The dasas of Sree Padmanabha have for millenia been in service of their master.
The recent historical verdict given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on July 13, 2020, has restored the position of the Head of the Travancore Royal Family as the Shebait of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. As we Hindus of Bharat strive to free our temples from government control, this verdict is of great significance to us.
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple has been in the limelight since the year 2011 when its huge material treasures were discovered and it was proclaimed as the richest temple in the world. Most of us would also know that the name of the capital city of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, has been derived from the Deity’s majestic presence. Thiruvananthapuram means the ‘city of Ananta’ or the city of the One (Maha Vishnu or Padmanabha) who reclines on Ananta – the Serpent King.
For many of us who haven’t yet started excavating the land of the countless treasures we unknowingly sit upon, it may be a matter of wonder as to why the role of the Royal family of Travancore is of so much importance in relation with the Temple. In post-independence India, our school history books barely and very selectively expose us to information on the rulers of erstwhile princely states and hardly touch upon the awe-inspiring sagas of the temples of Bharat. While it is a blessing for India to be the world’s largest democracy, it is crucial for us to know a bit more about our past and the Hindu rulers who were once recognized for their great service to Dharma.
The ancient Hindu shastras, give detailed descriptions about the responsibilities and duties of a ruler towards his land, his people, and towards the protection of dharma which included the preservation of our sacred temples and spaces. In our Itihasas, Ramayana and Mahabharata, wars have been waged to uphold dharma as high emphasis has been given to righteousness. Fair taxation and legal systems, welfare and protection of people, lands, and nature; patronizing arts, literature, etc., have been indispensable functions of the Hindu rulers. Our warriors and kings protected the spiritual aspects of life too and followed high ideals. The view of Sanatana Dharma is a holistic one, in all aspects. The kings opened up their land and resources generously to those seeking refuge and fought bravely to defend their own territory. The Itihasas show that wherever the kings fell short of dharmic ruling or maliciously deviated from the path of dharma, their destruction was inevitable. It is then, not a matter of surprise that there would be a strong link between the Hindu rulers and a temple of such prominence – Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Despite the drastic change of fate and the agonizing current scenario where our Deities and places of worship are left at the mercy of encroaching secular governments, the Royal Family of Travancore continues to serve its master Sree Padmanabha Swamy in whatever capacity possible. Their priceless heritage has been the position of a ‘Dasa’ of Sree Padmanabha Swamy. This term ‘Dasa’, while understood as servant or slave in simplistic terms, has a very profound meaning. Aswathi Thirunal Thampuratti (the niece of the H.H. Sree Padmanabha Dasa Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma) beautifully explains that while a servant can leave his master, a slave is forever bound to the master. He does not carry any separate identity. And while, ordinarily, slavery implies forced and harsh bondage, in this context the position of a slave or dasa has been voluntarily and emotionally embraced. It is a ‘majestic slavery’ born out of submission to the beloved and revered Sree Padmanabha Swamy.
The dasas of Sree Padmanabha Swamy have been existence since ancient times. The rulers of the bygone era worshipped Sree Padmanabha Swamy as their Ishta Devata and later as the Sovereign Devata. They were deeply involved in service to the Lord and the Temple. While there is no accurate record on exactly when the usage of the title ‘Sree Padmanabha Dasa’ was assumed in ancient history, there has been clear mention of this title in the 16th century and onwards.
Aswathi Thirunal Thampuratti’s book ‘Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple’ is dedicated to Sree Padmanabha Swamy and her uncle, Sree Padmanabha Dasa Maharaja Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma. This book is the primary inspiration and reference source for the series of essays that shall follow this introduction. It is indeed a ‘pilgrimage’ through its pages as the Princess rightly states and if may I add, it has been the same for me too. I personally have an intimate spiritual connection with the Temple, particularly with the Thiru Ampati Sree Krishna Temple, which today is the oldest existing part of the temple complex. As I began to read this book, a strong force from within compelled me to pen down this series.
The attempt is to explore, starting from ancient times to the last dasa in power, the Dasas of Sree Padmanabha Swamy. As we traverse through ancient history, the focus will be only on the link of the rulers with the Temple but further on, we shall discover the important events and momentous contributions made by the kings and queens in the development and modernization of their State. The series of essays have been kept as simple and brief and each section may also be read independently, if the reader desires.
I invite you to join me in this little ‘pilgrimage’ through the series of six essays (including this introduction) called The Eternal Dasas of Sree Padmanabha Swamy. Let us discover some unknown chambers of the past as the essays throw light upon the less explored inscriptions over time. These records have been safely preserved in pages of Aswathi Thirunal Thampuratti’s exhaustive and well-researched book. The masterpiece has drawn a large portion of its references from the ancient cadjan(palm-leaf) scrolls of none other but the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Continued in Part 2
References / Footnotes
1. Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi – Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. 4th ed, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 2018, ISBN 978-81-7276-479-1
2. David Frawley – Arise Arjuna: Hinduism and The Modern World, eBook compiled by firstname.lastname@example.org, ISBN: 81-85990-27-1
3. Pragyata Staff – Report: Padmanabhaswamy Temple Verdict – What it means for a Hindu society, 15 July 2020