Travelogue Entry of Padmanabhapuram Palace, Thucalay, Kanyakumari
About the palace:
Padmanabhapuram palace is a grand remnant of the glory of Travancore kings/Venad dynasty. Thirunal Marthandavarma who ruled Travancore from 1729-58 rebuilt this palace in 1750, originally built in early 17th century by IraviVarma Kulasekhara Perumal. Located 37 km away from Kanyakumari, en route Trivandrum and about 65 km from it, the palace reflecting the best example of traditional Kerala architecture is administered by Government of Kerala. Padmanabhapuram housed the kings of Travancore and remained the seat of power until 1790 when the capital shifted from here to Trivandrum. The place derives its name from Lord Padmanabha, a reclining form of Lord Vishnu, the presiding deity of Travancore kings.
The palace stands inside an old granite fort complex, with the fort boundary intact only in few places now. A tourist should spare time to visit this palace recorded as world's largest wooden palace by Guinness Books of Records. The palace is made entirely of teak and rosewood and has exquisite flooring of granite and a rare ayurvedic mixture with secret extracts to keep it cool in summer and warm during rains.
Timings/When to visit:
Open on all days except Monday, from 9 am to 5 pm. I could not see any official guides around, the tourist can take a self guided tour of the palace as “This Way” boards at regular intervals lead one correctly around from entry to exit. Inside rooms of the palace, there are officials from the archaeology department who give snippets of information in addition to display boards erected.
Virtual tour of the palace:
The first glimpse of the palace from ticket counter presents a simple, house-like structure, with a clock tower, quite different from the glorious, larger-than-life palaces I have seen in Mysore and Bangalore or those in Rajasthan seen on TV. The architecture of this palace is such that the grandeur lies in use of rosewood and teakwood lavishly for ceilings and pillars and in sheer expanse of the building, its labyrinth of rooms and corridors. Therefore, for a common man who visits this palace, it appears a very live able structure and not an overdose of opulence.
As we enter, we first reach the Poomukham, this room serves as a reception area where king entertained special guests. One can see the big Onavillu (a bow) at display here. The ceiling has 90 floral motifs in wood, also on display is a brass hanging lamp and a Chinese chair. A flight of wooden stairs leads one to king’s council chamber. There are lattice windows called – Kilivaathal that provide a view of the outside. The king’s chair centrally placed with additional chairs for council members can be seen here at display in this hall (Mantrashaala) that adorns a shining and smooth floor. Intricately carved wooden brackets connect windows to the roof made of red tiles, both in interior and exterior parts. From here, one proceeds to a large dining hall that can house 2000 people, the Oottupura where free meals were served by the king. Leaving this hall, we go out to the courtyard and enter Thai Kottaram, the residential quarters of King’s mother, believed to be the oldest part of the palace. There is a small room here called Ekantha Mantapam with spectacular wooden carvings on the ceiling and a pillar exquisitely carved out of jackfruit tree wood called Kannithoonu.
From here we walk up to the Raja’s quarters, housed in the tallest building of the palace complex (4 storied). We enter a room that has a huge cot made from 64 medicinal herbs. The ceiling here bears more elaborate and rich designs in wood. Going along directions provided, we enter the Queen’s dressing room that has a huge swing and big Belgian mirrors hung on two opposite walls. The side walls have many lattice windows giving a view of the outside. Narrow passageways connecting rooms run to form a maze. Walking further, we reach the king’s mother’s bedroom which bears a simple, polished stone cot. Walking further, we enter the Armoury. From here on, watching carved ceilings, lattice windows and rounded pillars at regular intervals, we hit Ambhari Mukhappu. Built in the shape of an Ambhari – a seat put on elephants, this chamber with a huge window was used by the king to view chariot races and temple car festival.
Long corridors with paintings of kings, murals depicting tales of Lord Krishna lead one to the next portion of the palace and we hit Indra Vilas – the guest quarters in the palace. Built to house foreign dignitaries, this is the only portion of the palace complex that deviates from traditional Kerala style and infuses elements of European architecture. This deviation in style is evident from design of doors and windows in Indra Vilas. The columns in this hall also appear different. Walking out in the courtyard, catching a glimpse of buildings we have seen in the palace complex, we now enter the kitchen area, marked by storage shelves and stone grinders. There is a pond at the end of the kitchen.
Walking out of the kitchen quarters, one enters the Navarathri Mantapa, a big hall meant for dance performances or any such cultural extravaganza during the Navarathri festival. The mantapam has shining floor (Kannadi Thara – mirror floor effect) and houses magnificent stone pillars carved with supreme intricacy. This is the only part of the palace that is made entirely out of solid rock. There is a private viewing room for the royal members with wooden flap like windows. The dance hall at one ends opens to the Saraswati temple. The deity in the temple is taken out on a procession to Trivandrum for ceremonies during Navarathri. Reaching the last part of this royal splendour, we hit at the museum, a building inside the palace complex dedicated to showcasing stone figures, artifacts and weapons used by the kings. One requires 2 hours for complete tour of the palace.
Just a mention:
- Many Malayalam movies have been filmed inside the Padmanabhapuram palace, most famous one being His Highness Abdullah.
- There are few refreshment shops outside the palace complex that can save you from hunger and thirst.
- The palace can be reached from Thucalay bus stand by auto for Rs 30.
- Thucalay can be reached from Kanyakumari/Nagercoil by bus; all buses plying to Trivandrum, Kayalikaaval and Marthandam go past Thucalay.
- There is a sign board showing direction to Udayagiri fort just outside the palace complex on the right side. The battle of Colachel in the year 1741 marked victory of King Marthanda Varma of Padmanabhapuram over the Dutch Admiral – De Lannoy. The vanquished De Lannoy served as chief of Travancore Army under guidance of ruler Marthanda Varma. The tomb/graves of De Lannoy and that of his family members lies inside the precincts of this fort, now upgraded from a mere fort to ranks of a bio reserve with vast expanse of rare species of woods, some birds and animals. This bio-diversity park is run by Tamil Nadu forest department. The fort is also believed to have held captive prisoners during Tippu’s times.
As one enters the palace complex
Intricately carved wooden ceiling , a common sight in most rooms of the palace
Indra Vilas, the foreign dignitaries/guests quarters
Navarathri Mantapam, pillars of solid rock and mirror finish flooring