Sunday, October 3, 2010

Padmanabhapuram Palace - Crafted to perfection!! (Part 1 - Kanyakumari trail)

A trip to the southern most tip of India, is so special, simply because of the fact that one gets to see three major oceans meet, the Indian Ocean, The Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal. Apart from this, there are a lot of other superb places to pay a visit and the visitors are guaranteed a rich diversity.

When I make a tour, I don't want to rush things, so even if there are many picnic spots in a place, I will chose only a few for a relaxed visit and then sets the rest of them for the next journey. During my visit to Kanyakumari last year, I could explore the Udayagiri fort rich in biodiversity and the Vattakottai, a brilliantly landscaped fort near the Bay of Bengal. (Click here to read the Udayagiri fort experience or Here for the Vattakottai exclusive)

This time when I embarked on a tour to the only place in India where one can see both the sunset and sunrise from the horizon, I decided to first explore the Padmanabhapuram Palace. A palace built by the ruling Maharaja's of Travancore, known for its rich variety of master craftsmanship and telling a story of the style of architecture prelevant in an era. This palace was not constructed in one go, but rather the ruling Maharajas of successive generations added to the buildings as and when the need arouse. This has given the palace a complex outlook, but the influence of various foreign cultures is evident in each of the era in the construction style.

Me, being in the capital city of God's own country, the travelling distance to Padmanabhapuram Palace is just 50Km. The route to take is

Thiruvananthapuram -> Neyyattinkara -> cross border to Tamil Nadu at Amaravila -> Thuckalay -> turn left -> Padmanabhapuram palace

Lots of buses ply to Thuckalay from Thiruvananthapuram Central bus stand.

Enough of the build up, lets just go out for this trip. We are now travelling southward through the busy section of NH47 towards Neyyattinkara and time is 50 minutes past 9 in the morning.

As I had earlier mentioned in a blog - "The fastest route to Bangalore", this corridor to Tamil Nadu is still not being widened resulting in heavy traffic congenstion. A relaxed and slow drive is needed with good music to accompany coz we will be covering distances very slowly.

The legendary Neyyatinkara Sreekrishna Swamy temply signified the arrival of Neyyatinkara town.

Traffic was still in snails pace and we are travelling really slowly. Finally we could see some trucks standing in queue waiting for their papers in Check post and we could now see the "Welcome to Tamil Nadu " board.

Private vehicles need not stop at checkpost, so we can just zoom past. Roads have now opened up a bit and the vehicle itself is feeling ready to lunge forward and I responded pretty well too. The cruise effect is now in play and it is real fun to just glide through the beautiful roads with paddy fields on both sides waving in unison to the tune of winds and some rocky mountains at the horizon.

Time is now 11.30 and we have so far covered only 35kms. Kids have started making noise for some food and so did the elders which comprised of my wife, her mother and sister. We are now in a place called Marthandam, a place famous for good Biriyani. Within moments we find ourselves sitting in front of a table after ordering for some Biriyani. Yummy the taste is good and the food soon dissappeared, even though it is too early for a lunch. My time estimate is to spend nearly 3 to 4 hours in Palace during which time we will not be able to have any food at all.

Next town in sight is Thucklay and our eyes are now searching for a board pointing to the left turn towards the Palace. Immediately after the city the board is spotted and what lay ahead is a village road. No signs of any palace though.

A big rocky wall is visible now and I could sense that it is the royal fence. Let us follow the path of the fence and see where it ends. As expected we are being guided to the entrance of the palace.

We have to get tickets for entry. Wifey went for getting the tickets.

The entry is through a small door and there are people waiting in queue for the entry.

Seems like there is heavy rush today. The Palace does not look soo big and complex from here. Let me walk a little backward and get a more detailed view.

Now we can have view from the other side.

There is a cloud clad mountain on the background, except which there is nothing much which I could notice. Tickets are ready and we can get inside for a detailed exploration.
The entry door is small, but take a closer look and we can get a feel of the amount of craftsmanship involved in its creation.

Security arrangements are quite tight and it ought to be so, since such monuments are to be kept out of reach of the extremist elements who destroy anything and everything for the sake of their insanity.

Get inside and the first building we see itself is a traditional Kerala style construction.

This is the "Poomukham". Let us hear what the guide stationed here has to say and view what the Poomukham has in store for us.

"Poomukham is the building where the King entertained special guests. Built in the indigeneous architectural style of Kerala, the entrance of this building is shaped as a triangle."

Watch the poomukham closely.

On the wooden ceiling ninety flowers have been carved.

Each of them is marvellous and unique.

Also do feature here are rarest of rare things.One of them is the hanging brass lamp with a knight on horse-back,

A speciality of the lamp is that, this will come to rest facing the eastward direction even if we turn it in any other direction forcefully, engineered to perfection by those who don't have a degree.

The next rare piece is a cot built of seven pieces of polished granite and a Chinese chair presented to the King by Chinese merchants

The cot is said to have a medicinal value and the chair symbolified the presence of Chinese trade in that era (AD 1500) and the pleasant relationship we had with China then.

Another interesting object in Poomukham is the "Onavaillu" presented to the king as a tribute by landlords and chieftains of diffferent clans during the onam festival. The "Onavillus" are finest examples of the exquisite beauty of Kerala sytle paintings

Let us now climb up from Poomukham. Watch the steps made out of wood in which climbing up akin to a ladder.

The step leads us to "Mantrashala" or the Administrative Block. No electrical accessories, no wall hanging paintings or no modern lighting equipment, still watch how beautiful the ambience is, unmatched even by the multistared hotels of the present day.

The way in which natural light's entry is allowed, is quite exquisite and it is this lighting arrangement which gives that elegant ambience to the whole scheme of things. Watch that glazing flooring, remember that this was built at a time when there was no granite, no cement, no vitrified tiles, no dyes etc, still watch it glaze and the coldness which it imparts to ones feet have to be felt. I was amazed to know that it was made out of locally available mud, cow dung, leaves and flowers.

The carvings present in each of the chairs meant for the King to hold discussions with the ministers and the carvings on the roof gives exemplerary evidence of the craftsmanship. Wonder whether we have any such craftsmanship available now.

From the place where King took important decisions let us move on to the next building. We are currently in the first floor, and the path way from this building to the next is a small wooden foot bridge.

A huge hall awaits us which is the Ottupura (Dining Hall) where over 2000 peoples are served free meals on a daily basis. This is a multistoreyed building and we are now on the level one of this huge hall.

This huge dining hall symbolises the generosity of the kings of yester years. Just imagine the sight of 2000 people sitting here and dining happily, and how loyal they will be towards their rulers.

Let us now move on and step down the wooden steps cautiosly. This huge dining hall is a separate entity and we have now stepped out of it. Now we are moving towards the next building whose walls are completely made of wood with openings for light and air passage.

The beauty of this kind of wooden panels with spacing is that when looking from outside one will not be able to see anything inside, but from inside we can see everything outside, the same function which the tinted windows of the current day serves.

This marvellous building is Christened "Thai Kottaram" and is the oldest of the buildings here. This buidling houses the "Kannithoonu" which is a Pillar supporting the ceiling. The significance of this pillar is that it is the first constructed pillar of the entire palace. The "Kanni moola" is seen as the most auspicious place of a plot and it is here where the foundation stone is first laid and the first brick or the first construction entity is placed. The "Kannithoonu" of this palace is having one of the most beautiful carvings amongst all the carvings and is made out of single jack tree wood.

This Thai kottaram also houses the prayer hall where all the functions related to the appeasement of Goddesses are performed. Needless to say the flooring of this hall is quite exquisite. Just watch its polish and color even after 500 years. The technology used for this flooring is still a mystery even though the contents of this flooring mixture are known.

One look up and open your mouth in awe, what a fantastic carving on the ceiling.

Each of the Palace building has a unique style of carving and each passing building seems to be better than the previous one.

Enough of gazing the beautiful ceiling, come with me for exploring the next building, which houses the private rooms of the royal family.

First is the bedroom of Maharaja. A beautiful cot, one chair and a small table for keeping his sword adorns the bedroom. Watch closely and the cot has wonderful carvings and the influence of Chinese culture is clearly evident in the carvings.

This being the bedroom of Maharaja, the place where he sees his ceilings the most, this room is having the ceiling which is having the most rich feeling.

Its a heavy rush of visitors here and seems like a college tour team is flocking me. I am not able to take a proper photo. Let me wait sometime to let the crowd pass. Unfortunately more crowds are pouring in, so I think it's better to move out of this room, and pass through a long corridor with beautiful wooden windows. Wow a big room is in sight with two hanging cots on both sides and beautiful mural paintings on the wall. The huge mirrors just behind each of the hanging cot made it clearly evident that this is the royal Queen's room.

This room is really long with a painted wall on side where paintings are hanged, and wooden windows on the other side. This room does not have significant carvings on the ceiling as we found in the Maharaja's room.

Time to move on to another of those beautiful corridors with those exquisite wooden windows and occasional windows with openings.

Let me have a look through one of those open windows.
Oh its a complicated outlook, because of the complexity of the roofs of the various palace buildings, most of them being add ons.

Now we are walking through a corridor at the end of which a small room with seats on both sides is present.

Wonder why they have sitting place in this corridor. Let us just move a little forward. Oh here are the royal bathrooms on both sides. Found that there are some slight differences in the foot rests and design of both, Couldn't assimilate what difference they make.

Since we are not here to study the difference in bathroom construction we can move forward and explore this marvel further as this seems to be a never ending palace, but the long walk is not at tiring even for my kids. Right now they are complaining that I am spending more time on each rooms for no reason. Little did they knew that I am talking to my beloved blog readers too while I am standing here.

The corridor continues and a little ahead I could see a steps whose doors are closed.

The step design is such that there can be horizontal doors on top of them, which when latched up is so strong that one can walk over them too. But they are not allowing me to step on it though.

My kids seem to have found something interesting. They are watching through a small window, kneeling on their knees.

These windows are called Kilivathils and is primarily used by the King and other royal family members to witness the events in "Navarathri Mandapam" - A dance floor without getting the attention of the public. Watch the dance floor from the Kilivathil.

The ceiling of the corridor where we are standing right now is completely different from what we saw till now, it is completely devoid of any carvings, still looked graceful

We are now stepping into the watch tower, a building which was used to all the arms and ammunition. This building is having more length than breadth.

Inside the watch tower the rooms had no ventilation. What you see in the above pic is the ventilation of the corridor.

One end of the watch tower building houses the real watch tower, from where any movement in the nearby areas could be seen by the security guards.

A lengthy corridor awaits us, but the walk is not seen as a burden thanks to the cool atmosphere inside the palace.

It is really amazing to note that even after walking so much and occassionally climbing up some ladder like steps we are not sweating a bit. The air circulation inside, the cool floor and the heat absorbant walls might have contributed a lot for this cooling system which does not include any air conditioner or fan. A lesson or two on how buildings can be designed to stay cooler even in such a hot and humid place.

Towards one end of the corridor there seems to be an opening with a dias.

There is a no entry board, so I can't take you up, but let me peep through a nearby window. Oh yes, I can see the road which we took to Palace. This is the dias where the Kings used to address the people of his Kingdom. Now we can see lots of houses across the nearby road, but may be in that era it would have been a big ground which can accommodate lots of people.

Again another rush of people, seems like its better to just wait before proceeding further so that this crowd will pass by.

Ok now the crowd is gone and the place has become silent again. We can continue our walk around. A beautifully laid out wooden step is awaiting us signifying the end of this long corridor which also contained lot of paintings, some of them depicting the important events which happened during the era of various Maharajas, some of them were portraits of Maharajas and some of them those of the missionaries who visited this country.

The beautiful steps led us out to another palace. Immediately the difference in construction is evident. If all the palace buildings which we covered so far had doors with less height, this on was having huge doors and windows and I could feel a French influence.

This building is known as "Indravilasom". We are now inside the palace built for the foreign guests. Hence the big doors, so that the visitors need not bend their head for entering a show of hospitality towards guests. Through the big windows I could see some beautiful mountains. The view of the mountains from the balcony is superb, makes one feel as if he is in a hill station. Let us enjoy the cloud clad mountains for sometime.

Oh I am all alone here, all others have moved out of this palace. A quick walk down the steps and there are some wide open space here. A look back and we can see the "Indravilasom" gazing the mountains.

A little stroll is needed to reach the next building of this palace complex, which is quite good to watch from this point.

As we get more and more closer, we can see a pond too, towards which there is an opening from the building.

This building houses the royal kitchen. The big pond serves as the source of water.

There is a huge well inside this pond itself, access to which is from inside the kitchen itself.

The kitchen is really sprawling and all the gadgets in its true form is still preserved. Afterall they are made of rocks and is sure to stand the test of time.

The Indravilasom Palace (Palace for guests) with the mountains in the backdrop presents a beautiful figure from the windows of the Kitchen

Let us now move out of the Kitchen complex and move to next one which seems to be quite different from what we have seen till now, predominantly due to the lack of any wood work, and presence of stone. Elephants carved out of stone adores the sides of the steps welcoming us inside.

This is the Navarathri Mandapom, which was built in 1700's and is intended for cultural programmes. A little while ago we had a glimpse of the dance floor from the Kilivathil's. Now we are in the front of the same building whose dance floors are christened as "Kannadithara" (mirror floor), reason being the mirror like perfection of the polished floor.

Anyone who has seen the movie "Manichithrathazhu" will never forget this dance floor, as it is the same place where Shobana performed one of the greatest dance sequences adorning the role of Nagavalli.
Each of the pillars are carved out of stone and watching closely we can find how different sculptures has been inscribed on the pillars.

Now we can see the exit door from the palace. It was really a long walk, and it took around 2 hours for completing this visit, during which none of sweated or felt boring. There were no hosts to keep us entertaining, but the sculptural brilliance did all the talking, yes it is one of the rare examples where we can feel that even walls can talk. Many of the rooms of the palace are now closed to the visitors. Most of the arms, ammunition and costly idols are housed in the newly constructed "Archeological Mueseum" nearby.

We can have quick visit to the archeological mueseum too.

The ambience inside is exquisite, but it is a modern day creation and it cannot match with what was felt inside the palace. Still a lot of idols, arms and ammunition, paintings etc adorn the mueseum

Time is now 3pm and we can step out of this marvellous complex with lots of memories and after having a lesson or two about natural lighting, airflow and construction methodology which can make even our homes environment friendly.

Well we can now proceed to a relatively unknown place close to this Palace before continuing our journey to Kanyakumari.

Please join me for the next leg of journey too, when we will be visiting another superb man made creation !!! Click here to read on...


Anonymous said...


Anu said...

Its so beautiful! another place on my wish list!

Joshi Mukard said...

Being a person who live very close to this place, I have visited this palace many times, I can go there another 100 times, and still learn many new things.

This place has volumes of hidden history and numerous myths.

Reading your blog gives me a feeling that I'm visiting this place yet again, and I have come out with new knowledge. Thanks

Tara said...

felt like i too traveled all these places..

My Thoughts...My Views said...

Nice Pics!!!

Balachandran V said...

As ever, you are thorough in your coverage. It is the king's wooden cot, made of different wood that has medicinal qualities. You might rememeber that visitors are not allowed to go the third floor where the murals are drawn. They told me ( I was there last week) that it has been closed for 15 years ( I had been there before that) due to damages made by the visitors. Now only faded and poor quality photographs of the murals are available in the museum. There is an excellent book on Kerala temple architecture which has very good pictures of the palace and the murals. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...


great work !!!

narration enrich with photos

Thanks for enlighting our heritage

I think Amaravila is not kerala-tamilnadu border.
Kaliyikkavila is the border, it is about 10km from amaravila.


my new post on Mathur Aqueduct

Joshi Mukard said...

I came across this link - take a look at the padmanabapuram episode.

This link has pics of the surrounding localities of the palace. Having gone all the way to this place, I feel, you should have visited these nearby attractions as well. All these places are part of the palace. said...

Hello Anu
Yes it is a must visit place

Hi joshi mukard
What u said is very true. Each visit is sure to yield new gyan

hello tara
Thanks for your visit and encouraging words said...

Hi "My Thoughts and My views"
Welcome my virtual tour blog. have a pleasant stay here!!!

Hello balan sir
Yes I have heard about the Mural paintings. But they (guides) had a different story for me. They said that all such stuff, which includes paintings, lamps, arms and ammunition etc are transferred to the mueseum in the palace premises. Only God knows what has happened to these antiques? said...

Hello Krishna
Thanks for the visit and your correction. Keep visiting said...

Hello Joshi Mukard
Thanks for this link. Well I am not too far away from this palace. So I now have more reasons to visit this gem of a place.

JoshiMukard said...

Thanks for repying to my comments. I hope the link I provided would give you many short-distance travel ideas.

AmosParents said...

Thanks Subu. Sitting here in Chicago and reading about the Aqueduct was very thrilling! Actually the best part was the composure you showed when ignoring the drunks - I am not sure if I would have kept calm - but it is indeed a lesson - learn to enjoy the bigger picture and dont let small irritations spoil your mood. We are visiting Kerala in November and will be using your blog as a reference for a few trips around Trivandrum. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

It is superb, viewed like we visit there. We would like to visit the palace. Great information you have given about this palace, THANK YOU

Anonymous said...

When I started reading about the palace was really excited as the palace is one of my favourite visiting place For years but I felt you haven't done enough justice to the place. kilivaathils were supposed for women folk for viewing is a pity if you are from trivandrum and u dont know where tamilnadu border is...when pointed out by readers why dont you correct the mistakes? Also why dont u give a visit to kuthiramaalika and koyikkal palace which are in and around trivandrum sure to hear descriptions from guides carefully to avoid mistakes which may be small but mistakes only.......


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