Age-old Navaratri Mandapam concerts, Padmanabha swamy temple, Thiruvanthapuram

The idol of Sarawati in a procession/

Above image: The festivities officially begin with three deities – Saraswathi, Kumaraswami and Munnuttinanka setting out on a three-day journey, covering  60km to Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala  from Padmanabhapuram palace, now in Tuckalay, Tamil Nadu. At Navaratri Mandapam, the deities will be kept for nine days and after the festival, they will be reverentially brought back to Padmanabhapuram Palace in Kanyakumari district  ...................
Goddess Saraswathi on the elephant, Kumaraswami and Munnuttinanka follow on palanquins. Photo: Rinku...

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Navarathri the nine day festival (in the month of September and October), dedicated to the Hindu Goddesses  Saraswathi, representing knowledge and wisdom, Lakshmi  wealth and Durga,  courage and power assumes much importance at Padmanabha Swamy Temple.Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala and on nine nights it is celebrated with bhakti and religious fervor.  The venue  is Navarathri Mandapam located  on the right side of the East Gopuram of the famous  Temple, the richest one in the world.

Navaratri Mandapam, Thiruvanthapuram

Tradition has it that in the 13th century Saint Kambar Who wrote Kamba Ramayanam in Tamil  gifted the idol of goddess Saraswathi to his disciple, Chera King on condition that  the deity  would be worshipped  every year during  Navrathri. Later, the Chera kingdom became Venad and Travancore. As promised by the early Chera king, the tradition of celebrating Navaratri continues to day by the king's descendants. Earlier till 1834 the Saraswathi mandapam in the Padmanabhapuram Palace complex was the venue for this  festival.

Long ago the royal family shifted the capital from Padmanabapuram, now in Tamil Nadu  to Thiruvananthpuram. However, the rulers of Travancore made special arrangement to bring Saraswati idol in a grand procession from the temple at Padmanabhapuram palace in Tamil Nadu to their  new capital during Navaratri festival time and the idol would be kept in the specially built Navaratri Mandapam at the temple. Besides, the sword, 
kept in 

Pamanabhapuram palace, TN

Upparika Malika in the Pamanabhapuram  palace will also be taken to the temple at Thiruvanthapuram after reverentially kept at the feet of Padmanabhapuram Thevarkattu Saraswathi Amman Temple. During the10 day festival pujas will be conducted amidst chanting of Vedic mantras by the pundits and priests.

Since Maharajah Swathi Thirunal (1813-1846) was a patron of arts, dance, etc., and was keenly interested in Classical music, the main attraction of the festival was music concerts (Katcheris) in the evenings. The ruler himself composed songs - Swathi Thirunal Keerthanas in nine ragas for the festival. They  are quite famous even to day. Carnatic music vocalists   like Semmangudi Srinivasa Aiyar, Ariyakudi Ramajnuja Ayyengar and others excelled in them. First three days are dedicated to  Saraswathi, second three days Lakshmi is worshiped and last three days  Devi Durga is worshiped. 

 The Navarathri Mandapam, the main venue of the concert is a nicely carved wooden building and during the festival days it is well decorated with flowers, etc. Countless oil lamps are lit in this place and elsewhere in the temple. No electric lights are used in the concert hall which provides soothing ambiance for the performers. The audience is not allowed to applaud by way of clapping their hands as Navaratri Mandapam is part of a venerated temple. Women singers were not allowed either to  do Katcheri (concert)  or sit in the audience in the past. Thanks to late Amma Maharani  Sethu Parvathy Bayi (1896-1983), Since 2006, women have been allowed to perform  and attend the concert. However, there is a strict dress code being followed. Men should wear vesti / dhoti or mundu. Women should wear sari and girls pavadai-dhavani

Padmanabha swamy temple, Thiruvanathapuram. Halo Backwater

Late Maharani Parvathy Bayi was also instrumental in changing the format of the concert by inviting well-known musicians from other parts of the states.  The  music concerts will be from 6 pm till 8 pm sharp, Earlier local musicians called Mullammodu Bhagavathars will sing Thodaya Mangalam every day from 5.30 pm till 6 pm. This tradition has been in vogue for a pretty long period. Violin and flute solos and Gottuvathyam were allowed after 2006. 

 One interesting aspect of this concert is in those days, the tricky technique of acoustics in a concert hall  was not well-known. However, here to have reasonably good acoustics, a series of earthen pots of various sizes re kept above to the ceiling. They are  tied by rope to their open  necks  that face downward. The mouths of the pots are of different sizes and are not uniformly arranged. The thickness of the pot varies. They act as sound reflectors and cut down the echoes. The earthen  pots provide equal distribution of sound in the hall and produce reined sound.

Annamacharya kriti was made famous by the  late Bala Muralikrishna. Every year the Swathi Thirunal kritis would reverberate here in the near-by  Kuthiramalika in the first and second week of January every year.  All stalwarts of Carnatic music from Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala performed here over a period of several decades.