By Swami Harshananda
Temples and places of worship, especially those connected with the lives of great saints or miraculous incidents, have been an integral part of religion and culture. Places associated with such temples soon become important pilgrim centers. These centers attract thousands of devotees every year especially on special occasions.
Padmanābha As Anantaśayana Temple
One such place in the extremity of South India is the Padmanābha Temple of Tiruvanantapuram or Trivandrum, the Capital of the Kerala State. It is a Viṣṇu temple with the image in the śayāna or reclining posture, resting on the great serpent Ananta or Seṣa. Hence, it is also known as the Anantaśayana Temple. Since the image of Viṣṇu has padma or lotus with Brahmā, the creator seated on it. He is also known as Padmanābha or Padmanābhasvāmi. Padmanābhasvāmi is also the one who has the lotus in his navel.
Period of Padmanābha Temple
Considered one among the 108 Viṣṇu temples sacred to the followers of the Viṣṇu cult it has been praised by Nammālvār, the last of the Alvārs in his Tiruvāymoli. Since he is assigned to the 9th century A. D., this temple must be considered as much older than that period. There are several local legends that describe how this temple came into being.
Revelation of God's Pose
The Lord is said to have revealed Himself in this form to the sage Divākaramuni who was an ardent devotee of Kṛṣṇa. According to another version, the revelation came to the sage Vilvamaṅgal known as Vilvamañgalattu Svāmiyār in Malayālam language, who saw the Lord in a place in a forest, where a big tree collapsed, giving rise to the vision. It is reasonable to believe that though the temple is quite ancient, it must have undergone several renovations and changes.
Major Historical Event
The temple seems to have been connected with several royal dynasties like the dynasty  of the Cera kings of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the rulers of Venad in Kerala. The most significant event in the history of this temple is the total surrender of the kingdom to the Lord Padmanābha by the famous king Mārtāṇḍa Varma during his rule in A. D. 1729-1758, who assumed the title ‘Padmanābhadāsa’ and started ruling as the Lord’s servant. He is said to have reconstructed the temple including the replacement of the old idol made of wood, with a new one fashioned out of 1200 Śālagrāmas.
Location & Dimensions of Temple
The temple faces east and is spread out over an area of 2.8 hectares. It is enclosed on all sides by a high granite wall, the height ranging from 4.5 to 6.0 meters. The garbhagṛha or sanctum sanctorum is a rectangle measuring 7.2 meters in length, 5.4 meters in width and 12 meters in height.
Image of Temple
The reclining image of Lord Padmanābha is 5.4 meters in length. It is facing east, with the head to the south and the feet to the north. From the nābhi or navel, rises a padma or lotus. There is a small figure of Brahmā, the four faced creator of the world, on lotus. The serpent Ananta has five hoods and three coils, the latter forming the bed for the Lord and the former acting as a protective umbrella.
Posture of Image
The posture is Yogaśayana and the idol itself is classed among the Uttama-yoga-murtis. Since the outer part of the image is made of wood of certain medicinal trees and a mixture called katusarkarayoga, ceremonial bathing with water is never performed. There are three main doors for the sanctum to see the image. The other three doors give a view of the head or the face, the navel and the feet.
Other important structures and features of this temple-complex are:
- Dhvaja-stambha - wooden flagstaff covered with gold plates and 24 meters or 80 ft. in height
- Temples or shrines of other deities like:
- Srībalipura - a long paved corridor running all round with 324 pillars and a covered roof
- Oṭṭakkal-maṇṭapa, a pavilion made of one huge stone
- Kulaśekhara maṇṭapa containing several beautifully sculptured images
- Mural paintings inside the sanctum
- Many other features
When one presses his ear against the northern outer wall of the sanctum, he hears the ‘sounds of waves’. It is believed to be those of the kṣīrasamudra, the ocean of milk, on which the Lord is resting.
Rituals of Temple
The temple has four chief priests called ‘nambies’. They are assisted by 24 pottis or assistant priests. Daily rituals start at 3:30 A.M. and come to a close by late night. There are also quite a few monthly, bi-annual and annual rites.
The most important and spectacular festival is the Murajapam followed by the Laksadīpam. It is celebrated once in six years and is spread over 56 days. During the Laksadīpam festival, the entire gopuram and other parts of the temple are lighted with oil lamps giving a magnificent view of the gopuram in the waters of the temple-tank. This manner of the festival conducted now is said to be only a faint shadow of the original grand festival, the last of which was held in A. D. 1960.
- This dynasty was established in 300 B. C.
- Śālagrāmas are the round stone-emblems of Viṣṇu.
- It is approximately 7 acres.
- It is approximately 15 to 20 ft.
- It is approximately 24 ft.
- It is approximately 18 ft.
- It is approximately 40 ft.
- It is approximately 18 ft.
- It is also Śeṣa.
- Gopuram means tower.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore