India is a land of myriad temples and other sacred
places of worship. According to experts, Hindu temples did not exist
before or during the Vedic period (1500-500 BC). The concept of idol
worship came into existence only after this era - this in turn gave
rise to the construction of shrines and temples of all shapes and
Most of the major Hindu temples are truly amazing, jaw-dropping
creations, which inspire a sense of awe and wonder in us. Yet others
give rise to a totally different sensation in us - that of being in a
mystical; sort of magical and surreal location.
In this post, we bring you a feature on five major Hindu temples,
which seem unusually numinous and are shrouded in mystery and
Konark Sun Temple
The Konark Sun Temple, also referred to as Konarak Sun Temple and
Surya Deula, was built in 13th century CE. Located about 35 kilometers
northeast of Puri, it lies along the coastline of Odisha. This temple
is attributed to King Narasimhadeva of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty
(around 1250 CE).
Dedicated to Surya (the Sun God), this structure is presently a
100-foot high chariot with huge wheels and horses; all carved from
stone. Today, much of the temple is in ruins. A large shikhara, which
rose high above the present mandapa, has unfortunately fallen off. The
surviving structure is famed for its intricate sculpture, artwork and
themes including the erotic Kama and Mithuna scenes. Built in the
typical Oriyan style of temple architecture, it stood over 200 feet
high before the start of its ruin.
Because its great shikhara appeared black and served as an immense
landmark for ships in the Bay of Bengal, it used to be referred to as
the "Black Pagoda" by European sailors in the 17th century. Partially
restored by the archaeological teams during the British Raj in India,
it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984. Even today, it
is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus, who gather here annually for
the Chandrabhaga Mela held around February.
The name Konark comes from the Sanskrit words, "Kona" (meaning angle
or corner) and "Arka" (the Sun). Kona, thus, may refer to the angle or
direction in which the temple was aligned to face the sunrise.
The Sun Temple is built from stone and appears as a giant ornamented
chariot, dedicated to the Sun God. In Hindu mythology, Surya is
portrayed as rising in the east and traveling quickly across the sky
in a chariot drawn by seven horses. The deity is shown as a luminous
entity, standing inside the chariot, holding a lotus in both his
hands. The chariot is driven by Aruna and the seven horses are named
after the seven meters of Sanskrit prosody; namely, Gayatri, Brihati,
Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha and Pankti. Surya is flanked by
the dawn goddesses, Usha and Pratyusha. They are shown to be shooting
arrows, which represent their foray from the darkness into the light
The main attraction of the temple is its twelve pairs of wheels. These
wheels are completely out of the ordinary - the spokes of the wheels
actually create a sundial. One can calculate the exact time of day by
just observing the shadow cast by the spokes on the wheel.
Chariot Wheel of Konark Temple
The architecture of the Konark Temple, which follows the Kalinga style
of architecture, is symbolic with twelve pairs of wheels corresponding
to the 12 months of the Hindu almanac. These 24 wheels are nearly 12
feet in diameter and are elaborately carved. They are pulled by seven
horses. Interestingly, during dawn and up to sunrise, the temple seems
to appear from the depths of the blue sea, carrying the sun along with
The general construction of the temple adheres to typical Odisha
temple design, including square and circle geometry. The main temple
is called deul; this is surrounded by secondary shrines, dedicated to
other Hindu deities; particularly Surya in his many aspects. In front
of this was the smaller sanctum, called the jagamohana (commonly
referred to as mandapa in other parts of India). The main temple and
the jagamohana comprise four zones, namely, the platform, the wall,
the trunk and the mastaka (crowning head). On the east of the temple
is the Nata mandira (dance temple), which stands on a high platform
and is intricately carved.
The temple was made from three types of stones, including Chlorite,
Laterite and Khondalite. The third type weathers faster - this may
have contributed to the erosion and resulting damage to several parts
of the temple.
Konark - Monumental Legacy
The main attractions of the temple are the sculptures, carvings and
ornamented reliefs, which adorn all the pillars and terraces of the
structure. These include images of deities, animals and birds, the
daily lives of ordinary people, musicians and dancers, bullock carts,
geometric patterns and much more.
Apart from these, the Konark temple is also known for its erotic
sculptures of maithunas. They show couples in various stages of
courtship, intimacy and even coitus. While they were long considered
infamous for their uninhibited exhibition of sexuality, they are
actually associated with tantra and the vama marga tradition of the
same. The sculptures found on the temple’s Shikhara actually describe
the bandhas and mudra forms described in the Kamasutra.
Shrines and Monuments
Several Hindu deities are depicted in other places of the temple,
including Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati, Gajalakshmi, Narasimha, Krishna and
so on. Additionally, the Jagamohana features Vedic deities such as
Indra, Agni, Varuna, Kubera and so on.
Besides, the temple complex includes several subsidiary shrines and
monuments, including the Mayadevi Temple, a Vaishnava Temple, a
Kitchen monument, two huge wells and much more. Besides these, a
collection of fallen sculptures can be found at the Konark
The Mystery of the Magnets and the Floating Idol
The Konark Sun Temple was initially built along the sea. However, the
sea has receded now and so, the temple lies a few kilometers away from
it. This being an ancient temple, there are several myths, legends and
mysteries associated with it. One of the most popular legends is that
of its magnets and floating idol.
The uniqueness of the Sun temple architecture lies in the fact that it
was built using the power of magnets and magnetic force. While
creating the main tower of the structure, the artisans placed an iron
plate between every two pieces of stone. There is a lodestone at the
top of the temple, which is believed to be a staggering 52-ton magnet.
Legend has it that the statue of the Sun God inside the temple is
actually floating in mid-air, without touching the ground, and without
having any other form of external support. They say that this feat has
been possible due to the magnetic field created by the magnet at the
top, interacting with the one at the bottom, plus the reinforced
magnet around the temple walls.
Incidentally, the main temple has been so planned that the very first
ray of the Sun would cross the Nata mandira and would reflect light
from the diamond placed on Surya’s crown.
Legends behind the Collapse of the Structure
According to one legend, the magnetic pull of the lodestone was so
strong, that it would cause disturbances in the compasses of ships
which passed along that area. This would end up making navigation
difficult for sailors. In order to save their ships and their trade,
the Portuguese sailors destroyed the temple and took away the
lodestone. This is believed to be one cause of the collapse of the
main temple structure. There is no historical or other evidence to
support this theory. No one really knows if the magnets ever existed.
Some historians opine that, due to the early death of King Langula
Narasimha Deva, the construction of the temple stopped halfway and was
then left incomplete. It is said that this was the reason behind the
collapse of the structure. However, there is some evidence to show
that the temple was actually complete between 1253 and 1260 AD. Hence,
this argument does not hold water.
One other popular legend relates that Kalapahada invaded Orissa in
1508. He destroyed this and several other temples. Though it was
impossible to break this stone temple, he somehow managed to displace
the Dadhinauti or the Arch stone, thus giving rise to its collapse.
A few experts aver that the temple could have been damaged by a severe
earthquake, thunder or lightning. However, there is no proof of such a
massive earthquake hitting the area. Besides, no thunder or lightning
would have been able to affect the temple walls, which are 20-25 feet
There are no actual historical records to prove any of the
above-mentioned hypotheses and the real reason for the ruin of the
temple’s main structure remains a mystery. Irrespective of who or what
caused it, it may never be restored to its original state.
The Brihadeeshwara Temple, also referred to as the Rajeshwara
Peruvudaiyar, is a Shiva temple, located in Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The
term "Brihadeeshwara" is a combination of two Sanskrit words, "Brihat"
(meaning huge, imposing, massive) and "Eeshwara" (which means the
supreme Lord or Godhead). True to its name, this is one of the largest
South Indian temples; also one of the finest examples of Tamil
architecture. Constructed by Raja Raja Chola I between 1003 and 1010
AD, this temple is considered as a "Great Living Chola Temple" and a
UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lord Shiva - Terracotta Statue
The original monuments of this temple were built around a moat and
included a gopuram, the main temple and its tower, frescoes,
inscriptions and sculptures. Mainly focusing on Saivism, it also
includes certain aspects of Vaishnavism and Shaktism traditions.
During the course of history, the temple was damaged and some of the
artwork is now missing. More mandapams and monuments were added at a
later time and now, the structure stands amidst strong walls, which
were built post the 16th century.
The vimana or the massive tower above the main sanctum is one of the
tallest in the whole of South India. The temple has a huge prakara or
corridor and features one of the largest ever Sivalingas in India. A
favorite tourist destination, it is famed for its various shrines and
sculptures; and especially for including the huge brass Nataraja, the
Lord of Dance. Other shrines that can be found within the complex are
dedicated to Parvati, Nandi, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Sabhapati,
Dakshinamoorthy, Varahi, Chandeshwara and many more.
During the Chola period, buildings predominantly featured projecting
square capitals, and impressive columns and pillars. This created a
whole new style of architecture. The temple inscriptions related how
the main architect and engineer, Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Rama
Perunthachan, adhered to this tradition and undertook construction of
The temple plan uses axial and symmetrical geometry. This comprises
five main sections, namely, the sanctum with the huge vimana, the
massive Nandi mandapam in front, the mukhamandapam (main community
hall) in between, the mahamandapam (gathering hall) and the
ardhamandapam (pavilion connecting the hall with the sanctum).
The complex integrates a large pillared and covered prakara, with a
perimeter of about 450 meters for devotees to circumambulate the
temple. Outside this verandah are two walls of enclosure.
On the east end is the original main gopuram or gateway. Additional
entry and exit points help devotees enter and leave the temple from
multiple locations. The towering vimana stands 63.4 meters high.
The main sanctum is at the center of the western square. Surrounded by
huge walls, it houses the huge stone Shivalinga. The sanctum is in the
form of a miniature vimana. The entrance of this sanctum is
elaborately decorated. The inner wall and the outer wall together
create a sort of path around it for pradakshina (circumambulation).
The main Shikhara or Vimana is 16 storeys high and dominates the
entire area. It is elaborately decorated with Pilaster, piers and
Connection with the Natya Shastra
On the second floor is an effigy of Shiva in the form of Tripurantaka,
in different postures. The wall of the aditala corridor on the upper
floor is carved with 81 of the 108 karanas (movements) of Bharata
Natyam, as prescribed by the Natya Shastra, the most extensive
treatise on Indian dance. The rest of the 27 karanas are blank blocks
of stone. It is not known why they were never carved. These sculptures
indicate the importance that Bharata Natyam enjoyed even during the
Bharatnatyam Dancer - Hand Painted Wall
The Brihadeeshwara temple has a layer of Chola frescoes along the
circumambulatory passage way. These creations, which spanned from the
floor to the ceiling, were discovered as late as 1931. The painters
had used natural pigments and infused them into the wet limestone
layer to set in. The themes of these frescoes were largely based
around Shaivism - they were restored in the 2000s. Some other frescoes
painted later included other Vaishnavite deities and the royal family
Some paintings within the sanctum sanctorum have been damaged due to
the soot collected on them from the burning lamps and camphor within
The temple walls feature innumerable inscriptions in Tamil and Grantha
scripts. Many of these are in Tamil and Sanskrit. These unique
inscriptions actually give detailed accounts of the temple personnel;
the people employed there, their roles, names and wages. There are
records of over 600 people who the temple employed and supported;
including priests, sacred parasol bearers, washermen, jewelers,
tailors, carpenters, artisans, artists, devadasis, dance and music
gurus, and so on. They received their wages in kind - they would
receive parcels of land for their services.
Besides, the temple also provided free meals to devotees and pilgrims.
Wayfarers could stay there as long as they wished. On festivals and
occasions, these meals would be elaborate and grand.
Additions and Renovation
The several raids and wars, particularly those fought between the
Hindu kings and Muslim Sultans, caused immense damage to the
Brihadeeshwara temple. These damages were repaired when the Hindu
rulers regained control.
In some cases, the rulers even replaced the old paintings with newer
murals. Others constructed secondary shrines within the temple
complex. According to inscriptions dating back to 1801, the Marathas
contributed vastly to the repair of several shrines, the prakara
walls, the courtyard and even the temple kitchen.
Millennium Commemoration and Cultural Festivals
The Brihadeeshwara temple turned 1000 years old in 2010. In order to
celebrate this occasion, the government and the town held several
cultural events; including a Bharatanatyam Yagna, which featured
famous classical dancers such as Padma Subramaniam. It also included a
program by 1000 dancers, hailing from different corners of the world -
they all jointly performed to 11 verses of Thiruvisaippa, the ninth
volume of the Thirumurai.
Other cultural events include an annual dance festival called the
Brahan Natyanjali festival, held around February, during
The Brihadeeshwara Temple Fire
A massive fire accident occurred in the temple during its
Kumbhabhishekham (consecration) on June 7, 2000. Some experts opine
that the source of the fire was a mystery. A stampede ensued, which
resulted in the death of several people, also injuring over 200
devotees. The fire accident was declared to be one of the four major
accidents in that town.
Rescue efforts were ably carried out by the police and several
non-profit organizations and renovations had been undertaken on the
temple as well.
Mysteries of the Brihadeeshwara Temple
The Brihadeeshwara temple holds several mysteries within its walls.
Here are the major ones:
- Its Shadow Disappears at Noon: One of the
most surprising things about this structure is that its shadow
never falls on the ground at noon. Being one of the tallest
temples, it is so designed that the vimana does not cast any
shadow at noon, at any time of the year.
- First All-Granite Temple: This is the first
all-granite temple in the world. No granite quarry is present
within a 100 km radius and hence, it is not clear where the
material was sourced from. Granite is harder to carve and yet,
Raja Raja Chola had wanted it to be most intricately carved and
- Tallest Ever Temple: The Brihadeeshwara
temple is the tallest till date. The real wonder, though, is that
it was completed in just 7 years, including the time taken to move
and place up to 50 tons of solid rock each day, carving and then
putting them in position. Atop the towering vimana is a capstone
which weighs 80 tons. After dusk, when the structure is lighted,
its topmost light shines over the dome like a star glowing closer
to earth. This is one of the major attractions for devotees and
- Musical Pillars: You can find two idols of
Ganesha near the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum. On tapping
them, you can feel the sound traveling via stone in one idol and
through the metal on the other. Besides this, there are some
musical pillars around the main hall of the temple. These, when
tapped, produce different musical sounds.
The Veerabhadra temple is located in Lepakshi in the Anantpur district
of Andhra Pradesh. Built in the 16th century, it features the
typically Vijayanagara style of architecture, featuring innumerable
carvings and paintings on almost every exposed surface in the temple.
The multi-colored frescoes are detailed and elaborate, depicting
scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. This temple
is counted among UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected and
maintained by the Government of India.
The Veerabhadra temple dates back to 1583 and was built by brothers
Virupanna Nayaka and Viranna, who were Governors under the
Vijayanagara Empire, during the reign of King Achutaraya at Penukonda.
Much of the structure is built on a low, rocky hill, called
Kurmasailam, which literally means, "tortoise-shaped hill".
According to the Skanda Purana, this temple is one of the
divyakshetras, or sacred pilgrimage sites of Lord Shiva.
The main temple comprises three parts. The Mukhamantapa (assembly
hall), also called the Natya mantapa or Ranga mantapa; the Arda
mantapa or antarala (ante chamber); and the Garbhagriha or the sanctum
The temple is encircled by two enclosures. The outer walled enclosure
has 3 gates, out of which the northern gate is used most frequently.
The inner east gate offers access into the assembly hall. This is a
large open hall. This leads to the sanctum sanctorum and features
immense sculptures and paintings across the entire length and breadth
of the halls, fully covering the columns and the ceiling. These
include images of the 14 avataras of Shiva, saints, divine beings,
guardians, musicians, dancers and so on. The sanctum is flanked by
figurines of Ganga and Yamuna on each side. The temple additionally
features a pyramid tower and pillars with amazing carvings.
The open space in the middle of the hall has large columns or piers,
which feature carvings of triple figures. In the columns of the
northeast part of the hall, you can find images of Natesha, along with
Lord Brahma and a drummer. In adjoining columns are figurines of
nymphs dancing, accompanied by drummers and cymbalists. The column on
the southwest part of the hall shows an image of Parvati, along with
her female entourage.
All the frescoes are painted over an initial plaster layer of lime
mortar. Vegetable and mineral dyes are blended with lime water to
breathe life into the paintings. These paintings are stunningly
lifelike and feature impressive period costumes, high in detail and
precise facial expressions as well.
The presiding deity of the temple is an almost life-size effigy of
Veerabhadra, fully armed and ornamented with skulls. The sanctum
includes a cave chamber, wherein sage Agastya was believed to have
lived, when he installed the image of the Linga at this location.
The ceiling of the sanctum has paintings of the builders of the
temple. Here, they are depicted with their entire staff, in a state of
utter devotion and prayer.
The eastern side of the temple complex has a separate chamber for
Shiva and Parvati, carved on a boulder. Another shrine chamber is
dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
On the eastern side, there is a huge granite boulder, featuring an
elaborate carving of a coiled, multi-hooded serpent, forming a sort of
umbrella cover over a Shivalinga. Legend has it that members of the
Naga race carved this marvel while they waited for their mother to
Located about 200 meters from a temple is a huge 20-foot by 30-foot
granite Nandi, carved out from a single block stone. What immediately
strikes the observer is the fine detailing of the statue; including
the calm and serene look on the bull’s face and the amazing precision
with which the sculptor created each and every line on its face, neck
and so on. Interestingly, this Nandi is aligned in such a way that it
faces the statue of the serpent within the precincts of the temple.
The origin of Lepakshi has two interesting legends associated with it.
This legend relates the epic battle between Jatayu, the Eagle, and
Ravana from the Ramayana. In order to rescue Sita from Ravana’s
attempt to adbuct her, Jatayu fought valiantly against the ten-headed
demon. He gave tremendous resistance to the latter. However, Ravana
gained the upper hand when he cut off both of Jatayu’s wings. It is
believed that the great bird then fell off to the earth, hitting the
rocks at this very location.
Jatayu Vadh - Raja Ravi Varma Painting on
When Lord Rama saw Jatayu, he tried to coax the bird to rise. This is
how this place got the name Le-Pakshi.
Another legend about Lepakshi is about the brothers Virupanna and
Viranna. Virupanna’s son was blind since birth. It is believed that he
got back his eyesight while playing near the Shivalinga within the
The King then came to know that Virupanna, who was the royal
treasurer, was using the funds from the treasury to build these
shrines. He was doing this without taking prior permission from the
royalty. The enraged King ordered his henchmen to take away
Virupanna’s eyesight and make him blind.
On hearing this, Virupanna pried off his own eyes and threw them
against the walls of the Kalyana Mantapa, which was then under
construction. The place thus got the name Lape-Akshi (village of the
blinded eye). Even today, one can see two prominent red blotches on
that very wall. What’s more, tests have confirmed that they are indeed
human blood stains.
Mysteries of the Lepakshi Veerabhadra Temple
The Mystery of the Hanging Pillar
One of the biggest mysteries of the Veerabhadra temple at Lepakshi is
the "hanging pillar". The outer portion of the Dance Hall is filled
with numerous pillars supporting the roof. One corner pillar, which is
known as the hanging pillar, does not touch the temple floor. When
some experts tired to force a corner of this pillar to touch the
ground, it led to a tectonic shift in the entire roof of the outer
hall. The engineers then realized that any further attempt on their
part would end up destroying the entire edifice. One other thing was
that the pillar acted as a sort of ballast to the hall’s roof. Hence,
changing its angle even slightly would cause damage to the entire
In the same hall, a Gopalakrishna mural on the roof appears to be
three-dimensional. It also seems to look directly at you from anywhere
in the hall below.
Large Footprint on the Rock
Outside the temple on one hillock, one can find a large footprint next
to the Sita Amman Kovil. This structure includes shrines dedicated to
Rama, Sita and Hanuman. This is believed to be the footprint of
Hanuman, as he jumped to find Sita and give her Rama’s ring
(incidentally, there are similar giant footprints of Sri Rama and Sita
at Sphatika Shila and in Chitrakoot as well). The footprint at this
temple always has a trickle of water coming into it. The source of
this water remains unexplained to date.
Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
Anantha Puram literally means the "City of Anantha" and so, the city
itself is named after Lord Ananta, or Lord Sri Maha Vishnu. Built in a
mix of the Kerala and Dravidian styles of architecture, it features
high walls and a 16th century Gopuram. To some extent, the temple is
quite similar to the Adikesava Perumal temple in Thiruvattar,
The principal deity of the Padmanabhaswamy temple is Vishnu, in his
Anantashayanam posture. This is his eternal yogic nidra (sleep)
posture, resting on a bed of coiled snakes in the Milky Ocean, with
Devi Lakshmi seated at his feet and the great serpent Adishesha
forming a protective umbrella over his head.
Lord Vishnu in Anantashayan
Sri Padmanabhaswamy is the tutelary deity of the royal family of
Travancore. The Maharaja of Travancore, Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma, is
the trustee of the temple. Even today, this ancient temple follows
strict conventions. Only Hindus are allowed to enter and everyone has
to follow a strict dress code. Females have to dress in saree or the
traditional Kerala Mundu set, whereas males have to wear the veshti
The Padmanabhaswamy receives prominent mention in ancient texts, such
as the Puranas and the Mahabharata. It even features in Sangam
literature, which dates back between 500 BC and 300 AD. According to
the Bhagavatam, Lord Balarama visited the city (referred to as
Phalgunam) and took a dip in Panchapsaras (Padmateertham). Though the
sannidhanam (sanctum) of Padmanabha has always been present in this
holy city, the actual temple came up much later.
Several experts opine that the temple had once been called as "The
Golden Temple", on account of the immense wealth that it possessed.
Many pieces of Sangam literature and works by poets such as Nammalwar
talk about the temple and the city as having walls made of pure gold!
In several places, there is reference to it as the "Temple of Heaven".
In Vaishnavism, the Padmanabhaswamy temple is one of the 108 Divya
Desams (Holy Abodes) and is glorified in the Divya Prabandhams. The
Ananthapuram temple in Kasargod is said to be the Moolasthanam of the
Legend about the Temple
Legend has it that the sage Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar, who lived near
the Ananthapuram temple, prayed to Vishnu for his darshan. The Lord
came to him in the guise of a mischievous little boy and defiled the
idol that he kept for his pooja. Enraged, the sage chased away the
boy, who disappeared in front of his eyes.
After searching high and low, the sage was walking on the banks of the
Arabian Sea, when he heard a pulaya (untouchable) lady threatening a
child that she would throw him in the Ananthakadu. The moment he heard
the word "Ananthakadu", he was elated and enquired from the lady as to
how he could reach the place. He then went there, hoping that he could
find the boy in that place. Sure enough, he saw the boy merging into
an Iluppa (Indian Butter) tree. The tree fell down and became the
Ananthashayana Moorthi (effigy) of Sri Vishnu.
The effigy, however, was extremely large, with the Lord’s head at
Thiruvallom, his navel at Thiruvananthapuram and His Lotus Feet at
Thrippadapuram. This spanned about 8 miles in length. Dismayed, the
sage requested the Lord to shrink in size. Immediately, the Lord
shrank to the form that can currently be seen at the Padmanabhaswamy
The sage saw the Lord in the above-mentioned three parts. He prayed to
the Lord to be forgiven for his sins and offered rice kanji and
uppumanga (mango in brine) placed in a coconut shell - he had obtained
this from the pulaya woman.
He then took the assistance of the ruling king and some Brahmin
households to construct a temple for the Lord. This temple, which is
located to the west of the Padmanabhaswamy temple, still stands as the
Ananthakadu Nagaraja temple. Later, a Krishna temple was built over
his Samadhi. This temple is known as the Vilvamangalam Sri Krishna
Inside the sanctum sanctorum, Padmanabhaswamy is shown assuming the
reclining position. The massive idol rests on the bed of the coiled
Adishesha; the snake’s five hoods facing inwards and forming a
protective cover over the Lord. Vishnu’s right hand is stretched
below, in such a way as to be placed over a Shivalinga there. His
divine consorts, Sridevi, the Goddess of Wealth and Bhudevi, the
Goddess of the Earth, are by his side. Lord Brahma sits on a lotus,
which comes out from the Lord’s navel.
This massive deity is made from 12,008 saligramams, which had been
gathered from the banks of the Gandaki River in Nepal. The idol is
covered with Katusarkara Yogam, which is a special plaster mix, in
order to keep the deity clean. The daily worship routine includes
abhishekham, flowers, arati and other rituals.
The two platforms in front of the vimanam where the deity reclines are
carved out of a single stone. Hence they are called
"Ottakkal-mandapam". This rock had been cut out of a rock at
Thirumala, about 4 miles north of the temple.
To take darshan or to perform puja, the devotee has to ascend to the
mandapam. The deity is visible through three doors, symbolic of how
the sage had seen the Lord. The face of the Lord and the Shivalinga is
seen through the first door. His torso, along with his consort Sridevi
and Brahma and other divine beings can be seen through the second
door. The third door gives the devotee a darshan of the Lord’s feet,
Bhudevi and several other Rishis (sages).
Only the King of Travancore can perform a sashtanga namaskaram
(offering obeisance lying completely prostrate on the ground) on the
Ottakkal mandapam. Traditionally, it is believed that anyone who
prostrates on the mandapam has surrendered his or her everything to
the Lord. Since the ruler has already done that, only he has the
permission to prostrate thus.
The temple includes two other major shrines within itself, namely, the
Thekkedom and Thiruvambadi shrines, for the deities, Ughra Narasimha
and Sri Krishna respectively. The Thirvambadi shrine is older than the
main shrine and hence, enjoys independent status. It has its own
namaskara mandapam, bali stones and flagmast. The deity here is
Parthasarathy, the Divine Charioteer of Arjuna, during the Great War
of Kurukshetra. The granite idol is depicted in standing posture,
holding a whip in one hand, with the other resting on the left thigh,
holding a conch close to it. On Ekadasi days, the Lord is dressed up
There are yet other shrines for Rama and Sita, Vishwaksena, Vyasa,
Ganapati, Sasta (Ayyappa), Garuda and Hanuman. the thevara idols of
Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma and Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma
can be found in the southeast side of the temple.
The temple features a massive 100-foot, seven-tier gopuram,
constructed in the Pandyan style. The temple, which is located by the
side of a tank, called Padma Theertham, has a corridor with 365 and
one-quarter sculptured granite pillars having elaborate carvings on
them. This corridor extends from the eastern side, right to the
sanctum sanctorum. An eighty-foot flagstaff stands proud, right in
front of the main entry from the prakaram. There is a Nataka Sala on
the ground floor under the gopuram. Here, Kathakali performances were
staged all through the night during the ten-day uthsavam, conducted
twice a year, during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Thulam.
The Royal Family of Travancore
In the first half of the 18th century, Anizham Thirunal Marthanda
succeeded his uncle King Rama Varma at the age of 23. On 17th January,
1750, he surrendered the kingdom to Sri Padmanabhaswamy and pledged
that all his descendants would serve the Lord as his dasas (servants).
Since then, all the rulers of the land have the title Sri Padmanabha
Dasa, while the female members are called Sri Padmanabha Sevinis. This
donation of the kingdom to the Lord was known as Thrippadi-danam.
Marthanda Varma was most particular that no deviation whatsoever
should be made in this aspect and that all future territorial
acquisitions should be made over to the Devaswom.
Temple Rituals and Festivals
There are several festivals associated with this temple. The Alpashy
festival in October/November and the Panguni festival in March/April,
which lasts for 10 days each, are the major festivals. On the ninth
day, the Maharaja of Travancore escorts the deities, on foot, to the
vettakkalam for Pallivetta. The festivals end with the Aaratu or
purifying immersion ritual procession to the Shanmugham Beach. The
Utsavamoorthis of Padmanabhaswamy, Narasimha Moorthi and Sri Krishna
are all given a bath in the sea, after the traditional pujas. After
this, they are taken back to the temple.
Yet another major festival is the 9-day Navaratri. The idols of
Saraswati, Parasakti and Murugan are brought to the Kuthira malika
palace in front of the temple in a procession. The Swati music
festival is also held as part of the festival.
The biggest festival is the laksha deepam, or the festival of the one
lakh lamps. This happens only once in 6 years. Prior to its
commencement, prayers, pujas and veda recitation are performed for a
period of 56 days (Murajapam). On the last day, one hundred thousand
lamps are lit all around the temple premises. The next event is
scheduled for January 2020.
One of the most important aspects of the temple is the "granta-pura"
or the record-room, which is housed within the temple complex itself.
This room was constructed in 1425 AD by the then Venad King Veera
Iravi Iravi Varma. Over 30 lakhs of those documents from this
Mathilakam had been donated to the Archives Department in 1867. Only a
small fraction of cadjan leaf (bundles of coconut palm leaves) records
have been deciphered. The scripts are in proto-Tamil and archaic
Malayalam, which makes it difficult to understand and translate. The
rest is lying unread at the Archives Department.
Temple Vaults and Assets
While the temple and its assets were controlled by a trust headed by
the Royal Family of Travancore in the past, the Supreme Court of India
has now radically changed the workings of the management. In 2011, the
Supreme Court ordered the Archaeology Department to open several
secret chambers of the temple, which were kept under lock and key in
the past. The temple has six hitherto known Kallaras (vaults), labeled
from A to F. In April 2014, 2 more subterranean vaults had been
discovered and they have been name G and H.
While A was probably opened in the 1930s and vaults C to F have been
opened and accessed from time to time, vault B has never been opened
for centuries. Vaults A,C, D, E and F were found to contain a
three-and-a-half foot tall solid idol of Mahavishnu, crafted in pure
gold. This moorthi was studded with hundreds of diamonds, rubies and
other precious gems. Apart from this, there were an 18-foot long pure
gold chain, a 500-kilo gold sheaf, a 36-kilo golden veil, 1200 gold
chains embedded with precious stones and several hundreds of 18th
century Napoleonic era coins, golden coins from the Roman Empire,
gems, precious stones, artefacts and other objects. These findings
proved that the Padmanabhaswamy Temple was the wealthiest ever place
of worship in the whole world.
The Mystery of the Unopened Vault B
Though all the other vaults have been opened several times, vault B
has never been tampered with. The Trust members, the rest of the Royal
Family and leading astrologers consider that chamber to be mysterious,
sacred and risky (or even dangerous) to open it. The chamber is
considered to be shut with the help of 16th century siddhas (people
with yogic powers), who shut it permanently with the means of powerful
mantras such as ‘naga bandham’ or ‘naga paasam’
It is believed that this door can be opened only by a highly erudite
sadhu, tantric or mantrika, who have adequate knowledge of the ‘garuda
mantra’, which is the only chant that can successfully extricate the
powers of the ‘naga bandham’. It is believed that, in that case, the
doors would unlock automatically, without needing any force to be put
on it. Legend further states that if any ordinary human being attempts
to open it with technology, terrible catastrophes are likely to occur
in the temple or even in the whole of India.
As per legend, hunters tried to invade and loot the temple somewhere
in the 1930s. However, their attempts were foiled when huge deadly
serpents came out of hiding and drove them out.
Attempt to Open the Chamber
According to legend, several Devas and Rishis; including the Naga
Devatas; requested Balarama to permit them to reside in vault B.
Balarama granted them that boon. Along with them, the Kanjirottu
Yakshi also resides in this Kallara, worshipping the ferocious and
powerful Ughra Narasimha. To further enhance the power residing here,
sacred objects such as the Sreechakram too were installed here.
In 2011, the antechamber to vault B was opened. But no one succeeded
in opening the main vault. Then, a Devaprashnam (ritual to know the
will of the deity) was performed. The Pushpanjali Swamiyar, who is
considered to be the highest spiritual authority of the temple,
expressed his strong opposition to opening the chamber and even sent
letters to the Chairperson of the Administrative Committee, advising
them against the act.
No other attempts were made to open the vault after this. So what does
this imply? Is it only superstition? Or is the temple actually
protected by Divine Beings? The answer to this question still remains
an unsolved mystery.
The Kailasanatha Temple, also known as the Kailash Temple, is one of
the largest ancient, rock-cut, Hindu temples in India. This is located
in Ellora, in the Indian State of Maharashtra. A massive megalith,
carved out from a single rock, this is considered to be one of the
most amazing cave temples.
Ellora - Monumental Legacy
The Kailash Temple is one of the 32 cave temples and monasteries,
which collectively make up the Ellora Caves. This temple lies in Cave
16 of the entire cave structures. Attributed to the 8th century
Rashtrakuta King Krishna I (756-773 CE), the general architecture
seems to be done in the Pallava and Chalukya styles.
The cave temple does not possess any particular set of inscriptions
regarding its history. However, a Baroda copper-plate inscription of
Karkaraja II records Krishnaraja as the patron of Kailasanatha; also
mentioning a Shiva temple at Elapura (Ellora). It states that the King
constructed a structure so wondrous that even the Gods were stupefied
by it. Experts believe that that this refers to the Kailasha temple.
The Kadamba grant of Govinda Prabhutavarsha also seems to credit
Krishnaraja in a similar fashion.
So, though there is no direct resource to prove that Krishnaraja did
indeed construct the temple, it is largely assumed that he may have
been responsible for its construction.
Method of Construction
The Kailasha Temple is most famous for its vertical excavation method.
The carvers started at the top of the original rock, moving downwards.
According to a Marathi legend, the local king suffered from a chronic
disease. His queen prayed to Lord Ghrishneshwara (Shiva) at Elapura,
vowing to construct a temple if her wish was granted. She also
promised to observe a fast till the time that she could see a shikhara
on top of the temple.
As soon as the king was cured, she asked him to build the temple
immediately. But the architects stated that it would take much time
before they could finish the construction of the shikhara.
One architect called Kokasa, however, came forward and assured the
king and the queen that they would be able to see the shikhara within
a week’s time. The clever architect started carving from the top, thus
finishing the shikhara by just a week. The queen was able to fulfill
her promise to the Lord and was also able to break her fast after the
construction of the shikhara.
Some experts think that Kokasa was the main architect of the temple,
which was probably known as Manikeshwara at that time. Several
11th-13th century inscriptions found all over central India mention
architects born in the brilliant family of Kokasa.
Architecture and Sculptures
The Kailasha temple features several distinct architectural and
sculptural styles. This, combined with its massive size, has led some
experts to aver that its construction spanned the reign of several
Some reliefs feature the same style as the ones found in the
Dashavatara cave, which is located just next to this temple. The
latter contains an inscription of Krishna’s predecessor and nephew,
Dantidurga. Based on this, some historians think that the temple’s
construction could have begun during the reign of Dantidurga. With
time, other rulers such as Dhruva Dharavarsha, Govinda III,
Amoghavarsha I and Krishna III could have also contributed to its
construction. Finally, Ahilyabai Holkar commissioned the last layer of
the paintings therein.
Some historians aver that the entire temple structure was planned out
right at the beginning. The main shrine is similar in structure to the
Virupaksha Temple at Pattadakal and the Kailasa Temple at Kanchi. The
latter was commissioned by the Chalukyas of Badami. The fact that the
main architectural style is non-Rashtrakuta in nature itself may be an
indication of the involvement of Chalukya and Pallava artists.
The entrance to the temple courtyard includes a low gopuram. Most of
the deities at the left of the entrance are Shaivite, while the ones
on the right are mostly Vaishnavite. A two-storeyed gateway leads to a
U-shaped courtyard, edged by a brilliantly sculpted columned walkway,
three storeys high. Originally, bridges of stone connected these
galleries. However, these have fallen in the present day.
The central shrine is dedicated to Shiva and his mount Nandi. The
sanctum sanctorum houses an enormous Shivalingam and features a
flat-roofed mandapa, supported by 16 pillars and a shikhara built in
the Dravidian style. The shrine additionally features several pillars,
windows, inner and outer rooms and gathering halls, all carved with
the images of deities, mithunas and other figures.
As always, the Nandi sits on a porch, right in front of the sanctum.
The Nandi mandapa and the main shrine are each about 7 meters in
height and are built on two storeys. The base of the temple is carved,
so as to suggest that elephants are holding the structure aloft. A
rock bridge connects the Nandi mandapa to the main porch of the
There are two Dhwajasthambas in the courtyard. One striking sculpture
is that of Ravana trying to lift Mount Kailasa.
One can also find five detached shrines within the temple complex. Out
of these, three are dedicated to the Sacred River Goddesses, Ganga,
Yamuna and Saraswati.
Mysteries of the Kailasanatha Temple
- The Kailasha temple is carved out of a single rock. It remains
a mystery as to how workers during that time managed to achieve
that feat and construct a structure of that size.
- The entire complex was carved from top to down. It is amazing
to even try and imagine how the artisans would have successfully
managed to do this; that too, with just rudimentary tools such as
hammer, chisels and picks available to them at that time.
- The Kailasanatha emple has the largest cantilevered rock
ceiling in the world. And this was created in 700 AD; probably
- Larger in area than the Pantheon in Greece, it is said that
over four hundred thousand tons of rock had been scooped out to
build this temple!
- The temple was supposedly designed so as to mimic Mount
Kailash. The pyramidal structure of the main temple is believed to
represent the actual shape of Mount Kailash.
- It is believed that work happened only 16 hours a day. Since
there was no electricity those days, the sun’s rays were reflected
onto mirrors to help the artisans continue with their work.
However, there are several inner parts of the structure, where the
sun’s rays cannot reach, no matter how many mirrors are used for
the purpose. It is baffling to think how the workers had managed
such intricate carvings and sculptures in those areas.