There is a graciousness to Trivandrum uncommon to most Kerala cities and the ambience extends outwards along the Kanyakumari-Trivandrum route.Our visit to Padmanabhapuram palace meant poring over travelogues, route maps, blogs, but nothing can prepare one for the magnificence of the palace complex. Nestled in Tamil Nadu this oasis of Kerala is around 150 acres. Surrounding fields of lush banana and coconut trees and protected by a ring of peaks of the western Ghats,the first view of the palace from the entrance gate reflects the simplicity and grace of Kerala culture,while hiding the complex structures inside.
There are 3 types of architecture. Mainly the exquisite wooden craftsmanship and simplicity of the Kerala style in design,with magnificent granite stone carvings and stone roofing of TamilNadu along with western colonial architecture with for rooms to accommodateforeign guests.Yet converging together to form a single complex.
The raised platform of the reception room is lit by a brass kuthiravillakku its, exquisite craftsmanship displayed by a look that allows the lantern to be positioned onto any side required.The gleaming floors throughout the palace are in shades of bone white,rich earthy brown and black.The ingredients of the floor include egg shells, lime, tender coconut water, coconut oil etc. The coloring added by using,coal from burnt coconut shells, for black, red hibiscus and henna for brown and egg shell and lime for ivory. Beneath the lime plaster on walls, one can see the patina of original plaster of egg shell and lime glowing as smoothly as pure marble.
One starts in the reception hall, the wooden ceiling of the first floor depicts the family deity of the Travancore kings, Gajalakshimi.The furniture placed is Chinese and the wooden lattice work is complemented with shutters of coloured mica.Below the wooden seating all round the edge,there is space for natural perfumes allowing aromatic breeze to flow through.This feature is common to almost all areas.
The family traditionally hosted 1000 guests in the dining hall daily. The ‘Thaikottaram’ is surrounded by fragrant flowering trees such as the Ashoka tree, Parijatham, Elanji. The main hall of the Thaikottaram has a single log of heavily carved Jack wood as the main supporting pillar. The building is a nallukettu and the central courtyard hides the entry to a secret tunnel, out of the complex.
The 4 storey bedroom complex has interesting connecting roofs and walkways.The ground floor is the treasury,above which the King sleeps. The Queen mother and palace ladies are housed towards the side of the King’s bed chamber.The King’s bed has 64 medicinal woods and is carved decoratively in the Chinese style.The roof has panels depicting Chinese molits showing a deep relationship with China.
Above the king’s chamber is his meditation room and above that the Pooja room symbolizing that money and power are subordinate to God. The building also houses the armory,the viewing gallery allows the ladies in family to look out into the street without being seen.The king’s gallery is in the form of a howdah and from this point the detailing of the windows and the spatial quality of the room assumes a western character.This is the section for the foreign guests.The large colonial style set of room has a view of the beautiful internal garden of the complex and the water tanks.
The final section is the dancing hall with stone pillars and stone roofing, heavily carved with figures and animals. The gleaning floors and dancing sculptural forms allow ones imagination to dwell on the grace and beauty of the times…..