Padmanabhapuram was once the capital of the princely state of Travancore, a state that later merged with Cochin and Malabar district to form the present state of Kerala. The Padmanabhapuram palace is a beautiful wooden palace located in this place, constructed by the rulers of Travancore around 1600 AD.
How to reach?
The palace is located very close to a place called Thuckalay (Thakkalai), about 60 kms from Trivandrum. I and a friend of mine traveled to the palace from Trivandrum. We boarded a KSRTC bus to Nagercoil at Thampanoor bus stand, very close to Trivandrum Central railway station. I think the bus traveled on NH 47 for most part of the journey. The prominent towns/villages on the way were Neyyatinkara, Parasala (Kerala till here), Kaliyakkavilai (Tamil Nadu starts from here) and Marthandam. We got down at Thuckalay bus stand and took another local bus from there to Padmanabhapuram. The people at the bus stand should be able to help you board the right bus to the palace (ex. route nos. 13D and 13F). The distance from the bus stand to the palace must have been at least 3 kms.
Entry tickets were priced at Rs. 25 each for adults. Still cameras were allowed inside when we went and an additional Rs. 25 per camera was charged. Video cameras were also allowed and the charge was considerably higher (I think Rs. 1500).
Footwear was to be left outside the palace (there was a separate room for that) and one could only go in barefoot.
The word palace usually brings to mind images of a structure like the Mysore Palace. You might be disappointed at first, if you have an image like that in your mind when you go to visit this palace. But it won’t be long before you get absorbed in the details and start feeling royalty in a different sense. For instance, the woodwork on the ceilings and walls is just fabulous! The palace comprises many structures and the prominent ones are described below.
This is the portico. The king entertained special guests here. The entrance is shaped like a triangle. The ceiling is made of wood and has 90 flowers carved in it, each of them having a pattern different from the other. A brass lamp with a knight on horse-back hanging from the ceiling, a cot used by the king, a Chinese chair presented to the king by Chinese merchants and ‘onavillus’ (paintings in Kerala style presented to the king during the Onam festival by chiefs of different clans) can be found here.
This is the hall where the king held discussions with his ministers and took important decisions. It has 11 ‘kilivathil’s – tiny windows, the shutters of which are beautifully decorated with mirror work in different hues.
Oottupura (Dining Hall)
This is the grand dining hall with a seating capacity of about 2000. This is where people were served free meals every day. The structure is two-storeyed with each capable of accommodating 1000 people. On display in the hall on the ground floor are big Chinese jars that were used to store pickles.
Thai Kottaram (Darbhakkulagara Kottaram)
This is the oldest structure in the palace complex and was built during the reign of Ravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal (AD 1592 to 1610) in the traditional Nalukettu style. After entry, we reach an open verandah called “Ekantamandapam” which contains the “Kannithoonu” – a one-piece, exquisitely carved pillar made with wood from jackfruit tree.
There is a tunnel that connects the Thaikottaram to another structure about a kilometer away and was used as an escape route in times of danger to the royal family.
This is the biggest building in the palace complex and is four storeyed. Its name literally means a multi-storeyed building. Built by King Marthandavarma in AD 1744, it was dedicated to Lord Sree Padmanabha. The ground floor houses the royal treasury and the first floor has the royal bedroom. The bedroom has a medicinal cot made from 67 (?) medicinal plants that is believed to have been given as a present to the king by the Dutch – East India Company. Entry to second and third floors was prohibited when I went. The second floor is supposed to have the king’s rest room and the third floor is supposed to house many mural paintings.
Armory and Watch Tower
The room used as armory has no windows or ventilation facilities and has two entrances. The northern end of the complex houses the watch tower from where any movement in the nearby surroundings can be detected.
This is a balcony that was used by the kings to view chariot races during festivals and to hear people’s complaints on designated days. Ambari refers to the seat put on an elephant’s back and the building that houses this balcony has been constructed in the shape of an ambari.
Foreign tourists and visiting dignitaries were given accommodation in this building whose structure shows the influence of foreign styles of architecture.
This was built in the year 1744 AD by King Marthandavarma and is 66ft X 27 ft. Cultural programs were conducted here during the navaratri festival. The dance floor here is known as ‘kannadithara’ or mirror floor as it has been polished to mirror like perfection. This is the building in the entire palace complex that has been made of stone.
The palace also houses an archaeological museum that has stone and bronze sculptures, paintings, coins, weapons and armory.