A popular lore about its origin says
Lord Parsurama, an incarnation of Vishnu,
After battle destroyed 21 evil warriors,
Then prayed Gods for tranquil place,
Where he may penance perform,
His wish the God’s deigned fulfill,
Granted him land he himself built,
Parsurama threw his battle-axe in sea,
And commanded water to retreat,
Fertile land that thus emerged,
Became Kerela, place of tranquility,
The name means, land of coconuts,
From tropical sun it is by palms shaded.
Situated on the southwest coast of India, sandwiched between the deep azure Arabian Sea and the lush Western Ghats, Kerala is land of marvelous beauty. Countless streams and rivers crisscrossing the landscape at different places, serene backwaters pushing deep into leafy countryside, lush green hill stations, endless expanse of rice fields, abounding mango and cashew plantations, palm trees soaring to sky, beaches blessed by surf and sun- such are the gripping pictures with which Kerela seduces its visitors.
The true essence of Kerela is captured in its capital city, Thiruvanthapuram, formally known as Trivandrum. Perched on a rolling terrain of low costal hills, close to Kerela’s southern edge, Thiruvanthapuram is an ancient city with modern cosmopolitan outlook. Literarily the name, Thiruvanthapuram, means the abode of thousand-headed serpent Lord Anantha, who forms the couch on which reclines Vishnu, the preserver of Hindu trinity.
However, despite the religious connotations of its name, Thiruvanthapuram is first and foremost a secular city, which has enough political and commercial importance to warrant an international airport. It is a gateway to whole of south India and its numerous hotels and efficient transport system are well equipped to offer every modern facility to a traveler. Being capital of a state that boasts of 100% literacy, it is environmentally conscious, and is clean and green. Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of curing through the use of natural herbs and roots is immensely popular. Many foreign tourists specially visit Thiruvanthapuram to be treated in its excellent ayurvedic centers.
Arts and Festivals
Thiruvanthapuram is an admired center of some of Kerala’s most well known classical dance forms. Kathakali, which combines facets of ballet, opera, masque and pantomime, is performed with gusto. Mohiniyattam, literally meaning the dance of the celestial enchantress, is a solo dance and has very poetic rendering. Unhurried, elegant, swaying movements of body and limbs and highly affecting eye and hand gestures are the hallmark of this dance form. The highly classical Kootiyattam is mostly performed in Temple Theater and only rarely on stage. The religiously feverous Krishnanattom covers the whole span of Lord Krishna’s life from birth to ascension to heavens. At Nisangandhi, an open air theatre in Thiruvanthapuram city, a gala festival is organized every year from 21st to 27th of February in which renowned artist perform classical dances.
From 5th to the 11th of April every year is the time for flavor food festival. Renowned hotels from across Kerela participate in this weeklong festival and provide an opportunity for gourmets to taste traditional authentic cuisine of Kerela. Swathi Festival, the gala event of music, takes place in the last week of January every year at the famous Kuthiramalika Palace. Renowned artist and connoisseurs of art come from all over the world to enjoy this cultural treat. Onam, the festival revering the memory of the demon king Mahabali is held in the month of August or beginning of September depending on the position of moon and the stars. It is popularly believed that the soul of King Mahabali visits Kerela during the time of Onam celebrations. Houses are cleaned, flower decorations constructed and vibrant processions are organized to welcome the ruler.
Prime attractions of Thiruvanthapuram
An awe-inspiring structure built in Dravidian style, Shri Padmanabhaswamy temple, dedicated to Vishnu, physically dominates the city by its seven storey- 100 feet high- gopuram. In the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, the presiding deity Lord Vishnu reclines on coiled serpent Anantha. The gopuram adorned by scintillating array of Gods, Goddesses, sprites, and demons is great attraction for the tens of thousands of devotees who visit the temple every year. Countless pillars, exquisite carvings and magnificent murals add to the appeal. The area around the temple is an excellent market for souvenirs, handicrafts, woodcarvings and much else. Every year during navaratri the temple becomes a place of elaborate festivities with many classical dances, musical concerts and colorful processions being arranged.
Strung along Thiruvanthapuram’s coastline are some of India’s most fabulous beaches- endless expanse of sand, coruscating as gold dust, washed by surf from the cerulean Arabian Sea are a beach hanger’s dream come true. Kovalam, which is malayali for a grove of coconut trees, is the name of most popular beach hangout in Thirvanthapuram. True to its name, the crescent shaped Kovalam beach is fringed with countless soaring palm trees swaying in gentle wind. Secluded palm fringed bays, mild waves, and rocky promontories jutting into the sea, make this beach an ideal place for sunbathing and swimming. The waterfront lined with shops dealing in handicraft, clothe, jewellery is an added attraction and so are beachside restaurants selling mouthwatering seafood. In the evenings scintillating Kathakali performances enliven the quiet ambiance of the beach. Varkala, a seaside resort close to Thiruvanthapuram, is a popular Hindu center of pilgrimage as the 2000-year-old Janardana Swamy Temple is located here. This beach is commonly called ‘Papanashini’, as it is believed that a dip in its waters purges the body of all sins.
Chinese and Mughal influences are much in evidence in the architectural splendor of Napier museum. Designed in 19th century by English architect Chisholm, the museum houses a fine collection of bronzes, ornaments, costumes and a model of ‘Tharawad’, the traditional Nair family home. The Sree Chitra Arts Gallery, housed in a traditional building next to Napier museum, displays select paintings by Kerala’s favorite artist son, Raja Ravi Verma. Works of Svetlova and Nicholas Roerich and exquisite works from the Rajput, Mughal and Tanjore schools of art in India, as well as collections of the Travancore ruling family are housed in this art gallery.
The Kuthiramalika Palace, built by His Highness Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma of Travancore is, because of its excellent carvings and remarkable architectural design, a slice of heritage in itself. The palace museum adorned with paintings and various priceless collections offers an insight into the private life of the members of the erstwhile royal family. Life size figures depicting scenes from Kerala legends and Kathakali adorn the first hall.
Akkulam is a place of picturesque beauty with a scenic lake and a children’s park, which is one of the largest in Kerala. There is a boat club with many boats, which provide tourists wonderful boating facilities on the placid waters of the lake. Lazing on the cool banks is a delightful pastime. A favorite haunt of sunset watchers Shankhumugham Beach is famous for its matsya kanyaka, a 35-meter long sculpture of a mermaid.
True to the environment friendly nature of the city, it has a sprawling public park in which institutions like the zoo and botanical gardens are located. The zoo is famous for its many tigers all of which are housed in clean surroundings. The government secretariat with its interesting design and manicured lawns is in itself a superb sight to see.