Anizham Thirunal Veera Bala Marthanda Varma the Great, was born as the son of Junior Rani of Attingal, Queen Karthika Thirunal and Kilimanoor Koil Thampuran. From a puerile age of fourteen itself, he displayed extraordinary ability in administrative affairs and shrewd assessment of people which helped him in setting right the political turmoil, the Kingdom of Venad was experiencing at that time. Even as a prince, young Marthanda Varma was adept at disguising himself and travelling within the Kingdom to detect insurgency or disloyalty which was considerable especially from the local Nair landlords in “Ettu Veetil Pillamars” who had prehended all the potencies of the Kingdom by taking advantage of the political turmoil, Venad was going through.
After he became the King at the age of twenty four in 1729 CE, the Maharaja was witnessing a number of rebellions against him and even many attempts to murder him by the Pillamars. It is in the background of turmoil and anarchy that this supreme devotee of Padmanabhaswamy started his rule.
The first major corrective action initiated by the Maharaja was to attack the nerve center of disloyalty – the Potties of Ettara Yogam managing the administrative affairs of the temple and the Ettu Veetil Pillamars whose loyalty prevaricated with the Potties. Together, through many actions of maladministration of temple properties and affairs, these two factions had established their political supremacy in the land of Venad. With the divine help of Lord Krishna who protected his life at Neyyatinkara and astute diplomacy, the Maharaja was finally able to strip the powers of Yogam putting an end to mismanagement of the temple. He then created a separate Yogam with representatives of the people associated with the temple along with him for its congruous administration.
It was the desire of Marthanda Varma even before he ascended the Throne, to renovate the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple which had witnessed severe damages by fire which occurred in temple on 1686 CE. On becoming the Maharaja, Marthanda Varma immediately began the process of renovation of the temple. It is very important to keep in mind that Marthanda Varma did not alter the original structures and layout of the temple but only renovated them. The only major innovation was the replacement of wood with granite in order to negate the susceptibility of temple to fire, taking into account the rigorous destruction caused to the temple by the fire in 1686 CE. There were no alterations to the old structures which were renovated as the replicas of the original structures. However, the Maharaja added many new mandapams and other structures to this historically important temple premises without perturbing its antediluvian structures.
The renovation work of the temple commenced on March 1730 CE as a result of which the murti of Sree Padmanabhaswamy was shifted to Balalayam. Inscriptions dealing with this renovation can be found in different parts of the temple. Despite of being an able warrior who vanquished many invaders like the Dutch in battles and united the entire region of southern Kerala to establish a Dharma Rajya, Marthanda Varma would often leave the responsibility of battle on the hands of his able nephew Rama Varma and Dewan (Prime Minister) Ramayyan Dalawa, whenever his presence was required in the temple to oversee the renovation activities.
The priorities of this supreme devotee of Padmanabhaswamy always rested on the temple, irrespective of the situation. In order to understand the minute aspects of the temple in detail for restoring it as it was, Marthanda Varma ordered all scrolls available in the temple from 1325 CE to 1735 CE to be studied and a manual of procedure to be compiled. Comparing this act of renovation with the callous attitude of the current administrative committee appointed by the Supreme Court and the Executive Officer appointed Government of Kerala, which resulted in the destruction of ancient mandapams in Padmateertham during its renovation, it is rather sad to see that our ancient temples have been pushed to this lamentable situation.
The reclining murti of Sri Padmanabhaswamy was reconstructed with 12008 salagramas and coated with a special herbal mixture known as Katu-sarkara yogam. These salagramas were brought from Gandaki river in Nepal on elephant back in 1733 CE. It is stated that above 24000 salagramas were brought from Nepal but only 12008 were used to make the murti. The rest of the salagramas were put in a container and locked inside the vaults at Padmatheertam. This murti replaced the former murti made of wood, which had sustained minor damages in the fire which occurred in 1686 CE. Following this, the Kalasam ceremony (inauguration of worship after renovation) was performed in 1733 CE.
Marthanda Varma also enforced strict discipline in the temple. An unusual record of 1736 CE states that anyone found chewing betel leaf inside the temple premises was to be fined thirty six fanams (currency of Travancore). The year 1737 CE saw the construction of a special kitchen known as Palppayasa Madhom for preparing an offering known as Palppayasam made of rice, milk and sugar. One hundred an fifty litres of milk was used everyday for this purpose and the entire quantity would be given away for free to the devotees coming to the temple from different parts of the country.
The same year also saw the construction of Bhadradeepapura for performing salagrama pooja. This was originally started by the Maharaja to gain victory over Kayamkulam (an ally of Dutch). After the victory was achieved, the pooja is continued to be performed even today for the prosperity and protection of the country.
The year 1739 CE witnessed one of the major triumphs of Marthanda Varma in the construction of Sivelippura (corridors in which the deities are ceremoniously taken out in procession). This was an addition to the temple by the Marthanda Varma which was started and completed within a record period of less than seven months. This victory was achieved by the maharaja as a result of the vow he took when a siveli procession of the murtis during a temple festival was disturbed by rains. The Maharaja took a vow and proclaimed that with the blessings of Padmanabha, by the next festival which was about a bit more than six months away, he would have a cover provided for the procession. The immense sivelippura with four corridors and differently worked granite pillars each having a Deepalakshmi was constructed within that time with 4000 master craftsmen, 6000 labourers and about 100 elephants.
The day 20th January 1750 CE, stood witness to the act of sublime dedication and the greatest offering possible for a crowned monarch, carried out in supreme devotion – the Trippati Dhanam. Maharaja Anizham Thirunal Veera Bala Marthanda Varma arrived to the temple along with all his family members in the morning. In the presence of his trusted Dewan Ramayyan Dalawa and all other officials, along with the members of the Yogam, the Maharaja submitted his kingdom, along with his total right on it to Sri Padmanabhaswamy by a deed of gift carrying his signature.
He placed all the signs of his royalty in the crown, the royal umbrella, the twin white chauries (fans) and his sword which had lashed its valor in countless battlefields along with some tulsi leaves on the Ottakal Mandapam in front of Padmanabhaswamy. The King then received the sword from the high priest and returned to his palace. His directive that any further conquest of territory brought under the rule of Travancore by his successors should also be surrendered to Padmanabhaswamy was accepted and adhered to with great respect by his descendants.
This historic deed of surrender, by which Thrippati Danam was carried out, was drawn up in ancient Malayalam. The English translation of the deed is added below:
“We, Thrippappoor Keezhperur Veera Bala Marthanda Varma, Mootha Thiruvati (senior member) of Thripapoor and Sri Pandaravaka Cheyvarkal, have this day, wednesday, the 5th day of the month Thai, the seventh day of bright lunar fortnight with saturn residing in the eighth sign and jupiter in twelfth, Kollam 925, transfer by absolute gift and dedication, to endure as long as the sun and moon shall last, all the lands and functions appreciating thereto together will all rights and dignities, positions of honor and all other possessions that we have been hitherto enjoying as of right within the territories between the Thovala Fort in the East and the Kavana River in the west in favor of Sree Padmanabha Perumal. In token whereof we have this day executed this deed of absolute gift and dedication.”
This deed has been written in hand of the Melezhuthu Kanakkan (head clerk), a brahmin by the name Shankara Kumara Pattan.
Apart from different contributions and renovations, Marthanda Varma also started many welfare schemes in the temple. For example, annadanam was always an important activity in this temple but in Marthanda Varma’s time it assumed right royal proportions. A new Oottupura (cooking and dining area) was constructed in 1752 CE for this purpose. 92 paras of rice (equivalent to about 736 kgs) were cooked everyday in the temple, to feed thrice a day, the devotees and poor hindus visiting the temple. The Maharaja was deeply religious by nature and was lavish in offerings made to many other temples though the maximum attention was to Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.
The demise of his trusted Dewan Ramayyan Dalawa in 1756 CE shattered the lion heart of the Maharaja, as a result of which his energy and strength began to ebb. The 27th day of Mithunam 933 ME, corresponding to 7 July 1758 CE, dawned as a day of doom. The 53 year old Maharaja was sinking and realized that his end was fast approaching. He called his nephew and heir, Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma to his side and gave him two important instructions:
- That no deviation whatsoever should be made in regard to the dedication of the kingdom to Sri Padmanabha Swamy and that all further acquisitions should also be made over to Sri Padmanabha Perumal.
- That not a hair’s breadth of deterioration or deviation should be made in the established charities and the institutions connected with the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.
The deeply upset Yuvaraja gave his solemn assurance to his uncle that he would follow his directives completely. The Maharaja blessed him and in the midst of his sorrowful relatives, officers and attendants, passed away quietly with the words “Sree Padmanabha Swamy” on his lips. The temple records register that ceremonial silk to be draped on the mortal remains of the Maharaja was sent from Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple after being removed from the reclining murti of Padmanabhaswamy.
The contributions, services and devotion of Sri Padmanabhadasa Marthanda Varma still remain in the annals of the temple. It must be noted that the royal family of Travancore, staunchly followed the instructions of Marthanda Varma even in troubled times. After annexing his kingdom with Bharat and losing his ruling power, Sri Chithira Thirunal Maharaja used to spend a major portion of his Privy Purse earnings on the temple every year.
The family has been spending money on the temple and trying to maintain it in spite of the fact that huge tracts of lands were taken away from Sripadam Palace in 1969, from the temple in 1971 and the Privy Purse being abolished in 1971 – leading to financial distress for both royals and temples.
The Royal family has been spending their personal money for the maintenance and running of temple for several decades. Only post the opening of the vaults, has the temple become famous nationwide and we see more devotees pouring into the temple. The State Government of Kerala is currently paying an annual compensation of 58500 rupees (even that amount has not been paid in the past 2 years) for more than 12000 acres of the Sri Pandaravaraka lands belonging to the temple which it took over. As a result of this injustice along with the cut throat of funds which was caused to the royals by abolition of Privy purse, the amount of rice which was being cooked in oottuppura to serve the devotees and poor Hindus visiting the temple was reduced.
It must withal be noted that the secular government of Kerala is currently asking for the administrative control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple by citing this reduction in welfare schemes as mismanagement. The Amicus Curiae appointed by the Supreme Court, Mr. Gopal Subramaniam, in his endeavor to put the temple under the control of the secular government of Kerala has also been launching an unjust attack on the scions of Marthanda Varma, incriminating them, in his reports submitted in the court, for the blunders of the secular government of Kerala. Furthermore, it is also unfortunate that while we read chapters about tyrants like Akbar, Khilji etc., in our history books, we hardly even hear the names of the greatest defenders of our country like Marthanda Varma. Will this assailment on the the descendants of Marthanda Varma be answered by Hindus across the country? Or will they remain quiet and ignorant about this? Only time will tell..
- “Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple” – HH Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi