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Kerala’s temple of wonders

An experience of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram leaves the writer in a thrall

It’s 3am and I’m desperately draping a saree over a pair of fitted jeans and a shirt. This isn’t a sartorial quirk—I’m in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, and have risen early to visit the famous Padmanabhswamy temple after which I intend to slip out of the saree and drive to Kanyakumari three hours away to catch the sunrise.

The temple, I’m told, follows a strict dress code—sarees for women and mundus without shirts for men. It is hard enough to tie the six-yard garment around myself without having to do it at such an ungodly hour but then, what the occidental world refers to as an ungodly hour Hindus call the brahmamuhurta-the “auspicious time of Brahma,”-and is the last quarter of the night before the morning sun. Those early hours before sunrise are supposed to be highly conducive for connecting with higher consciousness through spiritual practices.

Now, as a tourist committed to partaking in all local traditions, spiritual or secular, I am walking in hurried steps towards the famous Padmanabhaswamy temple to make the most of the spiritually charged hour and experience its power for myself. Having arrived in the city nearly forty-eight hours earlier for a literature festival, I’ve been stealing myself away in between panel discussions for some sightseeing. It’s been a race against time but from delighting in Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings to enjoying the artefacts inside the museums, buying local spices and indulging in kanjeevaram saree shopping, I’ve managed to do it all along with another writer friend from Mumbai.

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