The spell of Padmanabhapuram Palace

A journey through time

Travel & Lifestyle

Resting with a calm demeanor at the tip of India’s mainland, Kanyakumari, is a heritage site that dates back to the 16th century. Padmanabhapuram palace is a magnificent wooden antique structure located in Thuckalay, Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu at a distance of about 50 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.  Needless to say, the palace has a rich history attached to it. The intricate wood carvings and ornate murals are worth a sight, Padmanabhapuram palace boasts of unparalleled expertise in the science of Taccusastra (carpentry), something which is unique to the region.

The palace is situated in Tamil Nadu but it belongs to the Government of Kerala and is even maintained by the archaeology department of the state of Kerala. Dazzling in its subtle yet magnificent structure, you are bound to lose yourself in its minimalism and yet wonder at the nuisances of this architectural property. With Velli hills shielding it throughout and river Valli flowing gracefully in the vicinity.

Dedication to lord Vishnu

For the history enthusiasts, Padmanabhapuram Palace was once the capital of the State of Travancore. The palace was built during 1601 by Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal who ruled Travancore between 1592 AD and 1609 AD. The etymology of the palace can be derived from the image of the lotus coming from the navel of Vishnu (Padma - lotus, nabha - navel, Puram - Town).  The founder of modern Travancore, King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma (1706–1758) who ruled Travancore from 1729 to 1758, rebuilt the palace in around 1750.

However, it was King Marthaanda Varma’s splendid efforts in redesigning the palace which made it an art piece of its own. He dedicated the kingdom to his family deity Sree Padmanabha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu and ruled the kingdom as Padmanabha dasa or servant of Lord Padmanabha. Hence the name Padmanabhapuram or City of Lord Padmanabha. 

The charm of Taccusastra

The palace was used to be called Kalkulam Palace in the earlier times and since the entire design is made of timber wood with strict adherence to the canons of Taccusastra, the palace invites flocks of tourists from round the world. The five prominent divisions of this wooden beauty can be named as follows:

1.Mantrasala or King's Council Chamber
2.Thai Kottaram or Mother's Palace
3.Nataksala or Hall Of Performance
4.Four Storeyed Central Building or Uppirikka Maliga
5.Thekee Kottaram or Southern Palace

Mantrasala was significant for the king as he held his consultation meetings regarding the kingdom. It is one ravishing palace with windows made of colored mica, floorings made out of burnt coconut shell, egg white etc. The aesthetic beauty of the place is a one of a kind, with a majestic view of the town offered as you look through the windows and feel the royalty soak in your soul.

Thai Kottaram on the other hand is rustic and one of the oldest structures in the entire palace. The inner courtyard called nalukettu offers a breathtaking view of sloping roofs which are supported by four pillars on four corners. While you stand at the middle, you would only turn around to marvel at the artistic and architectural design of the palace which is comforting and eye-pleasing. 

The wood carvings in the Chamber Of Solitude or Ekantha Mandapam which is located on the south west corner of this Thai Kottaram is something that one shouldn’t miss while they are exploring this culturally rich heritage palace of Kerala.

This palace stretched around an area of 6.5 acres of land has about fourteen purposes denoted structures which includes Kottarams (palaces), Ayuddhapura (armoury house), Chandravilasam(entertainment hall),IndraVilasam(entertainment hall), NavarathriMandapam(dance hall),LekshmiVilasam (mansion) etc. amongst others.

 Some of the special features like the large Bay Window called AmbariMukhappu (or the Howdah shaped window), supported by elaborately carved Vyala figures (a Hindu mythical creature), the remnants of the semi-transparent shell decorations of the windows, later restored with coloured mica, the Manimalika or the clock tower, of which the movement is regulated by weights make this palace a treat to watch.

Glorified by the Malayalam film industry

Ofcourse the experience of witnessing it firsthand cannot be justified by the words used to describe this splendid beauty. The earliest memories that I have of the palace is watching the National award winning actress Shobhna dancing like a fiery enchantress in Manichitrathazhu (1992) which is hailed as one of the best movies ever made in Malayalam. Majority of the film was shot in Padmanabhapuram palace and getting a chance to see the exact locations after 23 years of its release was something that I have had never thought of.

A clock tower, a secret passage, presence of old Chinese jars & a variety of weapons, brass lamps, wood & stone sculpture, toilet and well, mirrors made of polished metal, wooden cot, polished stone cot, paintings etc. anything that takes you back to the lifestyle of communities in Kerala in the 16th century, you will find it here. Packed your bags already?

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