The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is a Hindu temple in Thiruvananthapuram, India. Construction of the temple began in the 17th century and was completed around 1400 AD. It is believed to be the richest temple with treasures worth billions of dollars. Only a few have been counted because only about 15% of the temple’s assets have been inventoried.
Padmanabhaswamy Temple has become an important symbol in Kerala and pride for Hindus all over India.
History of Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The original temple was built by the king of Pandalam in 1750 BC. The present structure was built during the reign of Maharaja Marthanda Varma in 1755 AD by Travancore maharajas.
The main deity is Padmanabha, lying in the serpent Anantha with his consort Bhooma Devi. The copper-sheeted roof is covered with gold sheets and has a height of 95 feet. There is also a shrine for Vishnu, Narasimha.
Around the sanctum sanctorum lies a seven-tiered pinnacled structure(gopuram) which rises to a height of 237 feet. The temple has an area of about 20 hectares with three concentric enclosures, each separated by walls. The second enclosure has 14 sub-shrines, one for each of the 14 Thampura Nayaks (tribal protectors).
The Gopuram or the tower above the entrance is covered with gold and is 95 feet high. The main deity of this temple which is Padmanabha Swamy or Lord Vishnu is in a reclining posture with Sree Bhoo Devi appearing from his navel and Bhu Devi from his chest.
Royal family connection with Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The royal family of the Travancore (Kerala) dynasty has a tradition of being guardians of the temple. The last Travancore Maharaja, King Rama Varma (1848–1849) is said to have been inspired by the temple’s beauty to renovate his palace which was dilapidated, with the help and guidance of a Brahmin prince.
The royal family’s connection with this famous shrine is ancient, and probably goes back thousands of years. Therefore, the present kings of Travancore have carried on this tradition. The present Thampu (prime minister) is the son of the great-grandson of Travancore Maharaja Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma (1868–1949), better known as Chithira Tirunal, who was responsible for the reconstruction of Padmanabhaswamy temple in 1934. The royal family also maintains a large private zoo with over 9,000 animals and is said to be among the world’s foremost zoos. The Njarakkal Bird Sanctuary lies near this temple.
Temple Structure of Padmanabhaswamy Temple
This temple is a significant example of Kerala temple architecture. As a result, The temple is built in Dravidian style. The exterior elevation, containing the sanctum, is a quadrangular structure with a series of porches along the outer walls. The main entrance, flanked by two small shrines on either side. Opens into an ambulatory paved with granite and lined with gigantic pillars and pilasters rising to a height of nearly seven meters. On either side of the ambulatory are halls, the lower or adhisthana hall (chamber) being used for home and puja (sacred offerings), while the second or mandapa (hall), at a higher level, is reserved for darshans (ritualistic performances).
The temple has several statues of elephants, bulls, and parrots. There is also a statue of Ardhanarishvara, widely described as the “first human sculpture to have been discovered in India”. The idol is made up of a male and female deity who are both embracing each other. The temple has 50 doors. Each door has a different number and the number corresponds to the doors that have been opened in each direction – North, South, East, and West. It is believed that opening all the doors in a temple at once will lead to prosperity. So it is considered a good omen when the doors are opened successively.
Festivals and rites in the temple
The temple is open all days of the year and is visited by thousands of Hindu pilgrims. The annual festival held in the months of February to March attracts large crowds. There are also special annual functions during the Malayalam month of Meenam and May, which mark the start of summer and harvest respectively. Special poojas are performed every Tuesday during summer (Malayatikka). The temple houses a collection of thousands of rare coins, each said to be unique. The gold-plated roof covers an intricate maze surrounded by water channels. Despite its opulence, the temple has a peaceful atmosphere with little tourism.
Management of temple
The temple is under the jurisdiction of the Kerala State government. The state government designated a committee on 1 March 1946, and it was formally constituted on 10 August 1946. On 1 January 1947, the committee was transferred to the control of the Finance Department. Finally, on 20 January 1949, it became an autonomous body under the charge of a board of trustees constituted by an act passed by Parliament in 1977.
In 1998, under its policy of conservation and protection of rare and nationally important artistic and cultural heritage sites in India (the “Efforts for Heritage Conservation Act”), UNESCO gave recognition to the temple as a world heritage site.
Becoming the richest temple in the world
On 16 November 2011, the Padmanabhaswamy temple became even more valuable in monetary terms by the discovery of six vaults by archaeologists. The vaults are believed to be over 1000 years old and have not been opened in a century.
There are four underground vaults that are built inside the outer walls of the temple compound with a steel boundary wall enclosing them. Therefore, Two of these vaults have been found to have wooden chests containing precious stones, precious metal coins, and gold ornaments bearing engravings in the Tamil language. Also, there is one more secret vault near the main vault. The vault was sealed for several centuries after it was opened about a hundred years ago.
The vaults are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Kerala government. The Kerala High Court ordered the government of Kerala to ensure that no one except ASI officials enter these vaults without court permission. This has been done since the contents are believed to be very ancient in nature, and some maybe even be over 3000 years old. As a result, any antiquity which is found over 100 years old should be handed to the ASI for safekeeping.