The Child of AnanthanKaadu, Thiruvananthapuram
Diwakara Munivar was a staunch Vishnu devotee. Desiring a darshan of the divine form of MahaVishnu, Diwakara Munivar decided to undertake unflinching penance unto Narayana in the lush green areas of Aatharta Desa, meditating on his divine form. The penance continued for some time and Sriman Narayana, deciding to play with his ardent devotee appeared before him as a young boy of about 5 years of age.
Radiating divine light, with his hair tied up in a tiny bun and shining with jewels and gemstones, the child was the picture of beauty. The Munivar immediately took him into his hands and showered his affection on him. So deep was the instant impact of the boy’s oozing charm, that Diwakara Munivar asked the boy to stay with him in the ashrama and promised to provide him with the best of services available. “Oh radiant child, you have just given me the most valuable few seconds of my life. I do not know what is the power that makes me feel so immensely elated in your presence. I beseech of you, will you agree to remain with me in this beautiful aashrama?”, begged the munivar. Vishnu, desirous of enjoying his devotee’s loving offer agreed to stay, provided that one condition be satisfied. “Oh swami,”, the child answered, his voice so mellifluous that it put even the sugar-throated cuckoo to shame, “I will stay with you in this place, but never once should you scold or hit me in a fit of anger. If you agree to this condition, I will stay with you. If you break this condition, I promise that I will run away”. Diwakara Munivar was floating on the clouds on the child’s acceptance and immediately agreed to this condition. MahaVishnu entered the ashrama of the munivar and took his place there.
Years passed and Diwakara Munivar showered the boy with all his love and affection. Keeping in mind his promise, he did not allow himself to be angered by the mischevious deeds of the child. The boy too enjoyed the company of the munivar and grew up with the best of things around him. One day, Maha Vishnu decided that the time was ripe to reveal himself to his devotee. When the munivar was performing his morning pooja, the child walked upto him, took the salagrama from its ordained place and put it in his mouth. Shocked though he was at this act of irreverence to the divine stone, Diwakara Munivar held onto his calm. Then the child rolled the stone around his mouth and made such a noise that the rishi lost his patience there. He pulled the child towards him and chastised him for his behavior. Immediately, the child ran away, shouting out, “If you desire to see me, come to Ananthan kaadu (forest of Anantha)”.
The munivar immediately felt ashamed at his lack of control. He stopped taking food, and roamed around in a state of anxiety, all the while searching for the beloved boy. He asked everyone about the location of Ananthan Kaadu but only in vain. Then one day, he saw a mother chastising her child. “… if you do that again, I will leave you in Ananthan kaadu…”, she told her son. Pricking his ears at the mention of the place, the munivar asked her about the location of the forest. Finding out the directions from her, he hurried towards the place as fast as his legs could take him.
He entered a lush forest, filled with trees and the sounds of birds and animals, and immediately started calling out to the child. The boy suddenly appeared at a distance, and beckoning to the munivar, ran away from him. The munivar followed him, rushing with all his strength. All at once, the boy entered a gigantic Iluppa tree and the tree came down with an almighty crash. The entire forest quietened down in the aftermath of the large crash. When the dust cleared, what a stupendous sight unfolded in front of the munivar’s eyes.
Sri Narayana, in all his divine splendour lay on his majestic serpent, Anantha. The purana states that the head of Vishnu was at Thiruvallam and his lotus feet lay at Tripappur, which according to present day comes out to be around 13km. Bewildered by the awesome sight and unable to take it all in at once, the Munivar viewed the Lord in three different sections- His head and chest, His sacred lotus bearing Navel (PadmaNabha), and His divine feet. He then requested the lord to reduce his size, so that his eyes may have the joy of having his complete darshan. The lord too shrunk himself and spoke to the munivar, “It is to test you that I came as a boy who gave you countless tortures. I wish to remain in this place and grant people happiness and good fortune. As an honor to your unflinching devotion to me, the priests of my temple will have to belong to the Tulu Brahmin community from which you hail. Long live your devotion. Shubhamasthu”. Saying thus, the lord turned into a gigantic idol around which Diwakara Munivar built the preliminary temple dedicated to Padmanabha. It is believed that for the first pooja, he had nothing to offer to the lord and finding a raw mango, he placed it in a coconut shell and lovingly offered it as naivedhya, a custom that is still followed today, when the noon naivedhyam consists of raw mango pickle in a golden coconut shell. Thus did Padmanabha come down to earth, and he continues to lie in Ananthan Kaadu blessing his devotees with health and prosperity. We today know this place as ThiruAnanthapuram, named after the holy Anantha on which the lord lies.
Thiruvananthapuram, is a very very ancient city. The capital of Kerala, it is now undergoing vast stretches of modernization. Nevertheless, the old charm of the Travancore kingdom still lingers in the ancient sections of the city. And amidst them, on a raised platform stands the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple. With one of a kind long low gopuram as compared to the high ones we normally see, the temple immediately captures ones attention. The temple is still owned by the royal family of Travancore, who following a long lineage of illustrous ancestors, call themselves Padmanabha Dasa, or the servant of Padmanabha. Even after the dissolution of the princely states, the ruler of Travancore and his family have held on to special privileges, the owner ship of the temple being one of them.
Records show that the temple has been in existence since 3000 BC, however, the present day temple was constructed by Marthanda Varma, starting in the year 1729. He was the first king of the Travancore kingdom and was a staunch devotee of Padmanabha. It is believed that the temple was reconstructed from the Vimana downwards. He replaced the existing wooden idol of Padmanabha with a humongous one made from 1200 salagramas. The salagramas were moulded into shape with a special mixture called Kadusarkara (a mixture of limestone, mollases and mustard). The deity is huge and is viewed through 3 doors perhaps to comemmorate the darshan of Vishnu by Diwakara munivar in three sections. The first door gives a view of His divine head and the five hooded serpent Anantha supporting the head. Vishnu’s arm stretches down and ends just above a Shivalinga on the ground. The middle door shows his navel, from which springs a lotus bearing Brahma. The utsavar can also be viewed through the middle door. It is made of Aparanji , a rare and precious form of the gold (the only other known statue of Aparanji is that of Azhagar at Thirumaaliruncholai [see Azhagar Kovil]). Through the last door one can have a darshan of His divine feet. Vishnu is thought to be in yoga nidra over here, contemplating on the beginning of creation. Since all of the three trimurthis give darshan in the sanctum, the sanctity of this place is thought to be immeasurable.
In front of the main sanctum is a huge stone slab in the Othakaal Mandapam. No one is allowed to offer his namaskaras on the slab except the ruler of Travancore himself. The temple has some of the best architectural features that one can find in Kerala. Long corridors flanked by stone statues of women bearing lamps, bright colorful paintings, intricate designs on the walls, all instill a feeling of magnificence and grandeur. The dwajasthambam with Garuda seated on the top is made of teak and covered with gold. It is said that the single tall log of teak was transported from far far away without touching the ground even once, an unimaginable task in the days of yore. When Travancore kings were at the height of glory, the temple got undivided attention with grand poojas, gifts of land, jewels and gold. Every day was like a festival. The king never used to eat without witnessing the noon pooja at the temple. This custom is followed even today. The old belief was that the land of Travancore was indeed ruled by Padmanabha himself, through the king who was his servant. Such was the pride and devotion that the temple commanded and still does in the hearts of many.
The temple celebrates two major utsavas every year, one in the month of Thulam and another in Meenam. Both last for 10 days and include the Pallivetta and Aarattu. The Pallivetta is an interesting event in which lord Vishnu seeks the demon of destruction and hunts him down. The event takes place at the Sundaravilasam Palace and comemmorates the escape of Marthanda Varma from an attack to kill him. On the night of the ninth day, the utsavar is carried towards the palace. No sounds are made lest the demon finds out that the lord is approaching. In the palace shrubs, a coconut symbolising the demon is placed. The king acting on the behalf of the lord now shoots an arrow at the coconut. The demon is now dead and music breaks out celebrating the victory of good over evil. Amidst much fanfare the deity is brought back to the temple. However, the deity does not enter the sanctum. In the act of killing a demon, the lord has defiled himself and needs to be purified. The next day, the idol, along with that of Sri Krishna and Narasimha is taken to the Padma Theertha and then to the sea at Shankumukham, accompanied by the royal family and much music. At sunset the deities are given a ritual bath and then escorted back to the temple, drawing the festivities to a close. Each of these two utsavams signifiies the celebration of a Bhadradeepam.
The grandest celebration is however the Murajapam. This is conducted every 6 years to signify the completion of 12 Bhadradeepams. For Murajapam, Namboodris from all over Kerala who can chant the veda (Othanmaar) are invited by the royal family to chant at the temple for 56 days. For these 56 days, the entire veda is chanted along with mantras and sahasranamas. Every afternoon, the namboodris stand on all the four sides of the Padma Theertha in knee deep water and pray for the welfare of the king and his people. This grand scale chanting of the veda ends with the Lakshdeepam or the festival of a lakh lamps. The entire temple is decorated with lights and glows with divine splendour, offering a sight worth gaping at. The first of these Murajapams was held by Marthanda Varma to atone for his sins at various wars. Even today, people say that the present day Murajapams can no way come even close to the very first one, when the entire gopuram was filled with lamp light, swaying gently in the wind. The ancient glory is lost forever, replaced by LEDs and other such nonsense.
Nevertheless, the temple happens to be a major pilgrim center and one of the 108 Divyadesas. It is also one of the original seven kshetras that was set up by Parashurama himself. A visit to the temple is sure to leave one awed with its sheer size and grandeur. The fort surrounding the temple is worth a visit too and brings out the erstwhile glory of the Travancore kings. And so lies Vishnu today, in the splendid temple dedicated to him by the kings of Travancore, by the blue shorelines of Arabian Sea and still ruling over the lands of Travancore and the hearts of countless people who worship him as their sole king.
Padmanaabha Daasam Namaami Namaami