisekha and Sri Krishna leelas are drawn.
4. Navarathri – a very important festival at the temple where the Deity of Sri Saraswathi Amman is brought from the Padmanabhapuram Palace in Kanyakumari and worshiped in the Navarathri Mandapam at the Valiya Kottaram complex. Sri Kumaraswamy from Kumarakovil and Sri Muthutee Nanga from Sucheendram also accompany Saraswathi Amman in the procession.
5. Kalabham – the applying of sandalwood paste on the Deities is performed for a period of one week beginning from the last six days of Dhanur masa (January) which marks the change of the solistice from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana. The Kalabham is applied on the abhisekha and festival Deities of Lord Padmanabha but on the main Deity i.e. Mula Vigraha of Lord Narasimha and Lord Krishna in the temple. This is conducted also in the month of Mithunam (Jun – Jul) in the same manner. This can be done only by the Namboodiri Brahmins.
6. Shivaratri – a major festival celebrated at the temple. On this day, special abhisekham is done for Lord Shiva who resides in the Sreekovil with offerings of Naivedya.
7. Murajapam – it comprises of 56 days of chanting of the Vedas, Vishnu Sahasranama Japa and other rituals. The first Murajapam was started in the year 1747 CE. Four types of prayers are done by the Namboodiri Brahmins. By rotation, Vedajapam and Mantrajapam are done inside the Nalambalam , the Sahasranama Japa in the Shivelipura at noon and Jalajapam in the Padma Teertham standing in knee deep water in the evening.
8. Lakshadeepam – celebrated only once every few years where one lakh lamps are lit. This festival draws an uncontrollable number of devotees to the temple and is described as a festival of humanity.
9. Alpasi and Painkuni Utsava – these festivals happen over a period of ten days on which the Lord is carried on various vahanas such as the Garuda Vahana, Kamala Vahana, etc. The Alpasi festival takes place in the Malayalam month of Thulam (Oct – Nov) while the Painkuni festival takes place in the month of Meenam (Mar – Apr) under different nakshatras. The Arattu procession i.e. where the Deities are taken on a procession through the Shangumughom beach. The Deities of Sri Varahamurthy Temple, Eruveli Sri Krishna Temple, Sri Trivikramangalam Vamanamurthy Temple and Thrippapoor Sri Mahadeva Temple join the Arattu. Artists from various places find venue to display their talents during these festivities.
Miracles linked to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The miracles that were observed in the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram have been recorded in the ‘Mathilakam’ records of the temple. ‘Mathilakam’ is one of the written records of the temple history. There are many miracles attributed to the temple and recorded in various temple records. Some of them from the Mathilakam records are as follows –
1. It was observed that milk was flowing from the Mandapam on 10 June 1563 during the reign of King Adithya Varma. This incident was reported the next year from the southern side of the Mandapam and then two years later on the ground by the south side of the Mandapam.
Again, in April 1603 during the reign of King Veera Ravi Varma, the maids sweeping the premises near the northern entrance started hearing the sound of bells ringing, tinkling of anklets and the pattering of feet. After a long lapse in the year 1628 AD, bubbling milk was found flowing on the floor near the Sri Rama Swamy Shrine. The King Veera Iravi Iravi Varma who also came and witnessed this phenomenon, partook a small quantity of the milk. Thus, it was opined that the actual Ocean of Milk or Ksheerasagara exists beneath the Deity of Lord Padmanabha who lies on the Anantasesha. Lead was poured in the joints of the granite floor to prevent the seepage of milk.
2. During the period when the worship at the shrine was intermittent i.e. between 1673 to 1677 AD, King Adithya Varma and the senior Rani of Attingal together had the shrine reopened in the year 1673 AD for restarting the pujas. On reopening the shrine, they were surprised to see a serpent in the locked-up area and this was taken as a bad omen. This continued on when three or four serpents were seen in the Abhisravana Mandapam. Later on, when the sanctum sanctorum/garba griha was opened for naivedyam i.e. offering, another serpent was seen inside. The senior Rani of Attingal, Sri Umayamma Rani initiated the procedures to end this occurrence.
3. In the year 1686 AD, a fire ravaged the temple during the reign of King Ravi Varma but miraculously, the wooden Deity of Lord Padmanabha was saved even with the roof the sanctum crashing down on the Deity. Only three fingers of the left hand and all toes of the left leg were lost even though all the vessels nearby became molten lumps.
4. During the reign of Sri Anizhom Tirunal Veera Bala Marthanda Varma the Great, there was the need for a depression in the ground beneath the divine feet of Lord Padmanabha. Even before the work could hardly begin, muddy water started rushing into the shallow hole with the surprising fact that the floor was completely granite. The work was stopped once and for all.
5. The Maha Ganapathy Homam in the temple was earlier conducted on a lavish scale in the temple with offerings of 1008 coconuts. Once, the reigning King had decided to reduce the offering thinking it was too extravagant and so consulted the temple Tantri. The next day, as the homam was in progress, the Tantri asked the King to touch him. As the King touched the Tantri, he was astonished to see Lord Ganapathy in the fire putting all the coconut offerings into his big mouth. Seeing this, the King abandoned his idea.
6. A sudden outbreak of fire was noticed once during the reconsecration ceremony of the Narasimha Swamy Deity. This happened at the auspicious time of consecration. The sanctum was modified as per the principles of Vaastu with holes on the opposite wall to contain the ferocity of the Deity. Devotees have felt and heard the roar of a lion on many occasions after the temple worship ceases and the temple environment is silent. In the same shrine later on, the reigning King Sri Swathi Thirunal was poisoned by the Nambi of the shrine in the Teertham i.e. sacred water offered to the Lord. The King drank it full faith even though he had suspected something fishy looking at the color change in the Teertham and the agitated state of the Nambi. As the King drank, the Nambi rushed out of the shrine holding his head and collapsed on the floor. His body turned blue and died immediately while the King escaped unharmed.
7. Once the reigning King had ordered that Ghee lamp should be lit in the temple. As ghee couldn’t be procured, oil was used instead on the orders of the King. Surprisingly, when the King came for his daily prayers, he found the lamp burning with ghee in it and exclaimed in surprise that “Is there a well yielding ghee her?”. On inspecting the temple complex, a ghee well was indeed found to their surprise. A Mandapam was built over the spot and named Thiruvolakka Mandapam.
How to reach the Padmanabhaswamy temple
Thiruvananthapuram, where the Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located has good connectivity to other parts of India as well as some global cities. You shall get local buses/ taxis/ rickshaws to the temple after alighting at the bus station/railway station or airport. Ola and Uber taxi services are now available in the city through the app mode on smartphones and tablets.
1. By Road – Buses are available from cities in Kerala as well as cities in other states to Thiruvananthapuram. Vizhinjam is the main bus station. Devotees/Pilgrims who are comfortable with car/ SUV rides will find good road connectivity to the city.
2. By Train – There is very good regular train connectivity to the city from railway stations in Kerala as well as other states. The railway stations are Trivandrum Kochuveli(KCVL), Thiruvananthapuram Pettah(TVP), Trivandrum Central(TVC), Varkala Sivagiri(VAK), Trivandrum Veli(VELI) and Kazhakuttam(KZK).
3. By Air – Flights to Thiruvananthapuram are available from other cities in Kerala, other parts of India and some international cities in the Middle East, Srilanka, Singapore, etc via the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport(TRV).
Temple timings of Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The temple is open from 3:30 AM in the morning to 12:00 PM in the noon. The temple opens again to the public for darshan in the evening from 5:00 PM to 7:20 PM. During festival occasions, the darshan timings is subject to change and the darshan timings may be reduced for performing special pujas. The darshan may be closed for a few minutes for the pujas and naivedyams.
You can book your tickets for doing sevas at the temples such as archanas, pujas, prasadam, etc at the ticket booking counter or though the temple website. Some sevas may require advance booking. You can book your sevas and get detailed temple timings and other information at the following web address –
The content in the blog has been adapted from the book titled ‘Thulasi Garland’ by Princess Gouri Lakshmi Bayi and the book titled ‘Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple’ by Princess Gouri Lakshmi Bayi1