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Padmanabhaswamy Temple – History, Treasure and Secrets

The Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who as per Hinduism is the preserver of life. Here he can be seen in his ‘Ananta Shayana’ form (eternal yogic sleep), on the infinite serpent Adishesha (Sheshnag).

Though Padmanabhaswamy Temple has always had a steady influx of pilgrims over centuries, it shot into limelight recently when the word of its enormous treasure trove became public. Some of its vaults still remain closed, but whatever treasure has yet been discovered has catapulted this temple to being the Richest Temple in the World.

Table of Contents:
The Palace at a glance
  1. How to reach
  2. Tickets and Timings
  3. Where to Stay

History of the Temple
My tryst with the Dhoti
The Fort
Secret 1: The most secure place in Kerala
Architecture of the Temple
  The Gopuram
  Secret 2: Gopuram and Equinox
  Inside the temple Complex
  Sreebalipurra
  Kulasekara Mandapam
  Ottakkal Mandapam
The Darshan
The Padmanabhaswamy Treasure
  Origin of the Treasure
  Vault B
  Secret 3 : Whats really inside Vault B
Conclusion of the tour

How to Reach:
Trivandrum a.k.a Thiruvananthapuram is well connected to the rest of the country by Air, Rail and Road. Trivandrum Airport and Railway station, both are within 5 KM radius of the temple.

Darshan Timings:
03:30 AM to 04:45 AM
06:30 AM to 07:00 AM
08:30 AM to 10:00 AM
10:30 AM to 11:00 AM
11:45 AM to 12:00 AM
5:30 PM to 6:15 PM
6:45 PM to 7:20 PM
(Timings may change on festivals and special occasions).

Where to Stay:
Thiruvanantapuram has no dearth of options for accommodation. Luxury, Business and Budget, hotels and lodges are available in all budget ranges in the Capital city of Kerala

Padmanabhaswamy Temple History:

Technically the Padmanabhaswamy Temple of Kerala is 300 years old, however its origins can be traced back even further. As per Hindu Mythology the earliest mentions of this temple places it in the Dwapar Yuga, crediting Lord Parshuram to have enshrined it. As the centuries passed the regular pilgrimage to the shrine faded and the temple was forgotten.

Many years later a saint named Vilvam Mangalathu Swamiyar rediscovered the original idol (Murti) with some divine intervention. The saint built a makeshift temple over the Murti and made arrangements for regular puja. Later on the temple was renovated completely by King Marthanda Varma of the Travancore Kingdom in the 17th century, which is what we see today.

My Tryst with Dhoti:

My brother was laughing uncontrollably as I struggled to put on a dhoti. We were outside the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, prepping up to enter the temple premises. The temple expects all devotees to adher to a strict dress code, which comprises of Dhoti or Mundu for men and Saree for women. Men should not wear shirts of any kind, if required they may wrap a dhoti around their torso.

There are shops renting out Dhotis for devotees who don’t bring their own, I however had carried one with me, albeit never imagined wearing one would require so much skill. Now a days one may wrap the Dhoti on top of trousers or pyajamas, I however decided to go full traditional on it. Finally after much trials and errors, I was able to successfully wrap the dhoti around my waist all ready to explore the famed Padmanabhaswamy Temple.

The Fort:

The temple is built inside a fortified complex which has multiple entrances however people usually enter through the eastern entrance. The entrance is flanked by multiple shops, selling puja related stuff and Banana chips. It is usually believed that shops near this area sales the best chips in the city.

Once inside the boundaries of the fort, I started feeling the aura of a religious place descending upon me. The sounds, smell and crowd were all reminiscent of other famous religious places I had been to in the past. The only difference was, that here there was a presence of an elaborate security apparatus.

Secret 1: The most secure place in Kerala:

CCTV, Metal Detectors and armed policemen; these are just the kind of security measures those are visible to the untrained eye. On careful inspection though one can figure out many more hidden security details around the temple.

All exists are guarded by armed commandos, who remain well hidden behind sand bag trenches. All exits of the temple are equipped with revolving doors, which stops in a matter of seconds in the press of a button. Once the door stops to move, there is absolutely no way to come out on foot.

Vehicles can’t get close to the temple, because of the multiple layers of barriers on the road. The area surrounding the temple is a no fly zone, thus no man made thing flies above the temple, nor any vehicles come close enough.

There is a command center hidden in one of the buildings around the temple from where a high ranking police official keeps a close eye on all the security arrangement. It is definitely the most secure place in Kerala.

Architecture of Padmanabhaswamy Temple:

The temple stands in seven acres of land with four main entrances facing the prime directions. Multiple sanctums, prayer halls, courtyards and corridors and reside inside the boundaries of this seven acres complex. Temple is built as a mix of the Dravidian style of temple building, along with some elements of Kerala’s own architectural tropes.

The Gopuram:

The most distinctive feature of the temple, the 100 ft high gopuram (sanctum sanctorum), stands on the eastern entrance. The gopuram is clear influence if the Dravidian architecture, which is quite prevalent in the southern part of India. The pyramidal tower is made of granite and brick with a foundation that goes 40 feet below the ground. Ornate sculptures adorn the walls of this lofty edifice, depicting gods, goddesses and life as per Hindu mythology.

The seven storey Gopuram with various carvings and statues. The windows are all aligned in the middle in one straight line.
Top of the gopuram with golden Kalasha on top, carvings of Vishnu in various incarnations in the first layer. (Image credit – mediaindia.eu)

There are seven floors to this gopuram, with a pair of window-like openings along the center on opposite sides of six of these floors. The opening on the lowest floor is also the doorway to the temple. On top of the edifice seven golden kalasha are placed evenly spaced, pointing to the sky. The ten different incarnations of Lord Vishnu are portrayed inside the top story of the gopuram.

There are windows on each of the floor, aligned perfectly in the center of the Gopuram. This intricately central alignment of the windows brings us to our second secret related to the temple & equinox.

Secret 2: Padmanabhaswamy temple during Equinox:

Equinox : When the earth’s axis is at a 0° tilt and hence the day and night duration is equal.

The phenomenon occurs twice in a years and during this time, when the Sun sets, it aligns perfectly with the windows of the Gopuram. As time passes, it feels as if the Sun is coming down, step by step, peeping through each window.

Image Credit – 9GAG

This feature required the construction of the Gopuram to be exactly on the East West line, not deviating even a single degree on either side. This is definitely an Engineering Marvel. On days past the equinox, the setting Sun gets blocked by the tower structure. Hence, if one has to witness this phenomenon, they have to be at this place either during the autumn or spring equinox.

The autumn equinox occurs on 22nd or 23rd of September while the spring equinox occur either on 20th or 21st of March. I was there in November, way past the Equinox, but it has landed in my bucket list of activities to be done in my next trip to the state.

Inside the temple complex:

I definitely don’t have a body to flaunt, hence I always feel comfortable keeping it well hidden underneath multiple layer of clothing. I must admit, walking down that busy street dressed in just a dhoti, with no shirt, felt weird at first. However as I walked along, I saw similar anxious folks walking along, looking as flustered as I was. It felt better to know I wasn’t the only ugly duckling here.

Tradition is something the temple takes very seriously as all the policemen stationed at the Temple were also clad in a dhoti, with hand guns tucked in the waist. the only other object on them was a plastic i-card that was dangling precariously from their necks. ‘Policemen in dhotis’, this was something I never thought I would see.

Photography is strictly prohibited inside the temple, hence you will have to rely entirely on my words here, to visualize the various parts of the temple.

Sreebalipurra:

It is a long rectangular corridor, supported by 365 pillars, which looks very similar to the pillared hallway of the Ramnathaswamy temple of Rameswaram. The stone pillars represent the 365 days of an year, and bear intricate mythical carvings on them, that enhance the already mesmerizing hallway many folds.

While walking down the hallway I could see dark residue of burning diyas on a particular place on all the pillars. I could only imagine the beauty of the hallway with all its pillars lit, during special ceremonies.

Kulasekhara Mandapam:

Moving on we reach the Kulasekhara Mandapam which is supported by 28 balustrades, which also features exquisitely carved figurines that gives this section a distinctive look. The most interesting feature of this place is that the pillars produce musical notes when tapped.

To a musically impaired person like me, I couldn’t make much difference on the subtle change in the notes, but this definitely would make a person who has a refined ear, jump with excitement. I could only feel deep appreciation for the sculptors of our ancient India who could carve stones in a way that they produced music. Its a lost art and definitely needs to be revived if it could be revived at all.

Ottakkal Mandapam:

The crowd that had entered with me inside the temple started making a beeline in front of the main shrine. In front of the Sanctum sanctorum stands a platform which is cut out of a single block of stone. All the pillars on this platform are covered in gold, which provides for a stark contrast to the otherwise dark structure. Stepping up a few flight of stairs I reached a series of three doors, from which we could see the lord of Thiruvananthapuram, Shree Padmanabhaswamy.

The Darshan:

The deity is visible through three continuous doors, a black and shiny 18-foot long idol reclining on the serpent Anantha or Adi Sesha gleams majestically in the sanctum lit only by some diyas. The current day idol is made up of a complex mixture called Katu Sarkara Yogam, which is a special mix of medicinal herbs and contains 12008 Shaligrams (anionic representations of Lord Vishnu) brought from the Gandaki River in Nepal.

I kept walking across the sanctum, peeping through each of the three doors to complete the darshan of the lord. The first door provides the view of the face, the 5 heads of the serpent Adishesha, and the right hand, covered with a golden guntlet resting on a Shiva Linga. The idol is massive, and the first door does a great job of introducing the Lord and wowing all visitors with its grandness.

A replica of Shree Padmanabhaswamy, in the Padmateertham pond.

The second door introduces us to the torso of the Lord with the lotus emerging from the Naval, which also has lord Brahma sitting on it. Its worth noting that the name Padmanabhaswamy is reflective of this lotus that emates from the naval.

The third and last door provides a view of the feet of the Lord, with the massive gold dhoti covering the entirely of the leg, except the feet. The toes are also covered with gold ornaments, which just gleams in the orange hue of the light of the massive earthen lamps.

This marked the end of the darshan, and as I climbed down the stairs of the main platform I couldn’t get the sight out of mind. The dark interiors, the beautifully crafted idol and the use of gold, all turned this tour into a never to be forgotten experience.

The Padmanabhaswamy Treasure:

So let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes there is enormous Treasure in the vaults of this temple, I however was not able to see either the vault or the gold. So, as a normal visitor don’t expect to see massive chunks of gold lying around the hallways of the temple.

Apparently there are eight vaults (named A to H) out of which 3 remains closed till date. In 2011, on orders of the Supreme Court of India, a small team entered the underground vaults of the temple. Jeweler, ornaments, gemstones, thrones, gold coins and every other possible form of treasure that one can imagine, were found in these vaults which shocked the world. The treasure inventoried during the exercise, is considered to be by far the largest collection of items of gold and precious stones in the recorded history of the world.

The treasure belongs to the temple and hence is still kept inside the vaults, under the supervision of a trust and temple priests. The state government bears the cost of the security of the temple and its gold.

A glimpse of the treasure discovered in one of the Vaults. Pic Curtesy Forbes.com

Origin of the Treasure:

The Travancore Royals were devotees of Shri Padmanabhaswamy, so much so that their title itself started with ‘Padmanabha Dasa‘, which translates to the Servant of Sri Padmanabhaswamy. Hence all treasure, gifts and wealth belonging to Royal family is kept in vaults within the temple.

A lot of the treasure is also donations from pilgrims which has accumulated over centuries not only from this one temple but various temples in the vicinity. Padmanabhaswamy Temple was where all the offerings, from temples around the kingdom were stored for safekeeping during the old days.

Some of the gold is also believed to be brought by various Hindu kings seeking refuge in Trivandrum from Tipu Sultan’s conquests around the Kerala-Karnataka border areas. As the vaults of the temple was believed to be the safest place, the gold was deposited here.

Vault B:

Many people believe that the vaults were opened for the first time in centuries in 2011. That however is not entirely true. 4 chambers named C to F, had always remained opened for the temple administration. Artifacts are regularly taken out for various rituals and returned back to the vaults. It was in fact one vault, known as Vault A, that was opened and inventoried in 2011. Vaults G and H were not even discovered till then, and their existence only came into forefront in 2014. The team was only unsuccessful in opening Vault B in 2011, which is what holds the most intrigue.

Apparently the vault doesn’t have any visible locking mechanism, and forcefully opening with heavy machinery was not a very acceptable option. There were protests across the state as it has always been believed that opening the Vault will bring misfortune for the people.

The door of Vault B (pic courtesy Forbes.com)

The last inventory of Vault B, is from 1880, and if it is to be believed the value of the treasure in Vault B alone is worth US$ One Trillion as of July 2011, accounting for inflation alone. Add on top of that the value of gold, which has also appreciated many folds over the centuries, push the value to over many Trillions. If we factor in the Historical and Cultural value of this treasure just explodes to numbers unheard of.

Secret 3 : What’s really inside Vault B:

With secrets come conspiracy theories, and multiple such theories exists related to the vault.

Besides the gold, its believed that many Devas (gods) and sages reside in Kallara B worshiping the Lord, and wish not to be disturbed. If disturbed, it will invite their wrath on the people of the world. Hence the door to the vault was locked in place with special spell and can only be opened by someone who knows the spell. To the naked eye there is no apparent locking mechanism is place, so opening it is not so straightforward. Forcefully opening is a strict no no.

One other belief is that, there are some kind of bio weapon installed in the doors of the vault, which if released will cause harm to the people who come in contact.

Another school of thought is that inside the vault resides a trap door, which was created to flood the whole temple, with water from the Padmateertham Pond in case forcefully opened. This was created to keep the gold safe from invasions of foreign powers.

The Padmateertham Pond infront of the temple

In Conclusion:

Though the discovery of the immense treasure catapulted the popularity of the temple to unimaginable heights, I believe the most beautiful feature of the temple is its commitment to remain rooted in its origin. Be it the adherence to a dress code, or the strict timings of darshan, the temple is as traditional as one can imagine.

Temples like this are living testimony of our history where spirituality found stunning expressions through art and architecture. Every facet of a temple structure is meant to evoke an emotional response that is beyond oneself. The temple deserves a visit by everyone at least once in their life.

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