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Thiruvananthapuram (Trivendrum) is 87 kilometers or 54 miles west of the southernmost tip of India at Kanyakumari. It is the capital of Kerala State and is located on seven sea-side hills. It is bounded by the Arabian Sea on the west and the State of Tamil Nadu on the east. The wooded highlands on the Western Ghats in the eastern and northeastern borders provide some of the most enchanting picnic spots of this city. A long shoreline, with internationally renowned beaches, historic monuments, scenic backwater stretches and a rich cultural heritage make it a very popular tourist destination. It has been renamed in the local Malyalam language as Thiruvananthapuram recently. The city was the capital of erstwhile princely state of Tranvancore. The best time to see the city is during the bi-annual festivals held in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the months of March-April and again in September-October.
The city and the neighboring places have been very influential in the ancient traditions, folklore and literature of south Kerala. The Aye clan wielded great political power in the whole region until the beginning of tenth century. They were then replaced by the dynasty of Venad. The Portuguese and the Dutch sea-traders had their trading posts in the north of the city. In 1684 during her regency the Umayamma Rani granted rights to the British East India Company to build a fortified factory on the sandy coastline at Anchuthengu (also known as Anjengo) that is 32 kilometers or 20 miles north of Thiruvananthapuram. The British gradually extended their domain to other parts of the former Travancore Royal State.
Raja Marthanda Varma (1729 to 1758) is generally considered as the father of modern Travancore. He patronized art and literature during his reign. Maharaja Swathi Thirunal from 1829 to 1847 influenced the development of economy. With the prosperity of the land culture also flourished in his period. The British started the first English school in 1834 in the city. An astronomical observatory and a charity hospital were built in 1836 in the city. From 1860 to 1880 Maharaja Ayilyam Thirunal established many schools to promote the learning of English, Malayalam and Tamil languages. He also built the first Art College in the city. The University College came up in 1873. From 1885 to 1924 Raja Sir Moolam Thirunal established the Sanskrit College, the Ayurveda College, the Law College and the College for Women in the city.
Raja Sir Moolam Thirunal also ordered the establishment of a separate department for the preservation and publication of rare oriental manuscripts. He made significant political reforms. The most important among his reforms was the inauguration of the first Legislative Council Chamber in a princely state in India in 1888. During his reign there was popular support for the freedom movement struggle under the Indian National Congress. An important political conference of the Indian National Conference was held in 1938 under the presidency of Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramaiah. During the rule of Maharaja Shri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma from 1931 a very important social emancipation reform under the Temple Entry Proclamation Act was enacted in 1936.
The University of Travancore started from 1937. In 1956 when the Kerala State was formed in independent India this university was reconstituted as University of Kerala. Radical changes came with the independence of India in the whole state of Kerala. Sir Pattom A. Thanu Pillai became the first Chief Minister on March 24, 1948. Four “Taluks” districts of Thovala, Agasheeswaram, Kalkulam and Vilavancode of the former Travancore State were merged into Tamil Nadu according to recommendations of State Reorganization Commission based on provincial languages. On November 1, 1956 the new State of Kerala was formed.
Padmanabha Swamy Temple in the east Fort area is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The seven-storied temple is constructed in a blend of Kerala and Dravidian architectural forms. It is very famous for its mural paintings and stone carvings. The idol of presiding deity of Lord Vishnu is reclining on the Anantha Nag Serpent and is eighteen feet long. The Rajas of Travancore ruled the land as the servants of Lord Padmanabha. Inside the temple, a Mandapam (hall with pillars) on a platform carved out of a single piece of rock displays interesting sculptures. Padmatheertham, the temple pond is in the front of the temple. On the way to the temple there is an interesting clock called Meshan Mani that has a dial depicting a man’s face with two goats on either side. When the clock strikes the hour, the man’s mouth opens and the goats bang against his cheeks. Only Hindu men dressed in Dhoti and Hindu ladies dressed in Saree and blouse are permitted inside the temple. The temple is open for the Aartee from 4.15 to 5.15 AM, 6.45 to 7.15 AM, 8.30 to 11.15 AM, 11.45 to 12 noon, 5 to 6.15 PM and 6.45 to 7.30 PM. Foreign tourists are allowed to see it from outside which is also quite impressive. In 2012 a huge treasure of gold, silver, diamonds, precious stones, crowns and coins etc. stored in hundreds of sacks was found in the secret vaults of the temple. For centuries the Maharaja's family and common citizens have been donating to this most popular temple in Kerala. There are various estimates of the value of this treasure but it is definitely in billions of US dollars.
Parasurama Temple, Thiruvallam is a 2000 year old temple located on the River Karamana dedicated to Shree Parasurama. It is the only temple dedicated to Shree Parasurama in Kerala. It is a special temple for Bali, the rituals done for the souls of ancestors by making various offerings accompanied by the chanting of Vedic mantras.
Varkala is 40 kilometers or 25 miles from Thiruvananthapuram and is an ancient 2000 year old, very popular Hindu pilgrimage center. Nearby on a hilltop called Sivagiri is the resting place of the great Hindu social reformer, Shri Narayana Guru. Varkala is also a very attractive seaside resort and spa. The two main historical attractions of this resort are the ancient Shri Janardhana Swamy Temple and the Nature Care Center that is fed by mineral springs from the seaside high cliffs.
Anjengo is located near the famed Varkala beach. This coastal historical site is linked to the European traders, starting with the Portuguese and followed by the Dutch and finally British East India Company that chose this site for their first trade settlement in Kerala. Local folklore explains the name of the site as Anjengo or five coconut trees that were on a piece of land that the Queen of Attingal leased to the British East India Company in 1684. There are still remnants of the old English Fort that was witness to many fierce battles with the armies of other European sea-trading nations. It has been declared a National Heritage Monument and protected by the Government. There is a cemetery inside this fort that has graves of many former, foreign occupants of the fort. The oldest grave dates from 1704. There are interesting backwater channels lined with dense coconut tree growth near this area. Near the beach there is a small village of fishermen.
The East Fort Area in the capital city has been declared as a heritage site and protected by the State Government. Inside the fort are several magnificent palaces and aristocratic houses as well as Agraharams or the houses belonging to Brahmins (priestly caste people). The famous Lord Padmanabha Swamy Temple dedicated to an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is also inside this area. The imposing main gateway to the Fort is painted white and is situated on the eastern side facing the lively Chalai Bazaar. The main fort was built during the reign of Maharaja Marthanda Varma. There is also a fort built by the British East India Company that has a touch of French architecture with guardrooms on its sides. There are two “Mandapams” or platforms covered with a roof that is supported on pillars. These were used for royal proclamations. South of this area is the red fort called Vettimurichakotta that also has one guardroom each on both sides. According to some chroniclers the construction of the Fort area was initiated during the reign of Maharaja Vishakam Thirunal. Just near the fort is the C. V. N. Kalari center for Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial art form of Kerala.
In 1818 the Padinjarekotta Fort was added to this area on its southern side. It has a touch of French architecture. It was constructed during the closure of another fort called Nariadachankotta, which is nearby. The bi-annual Aaraatt processions of the idols of Padmanabha Swamy Temple pass through the Padinjarekotta Fort. Two other forts in this area are the Azheekotta and the Aashupathrikotta Forts. The various palatial buildings inside the fort area were residences of the former royal family members and are now used as offices with the exception of a few. The Baroque and Rococo blended style of architecture of the Ananthavilasam Palace in the Fort area built by Maharaja Vishakam Thirunal in 1880 is very interesting. Near this palace is the Krishnavilasam Palace built by Raja Shri Moolam Thirunal in 1885 that has an architecture blending traditional and modern western elements of that period. Shri Padam Kottaram Palace is the oldest one in the fort area. It was used by former royal family when they arrived to participate in the Swamy Padmanabha Temple rituals. The Saraswathivilasam Palace is also in a blend of Kerala and western architecture. It has high walls and ceilings. Arched gateways and round pillars are its hallmarks. It was built towards the end of nineteenth century and was once the residence of Kerala Varma Valia Koyi Thampuran. The neighboring Sundaravilasam Palace was built by Raja Shri Moolam Thirunal in 1886-1887. It is the venue of an important “Pallivetta” ritual that is part of Aaraatt festival.
Kuthiramalika or the Horse Palace is on the left side of the road leading to the Padmanabha Swamy Temple. It is also known as the Puthenmalika and was built in 1844 by Raja Swathi Thirunal. It was named the horse palace because there are wooden carved statues of prancing horses along the entire length of its upper floors. This is a two-storied building in typical Kerala style. An interesting feature of this palace is a raised alcove built by Raja Swathi Thirunal to compose songs and to meet the musicians from different parts of the world. One has a panoramic view of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple from this raised alcove. Kuthiramalika has a museum housing rare artifacts belonging to Travancore Kings including paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. Raja Ravi Verma was trained as an artist in Paris and he was the first Indian painter to make realistic depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses apart from painting many portraits.
The Navarathri Mandapam situated to the east of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple is the venue for the annual ten-day Navarathri celebrations. The annual Navarathri music festival held here is attended by musicians from all over the country.
Near the Fort there are palatial houses, locally called “Amma Veedus”. These houses are more than 150 years old and were specially built for the consorts of Travancore rulers in a blend of Kerala and European styles of architecture. The interiors of these houses are elaborately decorated. The other significant aspect of the architecture of these houses is that no cement or iron is used in their construction. The prominent among these houses are the Arumana, the Thanjavur and the Vedasseri.
Important Fairs of Thiruvananthapuram:
The Village Fair: An entire traditional rural Kerala village is recreated complete with artisans, Nalukettu (traditional house), temple, astrologer among many other important depictions to demonstrate to visitors the actual life style and traditional customs of rural Kerala. The festival lasts for one week from January 3. It is held near Kovalam Beach Resort. There are cultural performances of Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Kalaripayattu and Theyyam among many other traditional classical and folk dance forms.
The Great Elephant Race is a four day long extravaganza organized by the Kerala Government Tourism Department. 101 elephants march from Thrissur on January 17 and reach Trivandrum on the fourth day with stopovers in Kochi and Alappuzha. Boat Races and folk art performances are also organized to highlight Kerala’s cultural traditions. The festival concludes at Kovalam Beach.
Nishagandhi Dance Festival is organized by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation at the open-air theater of Nishagandhi in the Kanakukunnu Palace Grounds in which leading artists of Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kathak, Odissi, modern ballet and other folk forms perform. Admission is free.
Vetta and Arattu celebrated biannually in October/November and again in March-April at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The festival begins when Vetta representing Lord Vishnu kills the evil demon of the forest. The next day the idols of Lord Padmanabha, Lord Krishna and Lord Narasimha are carried in a procession led by members of the former royal family to the Arabian Sea at Sangumugham beach. After the idols are ritually bathed at the beach the procession returns to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Several all night cultural programs with traditional dances and music are organized during the festival.
Attukal Pongala is celebrated between February18 to 26 every year at Attukal Bhagavati Temple. It is a ten-day festival. On the ninth day thousands of women devotees from many parts of the state gather near the temple to prepare Pongala, a favorite offering to the goddess by cooking jaggery, coconut and banana in specific proportions. Only ladies are allowed to make the offerings on this day of the festival.
Vivanta by Taj Trivandrum Hotel - 127 rooms
Hilton Garden Inn Hotel Trivandrum - 134 rooms
Uday Suites - 45 rooms
Beach & Lake Ayurvedic Resort - 32 rooms
Windsor Rajadhani Hotel - 57 rooms
The Residency Tower Hotel – 63 rooms
Manaltheeram Ayurveda Beach Village - 70 rooms (Kovalam)
SP Grand Days - 70 rooms
Maurya Rajdhani Trivandrum Hotel - 39 rooms
Fortune Welcomgroup South Park Hotel – 82 rooms
Hycinth Hotel, Trivandrum - 104 rooms
Chaithram Hotel Trivandrum - 88 rooms
Uday Samudra Beach Hotel – 93 rooms
Keys Hotel - 101 rooms
Trivandrum Hotel - 16 rooms
Coconut Bay Beach Resort, Kovalam - 27 villas and rooms
Palm Leaves Beach Resort, Kovalam - 10 rooms
Classic Avenue Hotel, Trivandrum - 60 rooms
Mascot Hotel KTDC Trivandrum - 66 rooms
Distance from Thiruvananthapuram in Kilometers and Miles:
Kanyakumari: 87 Kilometers or 54 Miles
Kochi: 220 Kilometers or 137 Miles
Thrissur: 299 Kilometers or 186 Miles