Just off the busy national highway 47, and a further
two-hour bus ride from
Padmanabhampuram, though now officially in Tamil Nadu,
was the capital of erstwhile Travancore between 1550 and 1750. By virtue
of this it has a far more intimate connection with the history of
Kerala than with the
state of Tamil Nadu.
The ancient and majestic Padmanabhampuram Palace, an epitome of Kerala architecture, which dates back to the 17th century is located in the town of Padmanabhampuram and is its main claim to fame. The Archaeological Survey Of India now maintains the palace. The rulers of Travancore, a princely state for over 400 years, which included a good part of present-day Kerala and part of western Tamil Nadu, ruled from this palace, replete with outstanding wood carvings, stone sculptures and fantastic murals.
A guided tour through the maze of 108 rooms leaves one breathless at the artistic expression and sheer opulence of these magnificent rooms. Even the ceilings have intricately carved floral patterns! The palace made of granite and teakwood displays a perfect combination of clean lines and gentle angles, the sloping tiled roofs of its various interconnecting buildings broken by projecting gables enclosing delicately carved screens.
Rooms In The Palace
Especially famous is the dining hall, which could accommodate 2,000 people at one sitting. The paintings in the prayer room are simply superb. However this room is mostly kept locked and one has to have permission to enter.
Each room in the palace has its own characteristic style and is unique in style. One is transported to a bygone era as soon as one-steps into the entrance hall (a verandah). A huge brass oil lamp hangs from an ornate teak, rosewood and mahogany ceiling carved with ninety different lotus flowers.
On the wall is a painting of 'Onamvillu', ceremonial bows being offered to a reclining Lord Vishnu on the occasion of Onam (a harvest festival). Another interesting artefact is the sword placed in front of Lord Vishnu's idol in the prayer room.
As per historical records, in 1750, Raja Marthanda Varma in a symbolic gesture presented this weapon to Lord Padmanabha and thereby dedicated the kingdom of Travancore to him. From that day on, the Raja took the title of "Padamanabhadasa" - which literally means, the servant of Lord Padmanabha. Travancore thus belonged to Vishnu with the Raja functioning as a spiritual-cum-legal custodian.
The 'Mantrashala' or council chamber is placed directly above the entrance on the first floor and is gently illuminated through panes of coloured mica. Herbs soaking in water were put into the box-benched seats along the front wall as natural air-conditioning. The flooring got its gleaming patina from a unique but an obsolete technique using burnt coconut, sticky sugarcane extract, egg, white lime and sand which were mixed together.
Another amazing feat of architecture is seen in the oldest part of the complex, the "Ekandamandapam" or "the lonely place" with elaborate floor paintings. A loose ring attached to a column is tour de force of the carpenter, as both the ring and column are carved from a single piece of jack wood. Also close by, is a trapdoor, which once opened to a secret passage leading to another palace a few kilometres away, but long since destroyed.
The Pandya-style stone columned dance hall stands directly in front of the shrine of Goddess Saraswati and is very impressive. Women of the royal household watched the performance through screens on the side and the staff through holes in the wall from the gallery above.
Women's quarters were totally separate. The rajas and maharajas were equally elaborately adorned with Belgian mirrors and Tanjore miniatures of Lord Krishna. A four-poster bed made from sixteen kinds of medicinal wood dominates the Raja's bedroom. Its elaborate carvings depict inter alia human figures, birds and a central motif - the snake - a symbol of medicine associated with the Greek Physician, Ascepius.
Frescos Adorning The Walls
The murals for which the palace is famous are alive with details, colour, graceful form and religious fervour and adorn the walls of the meditation room, used by the raja and heirs apparent, directly above the bedroom. However, this section has been closed to preserve the murals. The museum across the ticket counter has beautiful wooden sculptures and displays copies of the murals from the palace.
Timings: 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
Closed On: Mondays.
Frequent buses run from Thiruvananthapuram's Thampnoor bus stand for Padmanabhampuram. Best way is to board any bus for Nagercoil or Kanyakumari and alight at Thakkaly.
Accommodation is available at the hotels in Thiruvananthapuram (previously called Trivandrum).