As some of you might have noticed, to celebrate my turning 50, I have been trying to do different things that I don’t normally do. Krishnan and I hardly visit temples, but I wanted to visit temples just to experience the energy there. The first time I heard of the “Lakshadeepam” was when Mr. Venkatesh Narasimhan showcased a Cooptex handwoven saree that depicts 100,000 lamps as the motif. When I googled about it, I realised that this was a festival celebrated every six years at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram and it was to be held on Sankranti day Jan 15th, 2020.
We immediately decided to get our tickets booked to witness this in person. Krishnan kept trying to check online if we had to buy some tickets or passes were being handed out, but the website never worked. So we came to Thiruvananthapuram with no information.
On Jan 14th, we went to the Padmanabhaswamy temple for darshan and to find out about the Lakshadeepam.
We left our phones and Krishnan’s shirt in the cloak room and got the token number against it. The cost of keeping things in the cloak room is negligible. The dress code for entering the temple is, dhoti for men and they can wrap the angavastram on top or go shirtless, sarees for women. If you don’t own a dhoti or saree, you can rent or buy from one of the shops outside. Next, we left our footwear near the shoe stand. There is frisking and checking of your bag at the entrance. There are two ticket windows for you to buy the “archanai” tickets. We got two special darshan tickets and walked in.
There was a short queue in the general category, but the special darshan ticket holders could almost go straight in without having to stand in a queue. We had a wonderful darshan of Lord Padmanabhaswamy …. I cannot pray as I stand in the “garbha griha” or Sanctum Sanctorum of any temple, my mind just goes a blank. What can you really ask from God? He/She has given you everything, two legs to walk, two hands to feed/defend yourself, a heart to love, an abundant Universe and intelligence to figure out what you want to do. 🙂
As you enter the main temple of Sree Padmanabhaswamy, you pass by the “Narasimha sannadhi”, or the small temple for Narasimha Swamy, one of the avatars of Maha Vishnu. When you exit after completing the darshan of Padmanabhaswamy, you come upon the small temple of Bhagwan Krishna, my most favourite avatar of Vishnu. Then there is the “prasadam” stall – in keeping up with the modern times, the prasadam is packed in leakproof sealed tins that keep the prasadam fresh for a month. It costs Rs. 80 per tin.
We asked at the prasadam stall about the Lakshadeepam and were told to go to the executive office near the South Gate. We went there and were told that we had to have a pass to enter the temple the next day to witness the Lakshadeepam. We told the young executive that the website never came up for us to even figure this out and that we had come all the way from Delhi just for this. He gave us the phone number of the PRO and asked us to meet him to try and get the pass. We went to the North Gate and to the PRO’s office only to be told that the PRO was at the South gate executive office in some meeting and that there were no passes to be given away ! We could try and meet the PRO the next morning. We decided to leave from the temple and try our luck the next day morning.
We went back to our hotel room and started to think of who could get us the passes. There was a huge army presence at the temple, so I called my school friend who is in the army and posted near Cochin. He said, he will try but won’t promise. He called back a couple of times in the evening of Jan 14th saying there was a huge demand for the passes but he will try still.
The next morning we woke up early and got a call from my friend at 6.45 am saying there was a soldier who will be at the temple and he would give us the passes. I got the number and called this person. It was for the first time in my life, that a Mallu was asking a Tamilian if I could understand Hindi :):):). We had a quick chat and he asked us to come to the temple by 7.45 am. We immediately rushed and met with this soldier, only to realise that there was a slight misunderstanding – we wanted passes for the Lakshadeepam and he thought we wanted to have the VIP darshan in the morning ! As luck would have it, the IAS officer in charge of the Padmanabhaswamy temple came out just then and this soldier spoke to him about passes for the evening. He agreed to give us three passes and we were thrilled. We agreed to collect the passes at 12 noon and went back to the hotel.
The pass clearly stated that we should be seated before 6.30 for the Lakshadeepam festival. We got dressed and came to the temple around 5.45 pm …. a tad bit late as we were to realise.
There was a long queue at the South gate and we kept inching closer to the entrance slowly. There was an overcrowded cloak room where I managed to give our phones for safekeeping. We made the mistake of assuming that we could carry Krishnan’s shirt inside a bag, so we had to keep that in another cloak room nearer to the entrance. We left our footwear on the pavement outside the South gate with 1000s of other footwear. We managed to get to our enclosure by 6.45 pm still. There were no seats, you just sat on the ground where fresh sand had been poured. Amma cannot sit down as her knee hurts and she struggles to get up. So she kept standing for the next three hours! She got the chance to sit down on a chair that someone else had used for about 20 minutes and it gave her some relief. The Seeveli (procession) started around 8. First there were two elephants that got decked up near our enclosure. The senior elephant is called Darshini and she retires this year. The younger elephant is being trained. They started lighting the oil lamps on the two towers that were kept near the main temple. First the Maharani walked around the temple bowing to everyone present there. Then at 8.15 or so, the Raja came wearing a green cap (crown) and led the procession. Nadaswarams were played and Vishnu’s symbols of the Conch, Chakra, lotus etc were carried as part of the procession. The idol of Lord Padmanabha Swamy on the Garuda vahana and Bhagavan Narasimha came as part of the procession in the first pradakshinam (a full round of walking around the main sanctum). The 1008 pillars were decorated with flowers, banana plants and there were lamps lit all over. Then came four groups, chanting the four vedas. The royal horse and the royal bull followed. The rear was brought up by the two decorated elephants with the drums being played by the person sitting on top of Darshini. The procession does the Pradakshinam 3 times.
Most of us got up and went near the exit after the second Pradakshinam when Bhagavan Krishna also joined the procession. I got Amma to stand between Krishnan and me because there was a bit of jostling as people were getting restless.
At about 9.40 pm, the gates were opened and we got out easily. Collected our footwear, Krishnan’s shirt and our phones from the cloak room.
We walked towards the main road and stopped on the way to drink some lemon sherbet. They did serve water inside the temple. We managed to get an auto as we got to the main road and we were back in the hotel by about 10.30 pm.
It was a surreal, divine experience. Am sure we will be back in 2026 to witness it again because it did draw us in. There is a different energy inside the temple that can only be experienced… not described. Thanks to my dear fauji classmate from KV Happy Valley, we could experience the Lakshadeepam festival.
Om Namo Narayana.
Suggested reading – http://spst.in/murajapam-and-lakshadeepam/.