Flights give up runway for Lord Padmanabhaswamy, his devotees, elephants in biannual tradition at Thiruvananthapuram airport

Flight services were resumed at around 9 pm after the procession returned to the temple, and the tarmac was declared fit for air operations.


Published Oct 24, 2023 | 10:40 AMUpdatedOct 24, 2023 | 10:40 AM

Arattu procession of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple

Flight services were put on hold for five hours at the international airport in Thiruvananthapuram in a biannual tradition to enable the traditional “arattu” procession of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple to pass through the runway.

Flight services resumed around 9 pm, on Monday, 23 October, after the procession returned to the temple.

Sporting the traditional green silk cap, an emerald necklace and carrying the ceremonial sword, the present head of the erstwhile Travancore royal family, Sree Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma, braved the heavy rains and led the procession from the temple to Shankumugham beach nearby.

Related: Flight services at Thiruvananthapuram airport to be suspended for 5 hours

The procession

Arattu on the runway

Arattu on the runway. (TRV_Airport_Off/ X)

It began from the shrine at around 5:00 pm and, besides the male members of the royal family, a large number of devotees and six caparisoned elephants were also part of the procession that cut across the airport runway to the beach.

After entering the airport premises, the “utsava Vigrahas” (idols) of Padmanabha Swamy, Narasima Moorthy and Krishna Swami, were kept at the “arattu mandapam” near the runway for some time and later taken to the nearby beach for the rituals.

After a dip in the sea off Shankumugham beach, the idols were then taken back to the shrine in a procession lit by traditional torches marking the conclusion of the festival.

Flight services were resumed at around 9 pm after the procession returned to the temple and the tarmac was cleaned and declared fit for air operations, an airport source said.

Around four flights set to depart from the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport were rescheduled for the annual “arattu”, the source said.

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Centuries-old ceremony

Decorated elephants for the procession on the runway

Decorated elephants for the procession on the runway. (TRV_Airport_Off/ X)

The airport has been pausing operations and rescheduling flights twice every year for decades to enable the biannual centuries-old ceremonial procession of the shrine to pass through the runway.

The practice of the temple procession passing through the route to reach the Shankumugham beach for the holy bath of the idols began centuries ago and it has been continuing even after the establishment of the airport in 1932.

When the airport was constructed at that particular place, the then Travancore King Sree Chithira Thirunal had made it clear that the facility would be open to the public for 363 days in a year and for two days for Lord Padmanabha, the titular deity of the royal family, according to historians.

The royal-era ritual has been upheld to this day, even after the government took over the airport from the royal family, and even since a private company took over its operations in 2021.

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