I have known the temple like the palm of my hand ever since I was old enough to enunciate the name as titled above. I remember accompanying thatha, who would take his time to pray at the many deity doors, while I would simply mimic him and watch him intrigued as he prostrated with his hefty self. And later when he grew a little too old to trudge the few yards that separated our home from the east entrance of the temple, it was with my childhood pals Nin and Nan, that Padmanabha swami kovil became part of our childhood like no other significant entity!
We visited every evening with Chachu akka. She is Nan’s aunt, but she is universally chachu akka for all of us. With her off we would go on our little sojourn, everytime hoping that the anjeneyar (hanuman) is adorned with vadais or covered with creamy white butter, and we could make our childish greedy eyes and get some on the banana leaves. It worked most of the time and the gripping smell of layers and layers of butter on that 10 foot hanuman still lingers as I type this!
We were masters in our piety; We knew the shortest routes to cover all the gods almost like the “travelling salesman problem”, which poojaris gave the most chandaman (sandalwood paste) that we could play with and smear on the ceilings, which teertham was the yummiest ( the warm panakam at narashimha moorthy was the best ), which sanctum was the most fun (krishnan’s which has a door that even children have to duck to get in, leading to many little labyrinths ).
No sooner had we completed our rounds, we would settle down to what we loved best — Now the sprawling open spaces of the temple are filled with white sand. It was still the same when i visited three years back. We knew which portion had the thickest sands and we would settle down to build our little castles and play our games. The evenings in a coastal country are effortlessly beautiful; one has to live to tell the tale! As we children played childishly, maamis would settle themselves around and we could catch a few traveling gossips in the sea breeze.
While our normal days were thus marked, we would wait and wait for the ‘sheeveli’ ( tiruvizha / festivities ) which usually fell in the month of november spanning almost a month. The gods mounted on beautiful flower laden chariots, carried by brawny men around the sanctum. They would be followed by “Darshini”, the elephant who was of course! the favorite among children. As darshini makes her appearance, hoards of children including the notorious three would start by walking behind her and by the third round, we would have gained enough over confidence to walk ahead of her and keep up with her! There were daring games played; that one must prostrate and get up just before the elephant’s foot was inches away from your head! Of course the mahout wouldn’t let anything untoward happen, but the evenings were thus spent in thrill and glory! 🙂
In the final moments of the day’s events when all the din from the festivities dies, the raaja comes in all modesty with hands folded in namaskaram, in a simple white mundu (veshti/dhoti) and just a simple gold chain adorning his bare chest; we would be beckoned by chachu akka to leave our play and hold our namaskarams to him. And that was our glimpse of the travancore royal family.
Many years later, when we three were too old to play castles in the sand, but thankfully never old enough to leave the comfort of the place we associated so much of our lives with, we would come to escape the lack of privacy at home that parents think no teenager should have. Then padmanabha swami’s home was our haven. We would just settle ourselves watching the world go by and children playing in the sand, talk incessantly about everything teenagers would! We had also given up the butter craving in fear of bursting pimples! 🙂 We had grown enough to questions the existence of God, but ironically never felt more at home than at God’s residence!
I want to be able to go back there one of these days, just to feel the peaceful aura that grips everytime I cross over the stones that mark the entrance. The musky smell of sea breeze, sand and old oil from the lamps that adorn the sanctum. The feel of the cold stone under my feet and the mysterious three door deity who smiles in the dark sanctum not giving himself to any worshiper completely! I wish the stories of wealth that this wonderful adobe is in the news for now, does not rip her of the conciliation that this edifice has always stood for, for the people of trivandrum. I wish the sanctuary of God, lives through all her resplendence to tell many tales like mine!