The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Anantha Puram literally means the “City of Anantha” and so, the city itself is named after Prabhu Ananta or Sri Maha Vishnu. Built in a mix of the Kerala and Dravidian styles of architecture, it features high walls and a 16th-century Gopuram. To some extent, the temple is quite similar to the Adikesava Perumal temple in Thiruvattar, Kanyakumari.
The principal deity of the Padmanabhaswamy temple is Vishnu, in his Anantashayanam posture.
This is his eternal yogic Nidra (sleep) posture, resting on a bed of coiled snakes in the Milky Ocean, with Devi Lakshmi seated at his feet and the great serpent Adishesha forming a protective umbrella over his head.
Sri Padmanabhaswamy is the tutelary deity of the royal family of Travancore. The Maharaja of Travancore, Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma, is the trustee of the temple. Even today, this ancient temple follows strict conventions. Only Hindus are allowed to enter and everyone has to follow a strict dress code. Females have to dress in saree or the traditional Kerala Mundu set, whereas males have to wear the veshti and angavastram.
In Vaishnavism, the Padmanabhaswamy temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams (Holy Abodes) and is glorified in the Divya Prabandhams. The Ananthapuram Temple in Kasargod is said to be the Moolasthanam of the temple.
The legend about the Temple
Legend has it that the sage Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar, who lived near the Ananthapuram temple, prayed to Vishnu for his darshan. The Bhagwan came to him in the guise of a mischievous little boy and defiled the idol that he kept for his pooja. Enraged, the sage chased away the boy, who disappeared in front of his eyes.
After searching high and low, the sage was walking on the banks of the Arabian Sea, when he heard a pulaya (untouchable) lady threatening a child that she would throw him in the Ananthakadu. The moment he heard the word “Ananthakadu”, he was elated and enquired from the lady as to how he could reach the place. He then went there, hoping that he could find the boy in that place. Sure enough, he saw the boy merging into an Iluppa (Indian Butter) tree. The tree fell and became the Ananthashayana Moorthi (effigy) of Sri Vishnu.
The effigy, however, was extremely large, with Bhagwan’s head at Thiruvallom, his navel at Thiruvananthapuram, and His Lotus Feet at Thrippadapuram. This spanned about 8 miles in length. Dismayed, the sage requested the Bhagwaan to shrink in size. Immediately, Prabhu shrank to the form that can currently be seen at the Padmanabhaswamy temple.
The sage saw the Prabhu in the above-mentioned three parts. He prayed to Bhagwan to be forgiven for his sins and offered rice kanji and uppumanga (mango in brine) placed in a coconut shell – he had obtained this from the pulaya woman.
He then took the assistance of the ruling king and some Brahmin households to construct a temple for Prabhu. This temple, which is located to the west of the Padmanabhaswamy temple, still stands as the Ananthakadu Nagaraja temple. Later, a Krishna temple was built over his Samadhi. This temple is known as the Vilvamangalam Sri Krishna Swami Temple.
One of the most important aspects of the temple is the “granta-pura” or the record-room, which is housed within the temple complex itself. This room was constructed in 1425 AD by the then Venad King Veera Iravi Iravi Varma. Over 30 lakhs of those documents from this Mathilakam had been donated to the Archives Department in 1867. Only a small fraction of cadjan leaf (bundles of coconut palm leaves) records have been deciphered. The scripts are in proto-Tamil and archaic Malayalam, which makes them difficult to understand and translate. The rest is lying unread at the Archives Department.
Temple Vaults and Assets
While the temple and its assets were controlled by a trust headed by the Royal Family of Travancore in the past, the Supreme Court of India has now radically changed the workings of the management. In 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the Archaeology Department to open several secret chambers of the temple, which were kept under lock and key in the past. The temple has six hitherto known Kallaras (vaults), labeled from A to F. In April 2014, 2 more subterranean vaults had been discovered and they have been named G and H.
While A was probably opened in the 1930s and vaults C to F have been opened and accessed from time to time, vault B has never been opened for centuries. Vaults A, C, D, E, and F were found to contain a three-and-a-half-foot tall solid idol of Mahavishnu, crafted in pure gold. This moorthi was studded with hundreds of diamonds, rubies, and other precious gems. Apart from this, there was an 18-foot long pure gold chain, a 500-kilo gold sheaf, a 36-kilo golden veil, 1200 gold chains embedded with precious stones and several hundreds of 18th-century Napoleonic era coins, golden coins from the Roman Empire, gems, precious stones, artifacts, and other objects. These findings proved that the Padmanabhaswamy Temple is the wealthiest place of worship in the whole world.
The Mystery of the Unopened Vault B
Though all the other vaults have been opened several times, vault B has never been tampered with. The Trust members, the rest of the Royal Family, and leading astrologers consider that chamber to be mysterious, sacred, and risky (or even dangerous) to open. The chamber is considered to be shut with the help of 16th-century Siddhas (people with yogic powers), who shut it permanently with the means of powerful mantras such as ‘naga bandham’ or ‘naga paasam’
It is believed that this door can be opened only by a highly erudite sadhu, tantric, or mantrika, who have adequate knowledge of the ‘garuda mantra’, which is the only chant that can successfully extricate the powers of the ‘naga bandham’. It is believed that, in that case, the doors would unlock automatically, without needing any force to be put on it. Legend further states that if any ordinary human being attempts to open it with technology, terrible catastrophes are likely to occur in the temple or even in the whole of India.
As per legend, hunters tried to invade and loot the temple somewhere in the 1930s. However, their attempts were foiled when huge deadly serpents came out of hiding and drove them out.