The Thiruvambadi Mandir within the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple where Sree Krishna is in the form of Parthasarathi, has a beautiful and fascinating history.
The Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir is located in the main complex of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Maha Kshetram. This part of the larger complex has had a deep impact on me. The attractive presence of Sree Krishna in the form of Parthasarathi, is naturally luring. This quality is further enhanced by a group of elderly ladies who sing bhajans every evening in the Namsakara Mandapam. Elegantly draped in traditional silk and cotton handloom sarees, the melodious singing of Bhaja Govindam and other devotional songs by them, seem to spellbind me every time that I have been fortunate enough to have darshan during evening hours. Listening to them my eyes were brimming with tears and their warm welcoming smiles were like the blessing of the Devi herself. The spirit of bhakti I sensed in these ladies is something to aspire for and we are lucky to have such living inspiration from ‘ordinary’ people, even today when much of our local traditions have either perished or have been subdued. It was way back in 1593 CE, during the reign of Ravi Ravi Varma, that past records mention the princesses attending bhajans at this very Mandir.
I often felt like sitting long periods near the Namaskara Mandapam of the Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy complex owing to the strong magnetic energy of the place. Later, on reading the book Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple by Aswathi Thirunal Thampuratti, I learned that this is indeed the oldest part of the Maha Kshetram that remains in its original form. Untouched by devouring fires that had taken place in the past, this portion was left as it was even during the large scale renovation that was done by Sree Padmanabha Dasa Marthanda Varma.
This Mandir has its own silver-plated flag mast (representative of Kundalini Shakti as per temple architecture) which was erected by Padmanabha Dasa ‘Dharmaraja’ Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma in 1763. It is now enclosed in silver. This is not a sub-shrine but an independently functioning mandir, in the Maha Kshetram complex. It has its own silver-plated Bali stone, that represents the Pranamaya kosa (sheath of life force). The Namaskara Mandapam, where the daily recitation of the Purans is done, is an architectural marvel that will leave anyone awe-struck. This part of the Mandir is considered the Vijnanamaya kosa or the center of knowledge. Its heavily carved pillars are of the post-Pallava style. The intricate and elaborately decorated rich rosewood ceiling of the mandapam depicts detailed scenes from our ancient tradition with several devis and devatas present on it. The Navagrahas carved on the ceiling are prominent. The fine work reflects that the artists were extraordinarily skilled masters. They gave form to such sublime concepts with utmost perfection.
As one approaches the main entrance for darshan, is hard to miss the prominent and well chiselled wood carvings of Hanuman ji, Garuda, and Venugopal, on the ceiling of the front platform (the Namaskara Mandapam), facing the Mandir. While there are several exquisite Hanuman ji figures seen in varied poses in the entire complex, this Hanuman ji carving, mentioned along-with Garud and Venugopal, is exceptionally striking. After having darshan of Parthasarathi, one can see bhakts do pranam to him on their way out of the Mandir.
Sree Hanuman and Parthasarathi – the connection
There is a fascinating legend behind the Hanuman ji figure and its link with Sree Krishna as Parthasarathi. It is believed that Arjun was on a teerath yatra to Rameshwaram. On discovering that the bridge built across to Lanka by monkeys, he wondered why Bhagawan Ram did not make it himself with his divinely charged arrows. Soon, a young monkey appeared and told Arjun that a bridge made with the arrows would not bear the physical weight of his ancestors. In response, the valiant warrior Arjun told him that he could surely make such a bridge with his arrows. The monkey challenged Arjun with a warning that such a bridge would not even carry his own lightweight. They had a bet keeping the condition that on Arjun’s victory, the monkey would become his servant. And, if the monkey won, Arjun would sacrifice his life by jumping into the fire. Without any delay, Arjun confidently started constructing the bridge with his powerful arrows. Now its strength was put to trial. The moment the monkey stepped on it, the bridge collapsed. This was attempted three times. As committed, Arjun began to prepare the fire to jump into, keeping his word. Just as he was about to surrender his body to the hungry flames, a young brahmin boy came running towards him and stopped him from doing so. The boy said that the challenge was invalid since there was no third party as a witness when the condition was being set. The entire procedure of the challenge and bet was recommenced before this brahmin boy as the neutral “third party”. However, this time the outcome was different. When the arrow bridge was put to test, the monkey did not drown as before. Both Arjun and the young monkey (who was actually Hanuman ji) realized at the same time that the young boy was none other Maha Vishnu himself. They prostrated at the feet of the boy, with the names of Sree Ram and Sree Krishna on their lips. This entire episode was for both the brave warriors to keep their growing egos in check. After this, Hanuman ji offered to be present as the emblem of the flag of the Pandavas, if a war was to occur with the Kauravas. During the Mahabharata war, it is so believed that Hanuman ji was silently present in this form, as Krishna took up the role of the sarathi (charioteer) of Partha (Arjun). The lesson taught here is that a bloated ego is an obstacle to our evolution and has to be kept in check. The connection between Parthasarathi and Hanuman ji is visible at the Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir.
A brief description
The outer walls of the Mandir are fully covered with lamps called Villaku Madom. As one enters the Mandir door, one immediately notices the attractive Gaja Lakshmi carved on the top in granite. After entering this door, one is led to the Sopanam (stone steps leading to the platform in front of the shrine) that reaches the two-roomed sanctum. It is interesting to note that the sanctum-sanctorum is guarded by Dwarapalikas who are weaponless and stand in service of Bhagawan Sree Krishna.
The murti of Parthasarathi is of medium size and made of granite. I have seen him elegantly covered in chandan in the evening hours. Standing, the radiant faced Parthasarathi holds his Panchajanya conch in his left hand that is lowered. In his raised right fist, he clasps the whip, as the charioteer. His crown beautifully holds peacock feathers at the centre. Since this divine abode of Sree Padmanabha Swamy attracts devotees from the world over, darshan is usually a fairly quick process during evenings, although the crowd is not very heavy. Just to get another brief glimpse of the mesmerizing face of Parthasarthi, I have often stood in the short queue several times during a single visit.
A very unique feature of the Mandir is, that on Ekadashi, Sree Krishna Swamy is decorated as the enticing and gorgeous Mohini avatar of Maha Vishnu. I am yet to witness this. The outer walls of the sanctum are beautified with fine mural paintings depicting the cherished childhood scenes of Krishna.
Although this is just a short description, no matter how much detail one may dive into, words cannot express artistic splendour and the energetic charge of the Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir. It is something to be experienced. The impression that would then be etched in the heart would be internal and everlasting. The origin of the Mandir that follows, itself is awe-inspiring.
Origin and History of Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir
There is an ancient legend about the origin of the Thiruvambadi Mandir. A port town called Lothal thrived on the banks of Sindhu river (Indus). This was a place of a great civilization from where Divakara Muni hailed(now Gujarat). This is verified through archaeological evidence. On the decline of this city, people migrated to Dwaraka and further south. Krishna Varman of the Vrishni Kshatriya clan (decedents of Sree Krishna) led the people. It is believed that they had to face very difficult circumstances during the journey and at that time, Sree Krishna Swamy appeared in the dream of the leader Krishna Varman. He was directed by Sree Krishna to move southward to Ananthasayana Nagari (the abode of Sree Padmanabha Swamy) with seventy-two families and was told that Bhagawan himself would be present to protect them.
On their arrival at Venad, Sree Krishna worship was revived in the region. This migration has been confirmed by historians. Now in Tamil Nadu, Padmanabhapuram that was then the capital of Travancore still has descendents of these Gujarati immigrants. These people brought the murti of Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir, several centuries ago. Divakara Muni was the sant who is said to have accompanied the murti. The name “Thiruvambadi” is the same as the mandir of their hometown where they came down south from. The murti, that came with a salagram, to Thiruvananthapuram displayed great power. During the rule of Udaya Marthanda Varma (9th century), the sthapana of the murti brought by the Krishna Vamsakar was done in the presence of the Swamiyar and the feudal lords. This was in the first Malayalam Era (ME), 5thof the Chingam star Thiru Onam (first ME since it was exactly the same time that the Malayalam calendar or Malayalam Era was introduced by the King).
While the murti was consecrated in the 9th century by Udaya Marthanda Varma, records from ancient history also show, the Venad ruler, Veera Adithya Varma (1168 CE) got the Mandapam of the Mandir constructed and established the murti of Sree Krishna Swamy there (possibly this was done again due to construction that was undertaken, as I understand). He made several extravagant gifts like salagrams, gold coins, and paddy to the Mandir. Later, in 1375 CE, Sarvanganathan Adithya Varma constructed a goshala right around the Mandir as well as a deepagraham, as per inscriptions found in the Mandir itself. Since the goshala was right around the Mandir, Sree Krishna was also known as Goshala Krishna. The Namaskara Mandapam known for its architectural brilliance was also made by Sarvanganathan Adithya Varma.
It is indeed a blessing that today, we see the same ancient murti from the 9th century, at Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir. It is unthinkable what all Prathasarathi in the form of this murti might have witnessed over the ages.
Currently (Aug-Sept 2020) we are in the month of Chingam (Malayalam calendar) when Sree Krishna was born. It is a special time for all who have had their heart stolen by his divine grace.
Ashtami Rohini at Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir
On Ashtami Rohini (Chingam month), the birth of Sree Krishna is celebrated with much enthusiasm across Kerala. While sometimes this coincides with the lunar calendar, this year (2020), Ashtami Rohini falls on September 10, much after Janamashtami that was celebrated in the rest of the country. On this day, the Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy Mandir is adorned with special decorations and is opened early in the afternoon. Devotees can have darshan and witness the milk Abhishekam done for Sree Krishna at 2:30 pm. An ivory cradle is decorated and put at the Abhisravana Mandapam which is the area in front of the Ottakkal Mandapam of the sanctum sanctorum of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Mandir. All the Krishna murtis from the Mandir are placed in this cradle. Several couples wishing for children come to take blessings for an offspring, during this special ceremony.
This year, of course, things would be different due to COVID 19. However, I would hope that many of us can have darshan of Thiruvambadi Sree Krishna Swamy and the benevolent Sree Padmanabha Swamy, in times to come.
References/ Footnotes –
- Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi – Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. 4th ed, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 2018, ISBN 978-81-7276-479-1
* Kindly note that Thiruvambadi is also spelled as Thiru Ampati.