Here is a book poetically entitled “Thulasi Garland” by Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bai of the Travancore royal family. Her earlier
book on the famous Padmanabhaswami Temple of Thiruvananthapuram, capital of Kerala, namely “Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple, a Bhavan’s
Publication, was an outstanding research work well received by the public. ‘Thulasi Garland’ is a similar book on thirty-three temples of the
former Travancore State, now absorbed in the Indian state of Kerala. The temples covered are from Kanyakumari, now in Tamil Nadu, in the
south to Aroor in the north. The book deals with the origin, evolution, history, legend, structure, and special rituals connected with these
temples. It is a product of much research work; and the origin of some temples goes far into the first century before Christ.
These temples have played a great part in the life of our people. Their only limitation and negative approach were twofold, namely, the
exclusion of millions of faithful untouchables from the services of these temples, and disrespect and utter unconcern for God hidden in human
beings and seeing God only in an idol in the temple. Swami Vivekananda exposed these two evils in the end of the last century and expounded the
Vedantic truth of the inherent divinity of every human being, irrespective of caste, creed, race, or sex, and taught us to make service as the best
form of all inter-human relationships. Later, the then Maharaja of Travancore issued the famous Temple Entry Proclamation, opening all temples
in the state to the untouchables in 1936.
God in His incarnation as Kapila had proclaimed, as given in the third book “Srimad Bhagavatam”, that ‘He is not pleased with the
worship of Him in an idol, through rituals using costly materials, if behind it there is insult and neglect of Him present in all living beings’.
Therefore, Kapila said (3.29.27):
‘Therefore, worship Me, Who exist in all beings and has built a temple for Myself in them, through dana and mama, i.e., removing the
felt wants of people and doing so with respect to the receipient, and in an attitude of ‘maitrya abhinnena chakshusha - friendliness and
This teaching is reinforced in the modern age by Sri Ramakrishna when he taught: ‘Every Jiva (soul) is Siva; service of the Jiva is
worship of Siva’
India herself calls her religion not Hinduism but Sanatana Dharma, Eternal Dharma. It is based not on any person but on a set of
impersonal spiritual truths realized by the sages, among whom were women also. And, persons, gigantic spiritual teachers, have come as
illustrations of these spiritual truths later on. When I visited foreign countries like Spain or Philippines some years ago, I found People there
calling all visitors from India, whether Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, as Hindus.
The Mundaka Upanishad speaks of two sciences to be mastered by man, namely, apara vidya, lower science or positivistic physical
Science, dealing with the perishable aspects of nature, and para vidya, higher science, dealing with the Imperishable Reality, the Aksharam, the
one source of the kshara or perishable universe and its final end. The Upanishads called it Brahman or Atman, the impersonal - Personal Reality,
which is ‘satyam, jnanam, anantam’ - Truth, Pure consciousness, and Infinity, which exists in all beings, and ‘for the realisation of which human
beings possess the organic capacity’ - Brahmavaloka dhishanam, as the “Srimad Bhagavatam” expresses it. (11.2.28). Not being based on a few
dogmas but on a few tested spiritual truths, the Sanatana Dharma, also called Vedanta, encourages questioning its teachings, like any science, and
unlike other religions. Truths alone can stand questioning, dogmas cannot.
Over four thousand years ago, the ‘Rig-Veda’ proclaimed a profound Truth which has made India the home of harmony of religions
practiced by the people and by her various political states, including the great third century B.C. Mauryan Empire of Ashoka: ‘Ekam sat, vipra
bahudha vadanti’ - ‘Truth is one, sages call it by various names’ - Sri Ramakrishna has reinforced this message of harmony in our own times.
Swami Vivekananda emphasised this fact in the very opening words of his speech at the 1893 Chicago World Parliament of Religions: ‘I am
proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance’. And Vedanta extends this tolerance and
universal acceptance’. And Vedanta extends this tolerance to atheism and agnosticism as well. Swami Vivekananda once said that the best period
of Indian history was then when an atheist, standing on the steps of a Hindu temple, will be criticizing temple worship while worshippers, without
doing any harm to him, will enter the temple to worship.
Modern Western civilization has no understanding of the human being in his or her spiritual dimension. This is because of the hold of
the philosophy of materialism and the consequent decline of religion in the West; its civilization is sensate, as the late Sorokin of the Harvard
University has characterized it in his book “Reconstuction of Humanity”, a Bhavan’s Publication. This limitations leads to unchecked
consumerism, which led to the decay and fall of the mighty Roman Empire, which has started devastating Western civilization and has begun to
invade India as well. But in India today, Vedanta is strong enough to withstand this materialistic wave through the growing influence of Sri
Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, whom Romain Rolland described as the “Splendid Symphony of the Universal Soul”. Sri C.
Rajagopalachari had said in a lecture in Madras that “Vivekananda saved Hinduism and saved India’. Religion is defined by Swami Vivekananda as
‘the manifestation of the Divinity already within man’, within all human beings. He has also expounded the central teaching of Vedanta in these
two sentences: ‘Each soul is potentially Divine; the goal (of life) is manifest this Divine within, by controlling nature, external and internal’.
By discovering the Imperishable and non-dual Brahman as the source of the universe by the sages of the Upanishads and by a
succession of great spiritual personalities in succeeding ages, India herself has become immortal. The temples of ‘Sanatana Dharma’ are entirely
non-political; the same cannot be said of churches and mosques. In the modern age, with the development of a democratic and egalitarian social
order, India is going to be, as the twenty-first century advances, the dynamic centre of spiritual development, with power to influence the whole
world, and the world also welcomes that wholesome influence. Along with decay of formal religion, there is growth of spiritual hunger in the
When churches are closing down in many Western countries and in Australia, and narrow and violent fundamentalism is rocking
several Muslim countries, new temples are coming up in India, also new churches and new mosques; all the world religions will soon find in
India a favourable atmosphere to serve the spiritual interests of their followers.
Even the late agnostic Bertrand Russell, in his post-war book on the ‘Impact of Science on Society’, has deplored the spiritual poverty
of modern humanity and demanded ‘the development of a little love in the human heart, I am ashamed to say, a little Christian love’. In human
life, love can find expression in different levels; and Vedanta treats all values as spiritual and spiritual realisation as the goal of human
The love of God and love of man, what India calls bhakti, of the Christian mystic, the Muslim Sufi mystic, the Jewish mystic, and the
Hindu mystic speak the same language of unity and harmony. Bhakti is defined by Narada Bhakti Sutras as parama prema rupa, of the nature of
Pure Love Supreme’. Modern India has released in the modern age, through Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, and Swami
Vivekananda, a barrage of spiritual and humanistic energies of bhakti and jnana. The impact of these energies will be experienced, slowly and
silently, by the people of India and abroad in the coming decades and centuries, even though the present thought atmosphere of the world is not
hope-inspiring. Christian spirituality, Muslim spirituality, Jewish spirituality, and Hindu spirituality will flow together to enrich human life in all
countries and save the otherwise rich modern Western civilization from the Roman experience of decay and death. There is every possibility of
the ancient prediction made by the ‘Bhaagavata Mahatmya’ of the Padma Puraana, Uttara Khanda (2.3) becoming realized all over the world in
this modern age of global awareness and global seeking:
‘Then shall take place the sport of “bhakti”, as the conveyer of the delight of pure love, and endowed with jnana and vairagya (spiritual
knowledge and sensory detachment), in every home and every human heart’.
The ancient temples studied in this book, and those existing elsewhere in India, as well as the modern temples, will continue to serve
the people spiritually, with less and less stress on myths and rituals and more and more stress on the spiritual growth and development,
‘atma-vikasa’ of all human beings, which is the goal of evolution at the human stage, according to Vedanta.
There exists a great energy pattern that traverses and impregnates the entire cosmic creation. It can be experienced through mental, physical and
spiritual agencies according to individual vision. While form in divinity is not imperative, divinity in form is the most perceivable. As such while
it may appear as a contradiction in terms, expansion of divinity is best comprehended in its concentration, in the transformation of the subtle to
the gross, from the Nirguna to the Saguna. Consequently from the dawn of civilization man identified a Power above and beyond himself on
which he laid the responsibility for the multifaced fortunes of life. In the quest to discover and absorb God and Godliness he started on his
pilgrims progress aeons back. Nature worship evolved as a natural outcome and held in its embrace a veneration of the elements and objects of
nature like sun, moon, rain, fire etc., rivers, trees and shrubs as well as other life forms including birds, animals and reptiles to finally reach the
wonder-world of the divinities. While many of these divines possessed human forms, invariably they were with some significant differences like
four arms, three eyes or with some animal or bird as a vehicle while would set them apart from the ordinary run of mortals. It was but a natural
corollary that when the nomadic man put down his roots, he set about erecting a roof for the superhuman powers to reside. In course of time
they became their sacred shrines.
According to some scholars, structural temples of Kerala in their accepted form come into being around the 8th century A.D.
Acceptance or rejection of this point does not fall within the confines of this book, However it has to be heavily underscored that the vast
majority of divinities enshrined within temples have Sthala Puranas reaching into the dim eras of Incarnations and Puranas, some even retreating
into the misty spheres of another Yuga. As such the existence of Divinity in specified concepts and consecrations cannot be brought down to a
comparatively young age. Hinduism is the most ancient of all religions; consequently Hindu worship also takes on great age. While physical
abodes might have undergone changes, the antiquity of the divinity within remained unaffected.
It is held by some experts that Kerala temples evolved from ‘Nalukettus’ which are the traditional Malayalee houses, but with
essential alterations. This theory is supported by the affinity seen in the scales of measurement and constructional patterns and prominently in
the balancing of light and space.
Majority of states of the sub-continent of Bharata have developed their distinctive style of Vastu Vidya for architecture in temple
construction; Kerala is no exception. James. H. Cousins described Travancore as one of the richest areas of creative art. He waxes eloquent on
the “unity of conception of parts, rhythmical vitality of static form “of the splendid temple structures here making special mention of “the
superb Temple of Suchindrom, the handsome Temple at Thiruvattar, the immense Temple at Thiruvanathapuram” and so on. It is now a matter of
deep distress that its pristine purity and the precious heritage of Vastu are being sacrificed to the corroding painted cement culture which chokes
the graph of Kerala Temple style. Gopuras and figures in rainbow colours vie with one another to shock the eye and chill the heart. In close
competition come mosaic floors, ceramic tiles and aluminium electrical fittings. So much money goes in such activities which could otherwise
have been utilized for more significant purposes including propagation and presentation of temple arts. Temples, famous ones as well, which
have fallen prey to the technicoloured cement onslaught are alarmingly on the increase. I hope and pray that a value-oriented re-awakening will
come before it is too late and that the decision-makers will once more get free of the desire to imitate, enabling them to focus on our traditional
However it is authoritatively disclosed that the Travancore Devaswom Board has henceforth resolved to preserve and protect the
traditional structures and woodwork and also the Kavus (serpent groves) and temple ponds. The declaration has been most gratifying. It is
earnestly hoped that the considerable number of temples falling outside the purview of the Board will also follow suit.
Kerala is well known as “Bhargava Kshetra” since Bhargavarama (Parasurama) retrieved this lush land from the ocean. It was He who
evolved the system of Tantric worship known as ‘Keraleeyam’ which is followed to this day by the generations of Namboodiries making up the
priestly Brahmin class.
Another name closely associated with many Kerala temples from North to South Kerala is that of Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar, the
acclaimed devotee of Bhagavan Sree Krishna. He is famous in other parts of India as ‘Krishnaleelasukan’. Thiruvananthapuram Sree Padmanabha
Swamy Temple, Thiruvarppu Sree Krishna Swamy Temple, Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Swamy Temple Ettumanoor Sree Mahadevar Temple etc.
are just a few examples of his far flung Kerala connections. The Samadhi (final resting place) of this great ascetic is believed to be located in the
Naduvil Madhom Pushpanjali Swamiyar’s private Sree Krishna Swamy Temple in the Fort area of Thiruvananthapuram.
The geographical region of the erstwhile royal domain of Thiruvithamcore (Travancore) lay between Kanyakumar in the south, North
Paravoor in the north, Arabian Sea in the west and even beyond the Western Ghats on the east. This prosperous State with a proud history, hoary
with passing summers and famed for its varied excellence was under the sway of the Thrippappoor Dynasty (Travancore royal family). In 1750
Maharaja Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma surrendered the entire newly formed State of Travancore with all royal rights and privileges to his
Dynastic Deity, Sree Padmanabha Swamy of Thiruvananthapuram. Thenceforth he and his successors governed the kingdom as ‘Sree Padmanabha
Dasas’ (Slaves of Sree Padmanabha Swamy). With this dedication that one Temple became the owner of the entire state.
The next epoch-making event in Travancores Temple history came nearly two centuries hence. In 1936 Maharaja Sree Chithira
Thirunal Rama Varma of Travancore issued the widely acclaimed Temple Entry Proclamation by which all temples coming within the control of
the State were thrown open to the entire rank and file of Hindus irrespective of their caste. The rest of India including neighbouring Kochi and
Kozhicode where this privilege became operational only in 1948, adopted this step much later.
That abundantly blessed State of Thiruvithamcore no longer exists; it has become part of Kerala. While its two other royal
counterparts in Malayala Nadu, Kochi and Kozhicode retain their territorial identity, Thiruvithamcore - ‘the land where prosperity reigns’ -
retreats into pages of memory. A few institutions like the Travancore Devaswom Board, State Bank of Travancore etc. still keep the name
In this book I have attempted to undertake a pilgrimage to some of the temples of that historic domain and to revive Travancore to a
modest extent at least by the fragrance of this garland to Thulasi leaves. It has been a formidable task to make a choice of the temples appearing
in the pages of this book and to restrict the number to thirty three. At a rough estimate Travancore itself possessed around one thousand five
hundred and seventy three temples excluding the private temples and Kavoos of varying stature and nature. For the present, taking into
consideration traditional links and emotional bonds, I have opted for those temples which claim antiquity, history, legends and other features of
distinction regardless of the magnitude of their fame, which consequently include Maha Kshetras, Kshetras as well as Thevarapuras which have
slowly graduated to become temples. As is the case with most Travancore temples, here too the Cheras, Venad or later Travancore, continues
through this garland of thirty three sacred Thulasi leaves. I am painfully aware that many a great temple falling within these classifications could
not be included inn this work. I crave their indulgence and forgiveness for the same.
As steadfast monuments to an ancient and spiritually significant civilization, the Temples of Travancore raise their heads in
affirmation of a faith and heritage undaunted by adversity and undimmed by passage of time. To those Divinities and to their abodes of glory, to
the Temples of Travancore, I humbly submit this book.
About the Author
Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, niece of H.H. Sree Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma Maharaja of Travancore has distinguished
herself as an eloquent speaker and fine writer. besides poems and articles published in Journals in India and abroad, she has to her credit three
books - “Thirumulkazhcha”, a bouquet of song offerings to her uncle, “Dawn” a collection of poems published by Macmillan India Limited and
“Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple”, a monumental study of this famous house of worship published by Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan.
“Thulasi Garland” the present work covers an indepth study on some of the temples of the former Travancore State. A fine blend of
mythology and historical research, it reveals the power and glory of the Divine in these various manifestations, in this garland of Thulasi
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