Having spent few lovely days in salubrious Ooty we descended down to the Arabian Sea coast. We were not aware that travelling to Trivandrum via Coimbatore would have been easier and cheaper. We had bookings in a train from Bangalore. So we had to come all the way back to Bangalore and lost a day in the process. More than an overnight’s journey later we were in Trivandrum, later renamed Thiruvananthapuram.
The name signifies that the city is the seat of its deity Sri Padmanabhaswamy for whom there is an ancient temple. Thiruvanantpuram means City of Lord Ananta. In fact the capital of the erstwhile Travancore State was Padmanabpuram which is now in the state of Tamil Nadu. The capital was shifted to Thiruvananthpuram in1795 and Padmanabpuram got integrated into Tamil Nadu curiously in 1957 – the same digits as those of 1795.
The temple seems to be timeless as no information is available about its origin. It has found mention in puranas; its origins are lost in mists of time. It has, however, had the reputation down the ages that it is the richest place of worship anywhere in the world. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu who is shown in the posture of eternal sleep. The façade is golden which has come in for criticism from some Westerners who found it “decadent”. It may be so for modern times but it wasn’t ever considered vile or contemptible by the locals. And that is what matters. Its riches have always been a matter of general discourse.
The controversy regarding the temple gold occurred much later and from all appearances it still remains unresolved. What, however, is a fact is that the treasure in several vaults of the temple date back to thousands of years. No one seems to know the value of the treasure as most of them have remained unopened. The vaults that were opened under orders of the Supreme Court yielded enormous amount of gold and jewellery as also hundreds of thousands of gold coins from Roman Empire and elsewhere – all estimated to be worth a trillion dollars. The vaults that are supposed to be holding most of the wealth are yet to be opened and if ever these are opened it could amount to the biggest recovery of ancient treasures in the world.
Temples like Shri Padmanabhaswami with its golden facade must have been the reasons for circulation of rumours about riches of India. This must have been reason for foreigners to cast evil eyes on the country. No wonder marauders from the West repeatedly attacked the country and sacked temples like Somnath and others. Even now several temples are bursting at their seams with gems, jewellery, gold and currency.
Thiruvanthapuram is supposed to be the largest city in deep south and is a very well laid out place. Having been the capital of the erstwhile princely state of Tranvancore it looks every bit of it. Princely India has left behind its stamp on the towns which happened to be the bases from where the princes ruled over their respective territories. That is true of Thiruvananthpuram as well though the place is visited more for the Shree Padmanaswami temple and the famed Kovalam beach than for anything else. Ages ago it used to have trading links with the Middle East as also the Roman Empire but signs of them are left more in the vaults of the Shree Padmanaswami temple in the shape of Roman and Grecian gold coins. The spice trade that brought wealth to the local maharaja seems to have now shifted to Cochin where there is a more organized spices market.
The other place I remember visiting was the Kovalam beach. What we did was to go to the Kovalam Beach Resort Hotel and sit out in the open for some time and then in a gazebo and enjoyed the breeze and the sea spread out in front. Sitting there we also enjoyed a lot fried prawns which were just delicious.
Cape Comorin or Kanya Kumari
We travelled about a hundred kilometers to come to Kanya Kumari formerly known as Cape Comorin, the southern tip of the Indian land mass. It was supposed to be a fabled place where the three seas/oceans met. Named after the Devi Kanya Kumari (Parvati) temple, it is a small place but the eateries here dish out fantastic dosas. The nearest town is Nagarcoil which is the district headquarters – the district having been named after Kanya Kumari.
One has to visit the place only for its sunrises and sunsets. They are just out of this world; the play of early morning light or that of the evening on the waves is fascinating. Cape Comorin has had ancient connections with the Greeks and was at one time a centre that traded with them, Ptolemy is said to have described the place in his treatises identifying it with Gulf of Mannar.
All this apart, Swami Vivekanada visited Kanya Kumari in 1892 and meditated here on a rock far out on the sea for as many as three days. He is stated to have swum to it against the advice of the local fishermen and survived on the rock without any food and water for three days. The place is now immortalized as Vivekanand Memorial and has become a tourist spot.
During our stay we were suddenly overtaken by a storm. From our Kerala House room we could see fishermen far out looking for a catch bobbing up and down on the turbulent sea in strong winds. They, apparently, are a courageous and tough lot as none seemed to be heading back for the coast. Making a living for them is virtually an everyday struggle.