A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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During our recent tour to Western Ghats belt, we visited a trail of South Indian ancient monuments and forts built by the then Hindu rulers; Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace being one of those great artworks of Travancore era. Though it is totally surrounded by Tamil Nadu regions on all sides, the palace still belongs to the Indian state of Kerala and is administered by Kerala Archaeological Department.
Way to Kalkulam at the foothills of Veli
We started our day early so that tentatively by 9am we could reach Kalkulam – the olden taluk hosting Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace. It was roughly within a drive of 20 kilometers from Nagercoil town, located at the foothills of Veli, named after River Valli.
Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace
The Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace is located inside the Padmanabhapuram Fort which was the erstwhile capital town of Travancore’s Hindu kingdom and it was supposed to be our first exposure to such a distinguished form of southern architecture. It boasts of traditional Keralite structural design, owing to its historic past. We parked our car just outside the premises, booked entry tickets from the counter aside and slowly walked into a world of vibrant royal history.
Entrance of Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace
The original Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace is believed to be built around 1600 AD by Hindu King Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal. It was later renovated by Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma during 1750 AD, the founder of modern Travancore. Since the principal family deity of the Varma rulers was Lord Padmanabha (a form of Vishnu), it came to be known as Padmanabhapuram Fort and Palace respectively. During late 18th century, when the capital of the Varma dynasty shifted from here to Trivandrum, the palace slowly lost its creative grandeur. However, it is still well maintained as a heritage site.
Traditional Keralite Architecture of Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace
The overall architecture of the palace comprises of an ancient granite fortress with red tiled roofs of varied dimensions along its length and breadth. Mantrasala (King’s Council Chamber), Poomukham (Triangular Guest Hall), Thai Kottaram (Queen Mother’s Palace), a four-storied hall at the centre of the complex, Nataksala (Performance Hall) and Thekee Kottaram (Southern Palace) are the major structures of the palace worth visiting, of which the King’s Mantrasala was the most attractive fragment of the entire complex.
Mantrasala (King’s Council Chamber)
Thai Kottaram (Queen Mother’s Palace)
Nataksala (Performance Hall)
Thekee Kottaram (Southern Palace)
The Mantrasala comprises of a special type of coloured mica which helps in temperature control of the interiors, a form of natural air conditioning that keeps the external heat off even today. Also the flooring was very unique – our guide said it was made of dried coconut shells and egg yolk mixture which gave its exclusive dark and shiny look, which could not be imitated anywhere else even till date. Just beside it is the guest feeding hall, which could accommodate roughly thousand guests during royal ceremonial feasts.
Guest Feeding Hall
The Thekee Kottaram (Southern Palace) and Thai Kottaram (Queen Mother’s Palace) date back to the earliest days of the citadel when it was initially built by King Iravi Varma, almost as old as 400 years ago. There is a secret passage here which covertly connects the Padmanabhapuram Palace with another adjacent palace named Charottu Kottaram, though now being blocked by the administration. At the other end of it, lies the Ekantha Mandapam (Seclusion Hall) which was used by the senior family members for meditation and solitude. The sloping roofs tapering downward and exquisite wood carvings exhibit old-fashioned Travancore architecture in this part of the palace.
Entry to Thai Kottaram
Way to inner hall
Peeping through the window
Ekantha Mandapam (Seclusion Hall) on the other side of the balcony
Barred entry to a secret passage leading to Charottu Kottaram
Poomukham is a large triangular area where the King used to receive and entertain his special guests. Its ceiling reveals exquisite Kerala style wooden carvings, a uniquely hanging brass lamp with a knight on horseback, a seven segment granite bed, a beautiful Chinese chair and Onavillu painting gifted to the kings by his admirers.
Way to Poomukham
Triangular entrance of Poomukham
Exquisite Kerala style wooden carvings on the ceiling
Uniquely hanging brass lamp with a knight on horseback, a seven segment granite bed and a beautiful Chinese chair kept at Poomukham
On the other hand, the Central Palace and Nataksala (Performance Hall) are comparatively new, constructed later during the renovation of the palace by King Marthanda Varma in 1750.
Beautiful woodwork on the ceiling
During our visit, we were astounded to see the 300 year old clock tower still keeping time. There are four Malikas (floors) in the central citadel, each one comprising of different types of compartments. The ground floor houses the royal treasury, first floor has the royal bedroom with hidden arsenals, second floor houses the king’s study room and the top floor was the temple or religious chamber of the royal family, fully dedicated to Lord Padmanabha Swamy (family deity) and hence the name Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace.
Entry of Nataksala (Performance Hall)
Thekee Kottaram (Southern Palace) has been recently transformed to a museum which houses a wide collection of exquisite curios, regal weapons, artillery, equipment, furniture, utensils and showpieces belonging to the royal Varma family. They are now beautifully kept on display by archaeological department for visitors’ delight. Few of them were really eye catching like the ancient Chinese jars presented to the kings by Chinese merchants, royal armaments, gallery of oil paintings, brass lampshades, antique wooden furniture, stone sculptures, vintage mirrors and a magnificent bed uniquely carved with trunks of several varieties of medicinal trees.
Thekee Kottaram (Southern Palace) transformed to royal museum
Collection of royal articles on display at the museum
It took us more than three hours to walk through the entire palace spending due time at every nook and corner to witness its ethnic grandeur. Though winter, the dry heat outside had already sapped all our energy. At the exit gate of the palace, there were couple of domestic king coconut vendors. What else could have drenched our sun soaked thirst? Enjoying a splendid day tour of the Padmanabhapuram Royal Palace, we moved ahead to our next stopover.