We had to be appropriately dressed for a visit to the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum. I had to be clad in a saree and my husband in a dhoti – both legs covered – that was the requirement. No, salwars and trousers would not do – we were sternly told.
The temple is a spectacular sight and to those who may balk at the sartorial requirements, let me tell you it is well worth the effort. It looks like a city — with huge pillars, neatly laid pathways and exquisite sculptures – of mythic proportions.
The idol of Vishnu inside the temple is massive – 18 feet long, we were told. He is resting on the serpent Ananta Naga and has a lotus rising from his navel on which sits Brahma. The idol is breathtaking but this story that I heard at the temple was just as fascinating…
Somewhere in Mangalore there lived a rishi called Divakar. He was a Vishnu bhakt. One day as he finished his daily prayers and was walking back home, he saw a small boy playing under a tree. Divakar was drawn towards him for some strange reason. He walked up to him and after a brief moment of hesitation, he asked the boy to come home with him. The boy agreed easily but he had one condition: none could question his ways. He said that if Divakar raised his voice or asked him to explain his actions, he would leave. Divakar agreed but the condition had him worried. Soon after the boy came home he would worry about where the boy had lived before coming to his house and who his parents were and such other things. Also Divakar was on tenterhooks all the time, afraid that the boy would vanish just as suddenly as he had appeared.
One day as Divakar was busy with his prayers, the boy came and sat beside him and began playing with the shaligram (a black stone believed to be a symbol of Vishnu). He then looked at Divakar and bit the stone. Divakar flew into a rage. He shouted at the boy who reminded him that he had broken his word. The boy would have to leave but before he disappeared, he told Divakar that the sage would find him at Ananthan Kadu (the spot at which the temple stands today in Trivandrum), a dense forest where the snakes lived.
Divakar rushed to the spot and saw the boy getting into the trunk of a large tree. Before he could reach out and grab the child, the tree crashed to the ground in the form of the sleeping Vishnu. He lay on the Anantha Naga and from his navel emerged a lotus on which sat Brahma the creator. This is the idol that is worshipped even today in the Padmanabhaswamy temple.