Crown jewel

, CULTURE

Replete with intricate wood carvings and colourful murals, Padmanabhapuram Palace is a superb example of the indigenous architecture and craftsmanship of Kerala

It is ironic that Kerala’s most beautiful and well-kept palace is not in Kerala at all. It is located in a hamlet called Thuckalay in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, the neighbouring state. This curious fact is easily explained, though. Four centuries ago, when the palace was built, Padmanabhapuram was the seat of the kingdom of Travancore. When the states of India were formed in 1956, Thuckalay was given to Tamil Nadu. However, even today, the palace is owned and maintained by the Government of Kerala.

 

Padmanabhapuram Palace is believed to have been built in 1601 by Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal, the then king of Travancore. Later on, other kings of the dynasty enlarged the structure, while maintaining a sense of cohesion and beauty all along. A small entry fee allows you to peep into the glorious past of the Travancore royals for a few leisurely hours.

Majestic inside

As you step inside the entrance, you get your first glimpse of the beautiful structure, with the blue-tinted Sahayadri mountains rising majestically in the background. You start at the Poomukham (porch in Malayalam), where the king used to receive his visitors. The hanging brass lamp with a knight on horse-back catches your eye, as does the Onavillu, a ceremonial bow that was donated to the king by his chieftains. You then pass through corridors and hallways with slatted wooden windows to reach the enormous Ootupara (dining hall), where 2,000 people used to be fed every day. Exquisite pickle jars that came all the way from China are on display here.

A flight of steps takes you to the oldest part of the palace, the Thaikottaram (the Queen Mother’s chamber). Sunlight mingles with deep shadows, making for an interesting visual effect. Trapdoors and steep stairways hint at secret pathways that were used as escape routes and hiding places at times of danger. The Navaratri mandapam with its polished black floor, the royal cot made from wood infused with herbs, the andapuram (queen’s private quarters) and the ambari mukhappu (a viewing gallery from where the Kings used to watch chariot races and other festivals) all evoke a leisurely era in which people had much time for the arts and for the enjoyment of life. Framed paintings and murals depict slices of life from back then.

You are in the firm grip of the past as you finish your tour of the palace and step outside the gates. Until a car honks and reality catches up with you.

By: Ganesh Vancheeswaran

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