Padmanabhaswamy temple dominated the public memory across the country for the astonishing amount of gold that was found in its age-old vaults. The images created of the vaults jostled in my mind as I walked to this temple from the main road. Along with the story of the kings of Travancore who consider themselves the servant of the Lord Padmanabhaswamy here. The dark wood palace stands right next to the temple.
Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum
My first visit to the temple was in the evening when the temple gopuram reflected beautifully in the pond outside. At first look, it did not sound any different from the typical Chola temples of neighboring Tamil Nadu. We entered through the security barricade with the King’s palace on one side and a row of shops on the other. Most shops were selling the white Mundus (aka Vashti’s in Tamil or Lungis in colloquial language). As no one is allowed to enter the temple without it. And most tourists would not carry one. Men are supposed to just wear the white Mundu with the bare upper body to enter the temple. And women are supposed to be in Saris or a skirt – basically, a garment that is not divided below the waste.
If you are wearing jeans/salwar/churidar, you are supposed to cover it with the same Mundu. I tried wrapping my dupatta around my waist, but I was denied entry. When I tried to question them, I was totally ignored but later someone said it must be a white cloth that I should wrap around.
Visiting Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Next day I decided to invest in a Mundu and enter the temple. It was a treat to the eyes. Wide and long corridors with stone pillars carved on both sides. There was a place to light Deepa’s or lamps everywhere. Thankfully there was not much rush on the day. And I could easily get entry into the main temple. If you have spent an even a couple of hours in Thiruvananthapuram, you would have seen enough replicas of the image of the reigning deity here. Padmanabhaswamy i.e. Vishnu lying on the serpent with his one hand hanging down and the lotus flower coming out of his navel on which Brahma sits. The image at the temple in black stone is huge. And cannot be seen at once from the darshan place. As there are doors that stand in front of the image.
First I saw a huge black hand with golden nails and rings hanging down. And then my eyes went up to see the face serenely lying there. From the next door, you see his navel, but this part carries so many decorative layers that it is difficult to make out the shape of the image. Third door has feet where people bow finally before checking out.
Best Preserved Murals
The outer walls of the sanctum sanctorum have wall murals in dull orange color. These are some of the best-preserved murals I have seen in ancient Indian temples anywhere. All three walls are covered with murals. Mural at the back wall is a long one. I do not remember much except the dull orange background and figures in white and sea green. There was a ferocious kind of expression on most images. Later I saw similar images in Raja Ravi Varma Gallery in the city. I found some similar images in paintings at the Raviz Ayurvedic Resort & Spa at Kollam. And the general manager there told me that there are many people still pursuing this art form. Of course, murals have moved from bare walls to canvasses of the size that can fit onto our walls.
At Fort Kochi, I found many of them at a curio shop. Artisans today are using the same colors. If they are natural or not, I can’t say, they use the same lines and formations and have stuck to same mythological themes. Probably there is a market for the same. Coming back, if there is one reason why you should visit this temple – it has to be these beautiful murals.
There is a sangeet mandap with a beautifully carved wooden ceiling. Few musicians were playing mridangam there. As I walked around the temple, I saw a security person in a Mundu with his revolver jetting out of the holster around his waist. A smile naturally erupted on my face and I said Hi to him. I asked him where is all the Gold that the televisions keep telling us about. He turned towards the temple and said it is within this complex. As soon as he opened his mouth, all the people walking past stopped to hear the answer and he said – I cannot reveal the location, but it is within this complex. Asked him if he has seen the Gold, he smiled and kept quiet. I think if so many people had not stopped I might have got a bit more out of him.
I did not like their attitude on dressing up, for they could not reason it out to me. But I loved the temple – its murals, its long corridors and the unusual Anant-Shayya pose of Vishnu in giant proportions.
Recommend you to read the following travel blog on places to visit in Kerala.