Sunday, December 2, 2012

Masterpiece in Wood: The Padmanabhapuram Palace, Part -1

Sometimes, unplanned travels throw up surprises, usually of the nightmarish kind and I thought my trip to Kanyakumari from Trivandrum was one such. I was in Trivandrum for three days to attend a conference and I had to find something to keep my 10 year old son engaged! Kanyakumari was one of the options and it made sense because I'd never plan a trip to the tip of peninsular India otherwise.

The road distance from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari is a little under 90 kilometers which, in normal circumstances, can be covered in less than two hours if you take the traffic into consideration. I thought if I started after breakfast I could do Kanyakumari with Suchidram, Padmanabhapuram and a couple of other places, and still be back at the hotel for dinner. Unfortunately, this calculation does not apply when driving on the NH-47. I had forgotten my own policy that distances should be measured in time and not in kilometers; a rule that I follow when I drive my own car! I should have listened to the taxi driver when he said we'd have to start at 6 AM if we were to cover all the places I wanted to visit. I, being a lazy weekend person, had insisted that we'd start after breakfast. Consequently, at a quarter to 12 after a three hour drive, we had only reached Thuckalay (52 kms).

The Padmanabhapuram Palace is about a kilometer off the highway, on the left, as you come from Trivandrum. Our main destination being Kanyakumari we wanted to walk around the complex quickly and get out to reach Kanyakumari for lunch! That was not to be.  It being a Saturday the tourists were there in hordes. Besides, Padmanabhapuram Palace demands that you spend time to soak in it's history. When we finally managed to drag ourselves out, it was a quarter past 1.00!  Now, I want to go back and spend a whole day there to absorb the history that each room carries!

You have to buy tickets to get in (Rs.25 for adults, Rs.10 for children under 12 and Rs. 25 for camera) and also deposit your footwear outside before entering the palace complex. Just keep in mind that there are pathways between buildings that are  paved with interlocking tiles or granite so if you land there in the afternoon it might get mighty uncomfortable!

The main door to the palace is actually small for a complex this huge but it opens to let you in on a fabulous surprise.

Once you step past the bored policeman and ticket checker through the metal detector you reach the 'Poomukham', or the reception area of the palace. This was where the palace received it's visitors before being ushered to the Maharaja's presence. 

On the left of the 'Poomukham' is a clock that is over 300 years old. I was supposed to be running perfectly but from the time we entered to the time we left the hands had not moved at all!

There are some interesting artefacts in the 'Poomukham'.  There is  this chair gifted to the Maharaja by Chinese traders and looking as if it were delivered yesterday. It seemed to be one of many as there were similar chairs in other rooms too. If only the Chinese stuff we buy these days lasted like this chair.......

A stone cot next to it is supposed to have a cooling effect if you sleep on it, though it beats me how comfortable you will be, sleeping on it!

Just next to the staircase is a showcase with a collection of carved wooden objects called the 'Onavillu'. It is apparently a stringed musical instrument but the ones here, gifted to the Maharaja by local traders on the occasion of Onam, did not have any strings on them. They are decorated with carvings and paintings of Sree Padmanabhaswamy.

The ceiling of the 'Poomukham' is covered with carved lotus flowers, 90 of them, each having it's own unique design.

There is a narrow staircase leading up to the floor above and it can easily be mistaken for the staircases found in traditional Kerala houses. For a palace, it seems rather inadequate, but when you consider the number of attempts to assassinate Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma it makes perfect sense to have a narrow staircase! 

On the upper floor is the 'Mantrashala', the Maharaja's council chamber. There is another 'Chinese' chair here. The entire floor has slatted window screens that let in a cool breeze along with subdued light. The floor is a polished, plastered layer and it is apparently made of a mixture of lime, sand, egg shells, jaggery, burnt coconut shell and oils. It retains it centuries old shine even now.

What is striking is the simplicity of the room. No opulent carpets or ornate chandeliers. The floor is bare and shiny and light comes through the slats and the few small stained glass windows. It resembles a living room that belongs to a traditional Kerala house rather than in a Maharaja's palace!

You leave the room humbled and step into a vast empty hall; the 'Ootupura' or main dining hall. It is a long hall with terracotta floors. The roof is supported by two lines of pillars with single piece cross beams that stretch across the breadth of the hall.

The Maharaja used to feed 2000 people everyday in this hall and the one below it! The room below has remnants of the serving 'vessels' used in those days. At one end of the hall are a group of urns that the guide told us, was the Chinese (again!) pickle storage jars. 

The cooked rice and buttermilk were stored for serving in rectangular granite troughs like the ones seen below.

As you look out of the windows of the 'Ootupura' you see the 'Thai kottaram'. It is the oldest building in the complex. 'Thai Kottaram' translates to 'Mother palace' not mother's palace as is wrongly described in some sites.. It is the first building to have come up in the palace complex, constructed sometime in the mid to late 16th century.

I will take you on a tour of this building in the next post. Watch this space..


  1. thank you for the I don't have to anywhere to see the palace..

  2. You should go, if you really want to see it close up and absorb a bit of history. I'm sure Toota will love it

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  4. Very well written and informative article, thank you :-)

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