This huge wooden palace – Padmanabhapuram Palace – is, in fact, the biggest wooden structure in Asia. It is an erstwhile palace of the kings of Travancore who ruled from here between 1552 – 1790 CE. That includes the rule of its famous king Marthanda Varma of the dynasty. Today it technically falls in the state of Tamil Nadu and can be seen on the way if you are visiting Kanyakumari from Trivandrum. It is still managed by the Kerala circle of ASI as historically and heritage wise it belongs to Travancore state that is now a part of Kerala.
Padmanabhapuram Palace & Fort
A huge pillared entrance greeted us as we entered the gates of the palace. The stone pillars with carved wood ceilings were enchanting. The guide pointed the lotus carved in the square wooden panels on the ceiling and said no two designs are same though it is the lotus in each and every panel. I could not compare all of them. The ones I could were definitely a different artistic representation of the favorite flower of the kings of this palace. The floor was made of natural material. I think in an attempt to preserve it, shoes are not allowed inside.
A brass lamp was hanging in the middle that had a horse with a rider carved on it. Now I would have passed it as another metal piece. But the guide explained its ball bearing mechanism that keeps the horse and the rider facing in one direction irrespective of the way the wind blows. It was interesting. This was followed by Maghony wood paintings in natural colors of none other than Padmanabhaswamy in his lying down pose of Padmanabhaswamy temple.
A narrow flight of stairs took us to the first floor – this was the Mantrashala or the meeting place for the king. Again completely made in dark teak wood, this had Chinese style windows with a bench-like structure all around to sit. Seats for landlords were earmarked as per their status in the state. The lower panel of wooden windows can be opened in such as way that it would naturally cool the interiors. And could be sprinkled with perfumed water. Ceiling again had 9 lotus flowers exquisitely carved. We were told that 9 was considered an auspicious number by the family.
Ottupura or Dining hall
At the back of this front structure was a huge dining hall called Ottupura that can seat up to 2000 persons for eating. There were huge utensils for things like pickles. I wondered how the kitchen was operated and how big the cooking utensils would be to serve such a large gatherings. But then, can we really go back in time when these things would have been the norm and not an exception as they appear today.
Opposite the Ottupura, Mother’s palace is the oldest part of the palace. This is where the foundation of the palace was laid using a jackfruit tree trunk as a pillar. This is the only pillar that is not teak wood in the palace. A meditation hall here interestingly had a bookshelf. The inner courtyard is typical of the old south Indian houses with a recessed center that I assume was a water harvesting mechanism.
In the rest of the palace what is worth noticing is the king’s bed that was gifted by the Dutch but is made of 64 types of medicinal woods. The backrest of the bed even has the emblem of International Medicine. Rest of the palace in its various parts has the old Belgium glasses, miniature paintings, ivory carvings especially on a Japanese style dining table and royal paintings. Indravilasam is a place for guests of the palace and has an international feel to it.
A stone structure called Navratri Mandapa stands in the middle of the palace. It is a place for cultural performances especially dances. A small museum display excavated stone sculptures along with some metal ones.
I somehow found the place too dark and a bit depressing. But the wood works are worth appreciating.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Kerala on my Travel Blog.