Various rulers across kingdoms have been in service of Sree Padmanabha Swamy.
Continued from Part 1
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple has been the oldest recorded inhabited area of South India from a historical and religious point of view. It is one of the 108 Thiruppathies of Bharatha Varsham as acclaimed by the Alvars. In modern times, Sree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu hailed Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as one of the six Narayana Sthalas.
The oldest records of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple have been found in the Itihasas and Puranas including those relating to Sree Krishna, which pre-date Christ by ages. The Varaha Purana, for example, refers to the temple as Sree Syanandoora Purusha and the ancient city as Syanandoora Anantasayana Puram is another name of the city derived from the Deity, mentioned in the Brahma Purana.
The temple was always considered a Maha Kshetram and the royal connections through history have positioned it on a very high pedestal. According to some Tamil scholars, the oldest known royal links with the Temple were that of the Ay Kings. The Royal family of Travancore traces its origin to the Ays and the Chera rulers.
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple was also referred to as Yadavendra-kuladaivam by the Aye and Venad rulers who followed (records going back to 3rd Century BCE)1. Their descent is from the Chandra Vansham – the Yadava Kshatriyas of the dynasty of Sree Krishna. Ancient Tamil literature called Patirruppattu (2 century CE)2 mentions Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple with reference to the Arat or Aarattu procession of Sree Padmanabha to the seashore which is done even now.
What follows is a brief summary, highlighting the connection of the kings from the ancient times to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
The Second Chera Empire (8th century CE) marked the golden age of the land. In 731 CE3 Veera Marthanda Varma performed the Hiranyagarbham – a lavish royal offering, and Thulapurusha Danam – free distribution of gold equal to one’s weight to the Brahmins. These were the two most important royal traditions that were followed by the kings from ancient times and continued through the modern era.
Sree Udaya Marthada Varma, way back in 825 CE4, made new astrological researches and it was resolved to adopt the ‘new era’ from the 1st Chingom of that year, as the 1st Kollam year and to call it the solar year (the exact date of commencement of Kollam era is a disputed issue). Rules and ordinances for the conduct of all pujas at the Temple according to the New Malayalam Era was done. These are largely still in force in the Temple5.
Kulasekhara Varma alias Kulasekhara Alvar was such a great devotee of Vishnu that he is considered as one of the 12 great Alvars (Vaishnavite saints). He composed several literary works including the famous and widely sung Mukunda Mala Stotra which is known for its simple yet sophisticated expression of love and bhakti towards Sree Krishna.
Kulasekhara Alvar was followed later by the ruler Rajashekhara Varman alias Cheraman Perumal Nayanar who became known as one of the 63 great Saivite saints or Nayanars. He was known to be a Siddha and was also a great poet and musician. There are several interesting stories around this devotee of Siva. The kings being given the status of renowned saints shows how exalted may have been their devotion to Sree Padmanabha.
In 1050 CE, the first known renovation of the Temple was done by ‘Cheraman Perumal’. Later, Bhaskara Ravi Varma III 6 created a constitution for the Temple. It exists even now without much alteration. His devotion was so strong that he himself was regarded as an incarnation of Maha Vishnu. The Chera kings who followed were also deeply involved in the Temple through devotion, grand offerings, preservation, maintenance activities and more. The title “Koil Adhikarikal” used by Rama Varma Koil Adhikarikal Kulasekhara literally means one who is in command of temples. This duty was given such importance by him that this title was added to his name.
The Venad Rulers
Veera Kerala Varma (1125-1155 CE)7 re-built parts of the Temple. It is the second known renovation during this period, although the capital city was elsewhere. Veera Adithya Varma (1168 CE) made extravagant contributions to the Sree Mitranandapuram Temples in Thiruvananthapuram that were part of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. He also got the Mandapam of the Temple set up and established the murti of Sree Krishna. The King made several extravagant offerings like Salagramas and gold coins. The Tantri (the most authoritative pandit of the highest position) of the Temple was appointed by him – showing the extent of the involvement of the royal family with the Temple affairs. Syanandoora Purana Samuchayam is a well-known Sanskrit work done by his court poet and was offered to Sree Padmanabha on the order of the King.
In 1179 CE, Sree Udaya Marthanda Varma moved his palace from Kollam to Thiruvananthapuram compelled by his intense devotion to Sree Padmanabha. This further entrenched the connection between the ruling families and the Temple. He gave many gifts of land to the Temple. Around the early 1200s, the important Thiruvallam Sree Parasuramaswamy Temple too came under Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple – including the Thiruvallam river and its Pithru Teertham.
Ravi Kerala Varma (1215-1240 CE) was personally involved in matters of the Temple. His successor Thrippappoor Moopan 8 administered all the temples in the kingdom as well as Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Later, the capital seemed to have shifted for various reasons. However, the involvement in the Temple persisted.
From the selected few mentions in this brief essay, it is very clear that royal links with the Temple have been nurtured since time immemorial. The kings have played a valuable role in the upkeep of the Temple and have worshipped Sree Padmanabha Swamy. The status of the Temple has remained unparalleled over the ages as various dynasties emerged and dissolved through the sands of time.
What is fascinating is, that most of the significant practices, rituals and festivals that were done in these olden times are alive even today – reflecting the uninterrupted might of the Temple and devotion of the great Hindu rulers who reigned the land.
What follows in the next section is the glorious reign of the king ‘Sangramadheera’ Ravi Varma Kulasekhara (1299-1313 CE) and his successors. It is a phase where the eternal link of the Temple and the Dasas was sealed permanently through several fascinating events that shall be touched upon. The period saw the rule of illustrious kings who defended the kingdom from ruthless Islamic invaders and served the land and people of Sree Padmanabha Swamy with an intense spirit of reverence.
Continued in Part 3
References / Footnotes
I. Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi – Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. 4th ed, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 2018, ISBN 978-81-7276-479-1
1. Dr.A.G Menon – History of Sri Padmanabhasvami Temple till 1758
2. M. Raghava Aiyangar – Some Apects of Kerala and Tamil Literature
3. Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon – A Survey of Kerala History
4. i) P.Shangoonny Menon – A History of Travancore ii) Temple Manual
5. i) Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Manual ii) P.Shangoonny Menon – A History of Travancore
6. i) Mathilkam Manual ii) Dr.V.S Sharma – Tiruvithamcoor Rajavamsham
7. i) Syanandoorapurana Samuchayam – 343 ME/ 1168 AD ii) Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon – A Survey of Kerala History
8. R.V.Poduval – The Royal House of Travancore