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Navarathri is the nine day festival in the month of October, in honor of Devi or the mother Godess. She is worshipped as Saraswathi, the deity of all learning and arts, Lakshmi the Godess of wealth and Durga , embodiment of courage and power .Navarathri Mandapam is situated on the right side of the East Gopuram of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple.

Navarathri Mandapam at
Every year in the month of October the nine nights of the festival are celebrated here with much fervor. Saint Kambar ,
the author of Kamba Ramayana is believed to have gifted the idol of goddess Saraswathi to the Chera King who was his disciple and made the King promise that the Devi will be worshipped during every Navrathri.This promise is being kept by the Travancore Royal House, the descendants of the Chera Kings. Till 1834 AD the Navarathri festival was conducted at the Saraswathi mandapam in the Padmanabhapuram Palace complex.
The Saraswathi idol is now kept at the temple inside the Padmanabhapuram Palace complex. It was Swathi Thirunal who shifted the Capital to Thiruvananthapuram from Padmanabhapuram. But the King made arrangements for the idol to be brought to the new capital during the Navarathri in a grand procession and built the Mandapam for the festival.
During the festival the idol is kept at the Navarathri Mandapam for nine days. Special poojas and vedic rites are conducted during the festival. But the highlight of the Navarathri festival is the music concerts in the evenings. Maharaja Swathi Thirunal composed nine songs in nine ragas for the Navarathri concerts. During the first three days the Devi is worshipped as Saraswathi, as Lakshmi during the next three days and as Durga on the last three days. On the first day Devi Jagajanani in Raga Sankarabharanam will be rendered. It is Pahimam Sri Vageeswari in Kalayani for the second day and Devi Pavane Seve in raga Saveri for the third night. Bharathi Mamava Kripaya is sung on the fourth day. It is composed in raga Thodi. Janani Mamavameye in Bhairavi and Saraoruhasanajaye in Panthuvarali are rendered on the fifth and sixth days. The last three days will have Janani Pahi in Sudha Saveri, Pahi Janani Santhatham in Nattakurinji and Pahi Parvatha Nandini in Arabi in the same order.
Navarathri Mandapam at Padmanabhapuram
Navarathri Mandapam at Padmanabhapuram
side view
Earther Pot SoundReflectors
in Navarathri Mandapam

The Navarathri Mandapam is situated inside a beautiful wooden building. During the festival it is decorated with fresh flowers and fruits. The entire place is lit by oil lamps. Sandalwood and camphor are used as incense. It is a rare and divine experience to visit the Navarathri Mandapam and listen to the special concerts. Even today age old codes of dress and conduct are followed here. Women are not allowed to give concerts and the only the royals can get inside the Mandapam. The public will be restricted to the nalukettu around the Mandapam.

The concerts are according to strict time schedules, they start at a ring of the bell at sharp 6 pm and conclude at another ring at 8.30pm.Even the style of the concerts is very different. Only at the Navarathri Mandapam that it is mandatory to play the mridangam during the rendering of Thanam. Till recently Khatam was not permitted here.

The Navarathri mandapam has a very curious arrangement of earthen pots kept in place by means of coir ropes tied around the neck from one pot to another. The mouth of these pots open down earthwards. The pots are of different sizes. Their mouths are also of different measurements. The pots are not uniformly arranged, but kept in different angles. The thickness of the pots also vary.
They are very ingenious and indigenous way of providing Sound Reflectors. They also prevent echoes. The Sound Reflectors are arranged over the area where the musicians give their performances. In olden days, when modern acoustics were not their, these earthen ware pots ensured the even distribution of sound through the mandapa without the noise pollution of echoes.

Preceeding the main concert, there is a 30 minute thodaya mangalam recital by the traditional Mullamoodu Bhagavathars even today. They have a fixed repertoire of Swathi kritis : Jaya Devaki Kisora (Natai) and Pari Pahi ganadhipa (saveri). They conclude with , curiously enough , a no-Swathi Kriti Narayana Thee namo Namo composed by Annamacharya. T is believed that Swathi suggested this kriti for inclusion as a good specimen of kritis other than his. This Annamacharya kriti is popular in kutcheri circutes and Dr. Balamuralikrishna has performed iit in Behag, though it is rendered in Madhyamavathi in the Mandapam.

Almost all major musicians have performed in the mandapam.. Semangudi Srinivasa Iyer tops the list , having performed over 50 times in the Mandapam. Palakkad K.V. Narayana Swamy, M.D. ramanathan, G.N. balasubramaniyam, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, T.N. Seshagopalan, Maharajapuram santhanam, T.K. Govinda Rao, T.V. sankaranarayanan, Neyveli santhana Gopalan, Neyyattinkara vasudevan, R.K. Sreekantan, Sanjay Subramaniyam, Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma, Trichur V. Ramachandran, O.S. Thyagarajan have all graced the Mandapam. Conspicuous by absence are Chembai and his disciple K.J. Yesudas. The longing for Chembai’s magical music in the Mandapam is qunched by many by enjoying the popular Malayalam film song Nakshatra Deepangal Thilangi which mentions Chembai singing in the Mandapa


An Article by
Prince Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma 

hen the Sage Kambar (Author of the epic Kamba Ramayanam) knew that his end was nearing, he gifted the idol of Sri Saraswathi which he worshipped, to the Chera King whose name I forget.
This was before the formation of the Venad Swarupam and later Travancore.  The state of Travancore was established by Maharaja Anusham Thirunal Marthanda Varma (1729-1758) who had only two options at the time - to kill or be killed. 
He opted got for the former - and ably aided by the genius of his minister (Dalawa) Ramayyan, wiped out his enemies totally, being nearly wiped out himself on more occassions than one but that is another story.

In fact he wiped out his enemies so thoroughly that the succeeding Maharajahs had very little to do in the defense department, which left them ample time for the finer things in life 0- Music, for example.  Though Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma remains the most famous musician, composer and patron of Arts in the family, there were many others before and after him who have rendered invaluable service to the cause of Art and Literature in their own way.

To come back to our story, the Chera King has promised the Sage Kambar that the Navarathri Festival for the precious Saraswathi Amman would be conducted every year, come what may.  This promise has always been kept and the Navarathri Festival is being conducted by the royal family of Travancore to this very day.

This was (and is) easier said than done because Maharajah Karthika Thirunal ‘’Dharma Raja’’ Shifted the capital of Travancore from Padmanabha puram (Now in the State of Tamil Nadu) to Thiruvananthapuram while the Goddess remained (and remains) in a small temple in the premises of the splendid Padmanabhapuram Palace.  So, every year She is brought to Thiruvananthapuram in procession (On an elephant, no less!) for the Navarathri Festival.  An unique feature about this idol is that it is the original idol itself which is taken out of the temple and not an “Utsava Vigraham’’ as is usually the practice.  (when the idol is removed from the shrine a lamp is lit, representing the goddess and Pooja is done to it.)

The Navarathri Festival featured music, dance, other arts, Vedic chanting, Grandha Pooja, Ayudha pooja, scholarly discussions and debates on the Puranas, till the first quarter of this century.  Though the poojas continue, many of the other activities have gradually faded away leaving music concerts (and to a lesser degree dance) the most prominent place in the festivities.

The music for the Navarathri Concerts as we hear them now was composed and codified by Mharaja Swathi Thirunal.  He composed nine songs in the Ragas Shankarabharanam, kalyani, Savery, Thodi, Bhairavi, Panthuvarali, Shuddha Saveri, Nattakurinji and Arabhi respectively, to be sung as the main piece on each day.  During the first three days the Devi is worshipped as Saraswathi; as Lakshmi during the next days and as Durga the last three days.

The ambience at the  Navarathri Mandapam has to be experience to be believed.  The enitre lighting is done using oil lamps. The subtle fragrance of fresh flowers, sandalwood incense, camphor fumes ad less-subtle smells of freshly bathed gentlemen waft around in the air.  The concerts start at 6.00 PM sharp and finish at 8.30 PM sharp.  Believe it or not, nobody is allowed to come late or leave early.  (“Can Such things be?”

 Orginally, the navarathri Festival was conducted in the Nataka Sala of Sree Padmanabhapuram Palace.  The last Navarathri Festival was in the year 1014 M.E. After that, Swati Thirunal; Maharaja had the Navarathri Mandapam in Thiruvananthapuram renovated and modified and from 1015 to 1177 M.E. (1839 to 2001 A.D.) the festival is being conducted in Thiruvananthapuram only. 

The concerts are preceeded by the rendition of the Thodaya Mangalam and Ganapathi Sthuthi by the Mullamoodu Bhagavathars.  This Mullamoodu Bhagavathars are families of musicians whose ancestry-and musical tradition - dates back to the time of Maharajah  Swathi Thirunal .  In fact, it is from these musicians, other royal families in Travancore and from the Nadaswaram vidwans at the  Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram that veteran Musicians like Dr. Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar, Dr.Semmangudi Srinivasa lyer and Vidwan Shri.K.S. Narayanaswamy got hold of the compositions of Maharajah Swathi Thirunal in their original, authentic untampered form.

Till thee first quarter of this century the concerts were given by the Mullamoodu Bhagavathars themselves, where one musician would “lead thee chorus”, so to speak and each one took it in turns to do Raga Alapana, Thanam, Neraval and Swaram singing.  By the 1920’s this system had changed and eminent musicians from outside were invited to give the main concert and the Mullamoodu Bhagavathars were restricted to singing just the Thodaya Mangalam.

The concets themselves are more in the form of offereing to the Devi that performance.  The musicians sing and play for the Goddess and the listeners join in the worship by listening, “Sravanam” and “Keerthanam” being the first two steps prescribed in the nine ways/levels of worship/devotion.  As a result there is neither applause nor the sometimes irritating and sometimes pathetic each other up.

The Navarathri concerts have other unique features too, than the very unique one mentioned above.  As mentioned earlier, the main piece for each day is fixed. This is preceded by Raga Alphana and singing of Thanam, accompanied by Mridangam, in which artists like the late Palakkad Shri.T.S.Mani lyer excelled.  Only compositions of Mharaja Swathi thirunal are sung and the Mangalam is sung only at the end of the concert on the ninth day as a Mangalam is sung only at the end of the concert on the ninth day as a Mangalam for the whole festival.  For the past few decades, a portion of each concert has been broadcast by the All India Radio all over Kerala the very same evening.

On one evening a dance recital is also features, after the concert and the evening Pooja.  Almost every danced worth her name has danced at the Navarathri Mandapam.

Almost all the great singers have sung here too, with a few very notable exceptions - The Great Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar for example, who is the pride and joy of any self respecting musician from Kerala.  The reasons for such omissions, though rather intriguing-and unfortunate - are beyond the scope of this article.  Till now the tradition has been to have concerts of male voice, Veena and occasionally Goottuvadyam.  Whether this will change or not, only time will tell.

There are other restrictions too.  Being a temple, entry is restricted to Hindus.  The concerts have to start at 6.00 PM and finish at 8.30 PM sharp, when a bell will ring, which reminds me of a story: the late Shri M.D. Ramanathan concluded virtually all his concerts (not just at the Navarathri Mandapam) with the last lines of Mharaja Swathi Thirunal’s celebrated Ramayanam song “Bhavayami Raghuramam.”  One year he sang the rarely Ashta Rangamalika by the Maharajah, “Pannagendra Shayana”, which he finished 8.30PM on the dot .... when, sure enough the bell rang.

But, feeling bad that he hadn’t sung the usual “Kalitthavara Sethubandham” bit from Bhavayami Raghuramam he rendered it at a brisk gallop though “the bell had tolled”, so to speak.  The then administrator of the Navarathri Trust who wasn’t particulary well known for his polite, gentle and self-effacing nature gave
Shri. Ramanathan a piece of his mind, in front of the people who had come for the concert.

The gist of what he had to say was fairly simple; that at the Navarathri Mandapam one had to follow Navarathri Mandpam timings and not one’s own timings.  But the gentleman in question being a touch pompous - and  verbous, it sounded rather like an insult - and MDR, in characteristic simplicity muttered “Appidiya? Aanal Koopida Vendaam!” (“Is that so? Then don’t call me”) and disappeared.  But how could one forget the impact his miraculous voice had in the small, virtually mikeless Mandapam?  How could one not help but miss the magic he  worked with pieces like “Paramaananda Natanam” in Kedaram., “Mohanamay!” in Yadukulakamboji, “Paripaalaya Maam” in Reethigowla, “Padmanabha Pahi” in Hindolom and of course “Bhavayami Raghuramam”? So MDR was invited again and he continued to sing at the Mandapam every year till he passed away.   and he continued to sing at the Mandapam every year till he appsed away.

The time restriction puts off quite a few spectators too - as does the fact that one has to sit on floor and take off one’s shirt.  So hundreds of people sit on the steps outside the Sri Padmanabhaswami Temple, giving it a true galley-look and listen to the concerts through a speaker installed their for  their convenience which reminds me of another story.  This involves the late Shri.G.N.Balasubramaniam and another musician who shall remain nameless.

This latter musician was passionately jealous of G.N.B - in more ways than one.  But he was curious to know how Shri.Balasubramaniam did his job.  Eyewitness (who wish to remain anonymous-I asked!) recall that this musician would come in a car with a “chela” over his head, giving him rather, hoping that this musician would come in a car with a “chela” over his head, giving him rather, hoping that it would give him the look of an elderly Brahmin woman, remain hunched up in the car and listen to GNB’s glorious music.

Once Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi (who was largely responsible for the development of music in Kerala during this century) joked with our friend the anonymous - rather, incognito - musician, “you know, today there won’t be any flowers left in the market”.  “And why, may I ask?” he inquired.  “Because GN is singing in evening and the ladies would have bought up all the flowers, because they are crazy about him”.  To which our friend replied sardonically “Yes, some musicians are worth seeing - and some others, worth hearing.”

Palakkad shri.T.S. Mani layer was also a regular at the Mandapam Where he waived his usual conditions which said No to microphones, radio broadcast, etc.  (the problem of Radio Broadcast was solved rather strangely, by playing two Thani Avarthanams, of which the first would be the real Mani lyer vintage stuff - which wouldn’t come on radio - and the second  a relatively uneventful one.  “Uneventful “, that is, by Mani lyer standards).

One year he decided to miss his Navarathri concert having been invited abroad. All the programmes had been fixed when suddenly a telegram arrived from Mani lyer saying that he would be coming after all. An obliging mridanga vidwan offered to left Mani lyer play in his place. After the concert Mani lyer explained “I coludn’t bear the thought of missing a concert in this wonderful Sannidhanam!”.


There is a saying that Saraswathy, the Goddess of music and literature and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth rarely go to together.  Unfortunately this is seen to be rather true as far as the Navarathri Mandapam, Which is run by a Trust, is concerned “How to improve things in the Lakshmi department without damaging the existing heights of excellence in the Saraswathydepartment?” remains the big question.

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