Tag Archives: Thiruvananthapuram

Padmanabhapuram, glimpses of bygone glories

A quite little town in Tamil Nadu, located close to Kerala… by seeing the humble Padmanabhapuram clad in greenery anyone will find to difficult to believe that it was once a thriving capital city of a wealthy medieval kingdom in South India – Travancore. But it’s a fact!

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Padmanabhapuram served as the capital city of Venad state (which later became Travancore) for centuries. It was the mute witness of many exciting historical episodes, of which perhaps the most notable one was the power struggle between King Rama Varma’s sons and the heir-apparent Prince Marthanda Varma, in the yearly years of 18th century. Venad / Travancore was one of the very few states that strictly adhered the Thai-vazhi (to be precise, Mother’s dynasty) ‘system of inheritance’, that means, it is not the King’s son who inherits the throne; but the nephew. The rightful heir is the King’s sister’s son! The royal lineage continues this way.

Around 1725-28 AD, the sons of then king Rama Varma, aided by local chieftains, tried to put an end to this system. The rest was a period of turbulence and finally, Marthanda Varma became the King, defeating the opponents by sheer aggression (a thrilling saga so well narrated in C. V. Rama Pillai’s historical novel ‘Marthanda Varma’). Under Marthanda Varma, Venad was transformed from a tiny state to the powerful Kingdom of Travancore and Padmanabhapuram reached its zenith.

However, after his Marthanda Varma’s reign (1729-58 AD), the scenario changed in due course of time. Towards the end of 18th century, the capital was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram – which still serves as the state capital of Kerala. Nevertheless, Padmanabhapuram continued to be a royal city till the end of British dominance in India. After the unification of princely states and subsequent new state dominions saw Padmanabhapuram togetherwith the southernmost part of Travancore ceded to Tamil Nadu. Gradually the once prominent city faded from limelight.

Despite of its present low profile, one monument still stands tall – the Palace of Padmanabhapuram – erstwhile ‘royal residence’.

Studded with elegant wood carvings and lattice works, there is hardly a better example of traditional Kerala architectural style.

Throughout this palace, splendors of old Travancore echoes…

The greatness of royal legacy seems astounding in some portions such as,

The Matralaya – King’s Council chamber – a hall with beautiful wooden lattices where windows fitted with colored mica serves as the natural air conditioner!

Another one is the Nataksala – the hall or performance – beautified with nicely carved stone pillars. At the top, wooden enclosure with peep holes can be seen which were used by the ladies of royal family to watch stage performances.
A source of inspiration for many movie settings !

The amazing palace-ceiling with over 90 varieties of wooden carved flowers and hanging-lamp !

Arguably the most curious spot in the palace – the ‘secret underground passage’, which was built for emergency purpose (through which the royal family could escape to another palace, ‘Charottu Kottaram’, which is located few kilometers away)! Several interesting legends were associated with this passage.

The gifts of ancient Chinese merchants – priceless jars form China…

Close-up of the ‘medicinal cot’, the King’s bed – made up of 64 wooden pieces from a variety of medicinal tree trunks – believed to be gifted from the colonial Dutch East India company.

The palace’s clock tower – where the 300+ years old clock still functions!

The palace’s assets are innumerable, ranging from numerous kinds of sculptures, furniture, lamps, mirror / metal works.… to weaponry (used in actual wars). In fact, a brief study of this grand palatial residence is enough to understand that Travancore was one of the famous & prosperous kingdoms in medieval times.

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A favorite destination for historians and comers alike; there stands a proud ‘sole’ testimony of a forgotten royal capital.

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