I got to spent a few days before Mahanavami this year on the street outside the east entrance to Padmanabhaswamy temple. The archives where I spent most of my time is less than a mile from the temple and so it became a routine affair to stop by the Padmatheertham (holy pond) enjoying the light evening breeze that the city enjoys in the post-monsoon months. I was fortunate enough to catch Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma from the Travancore royal family singing his ancestor's composition--I never saw the concert, only heard it through the speakers set on the road leading up to the temple, from across my perch on the steps leading down to the pond.
The ten days of Navratri celebrations is a cultural touchstone from at least the time of Swathi Thirunal (r.1829-1846) under whose guidance Navratri celebrations in Thiruvananthapuram (and other parts of erstwhile Travancore) was revamped and expanded. The dusk fragranced with incense and jasmine was filled with peals of laughter of little girls in their paavaada (skirts) hopping alongside their elders, while devotees briskly walking towards the decorated entrance of the famed temple, and street vendors tried to entice children into buying their wares. This milieu, framed with Ashwathi Thirunal's voice truly transported me to Swathi's world. For a moment, I could imagine the street as a liminal space that escaped the present to meld with the past. In that moment, everything had remained the way it was for over 185 years.
The music shared here allows us to peek into the past.