Padmanabhapuram is the former capital city of the erstwhile Hindu kingdom of Travancore. It is about 20km from Nagercoil, and about 50km from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The palace complex is inside an old granite fortress around four kilometers long. The palace is located at the foot of the Veli Hills, which form a part of the Western Ghats. The river Valli flows nearby.
Among lush rice paddies and just at 1 km from the city of Thuckalay, this palace is hidden, the largest in Asia built in wood. The palace was constructed around 1601 AD, when Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal, King of the territory formed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu, portion known as Travancore, decided that this would be the seat of his government. Spectacular coffered ceilings, exquisite murals, carved pillars and floors bright reds, whites and blacks combine in what is considered one of the finest examples of traditional architecture of Kerala, but now the palace is on the territory of Tamil Nadu.
The structure of the palace
The Padmanabhapuram Palace complex consists of several structures:
- Mantrasala; the King’s Council Chamber
- Thai Kottaram; the Queen Mother’s Palace, constructed before 1550
- Nataksala; the Performance Hall
- A four-storeyed mansion at the centre of the complex
King’s Council chamber is the most beautiful part of the entire palace complex. It has windows, with coloured mica, which keep the heat and the dust away, and the interior of the council chamber remains cool and dark. Delicate and beautiful lattice work can be seen all over the council chamber.
The floor is also beautifully done, with a fine and perfect finish. The floor is dark and is made of a mixture of varied substances, including burnt coconut shells, egg white and so on. The remarkable aspect is that this particular floor finish and texture could not be duplicated in any other construction.
Queen Mother’s Palace
Mother’s palace, designed in traditional Kerala style, is the oldest construction in the entire palace complex and is believed to be constructed around mid-16th century. True to the traditional Kerala style, there is an inner courtyard, called ‘nalukettu’. In the inner courtyard, sloping roofs from all four sided taper down. Four pillars on four corners support the roof.
On the south-west corner of the mother’s palace, there is a relatively small room, called the chamber of solitude or ‘ekantha mandapam’. The chamber of solitude has very beautiful and intricate wood carvings of every description all around. Of particular interest is a pillar of single jackfruit wood, with very detailed and beautiful floral designs.
This is a relatively new building, constructed at the behest of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, who reigned in Travancore from 1829 to 1846. He was a great connoisseur of arts, especially music and dance. He himself composed music and has left a rich legacy to classical carnatic music.
The Nataksala or the hall of performance has solid granite pillars and gleaming black floor. There is a wooden enclosure, with peepholes, where the women of the royal household used to sit and watch the performance.
The four-storied building is located at the centre of the palace complex. The ground floor houses the royal treasury. The first floor houses the King’s bedrooms. The ornamental bedstead is made of 64 types of herbal and medicinal woods, and was a gift from the Dutch merchants. Most of the rooms here and in other parts of the palace complex have built-in recesses in walls for storing weapons like swords and daggers. The second floor houses the King’s resting and study rooms. Here the King used to spend time during fasting days. The top floor (called upparikka malika) served as the worship chamber of the royal household. Its walls are covered with exquisite 18th century murals, depicting scenes from the puranas, and also few scenes from the social life of the Travancore of that time. Ths top floor was supposed to be Sree Padmanabha Swamy’s room. This building was constructed during the reign of King Marthandavarma. He was also designated as Padmanabha Dasa and used to rule the Travancore kingdom as a servant of Sree Padmanabha Swamy.
The southern palace is as old as the ‘Thai kottaram’ (Mother’s palace), which would make it about 400 year old. Now, it serves as a heritage museum, exhibiting antique household articles and curios. Collections of items give an insight into the social and cultural ethos of that period.
Other interesting sites of the palace are:
The walls of this room of the King’s Palace are decorated with beautiful murals.
In the south pavilion there are an excellent collection of weapons, furniture and coins.
In this small room, the men received messages before bathing in their private pool.
It is located on the first floor of the central mansion. The bed is made by 64 types of aromatic woods, was a gift received from the Dutch.
Symbol value (Kuthira Vilakku)
Is an oil lamp shaped horseback rider, greets visitors in the first pavilion. The chain that holds, keeps it level.